Post-game Reactions

Let’s have a discussion on what it means to be a fan of the Boston Celtics in 2014. We’ll begin by fast-forwarding to March 9, a hypothetical future; Boston is hosting Detroit, and the score is tied with six minutes to go.

Do you:

A) Root hard for Boston to win, because they’re your favorite team and doing anything else is incorrect and dirty; it doesn’t matter how they get the W, so long as it happens.

B) Watch them with eyes shaped like ping-pong balls, smiling inside whenever Kris Humphries gets called for a moving screen and cursing aloud when Brad Stevens finally replaces Phil Pressey with Rajon Rondo. For you, losing is the new winning.

C) Do you strip your viewing experience of any emotion and context, ignore the clock and score, and instead focus on, you know, how the team is playing? If they win, great. If they lose, no big deal. You’re looking for specific on-court execution, and understand NBA reality. Boston isn’t very good, and the lottery guarantees nothing. In essence, being a fan is too much for you to handle.

Now, are those who’d choose A any more dedicated than those who’d choose B or C? Should those hovering under the umbrella of B laugh at the encumbering intensity and inevitable doom felt by A Is any answer the smartest? Are any flat out wrong? Is it possible to experience all three at once?There’s no “right” way to watch any sports team because the whole experience is way too silly and unpredictable. We know how to measure probabilities, but the very word finds root in the unknown. Also, it’s meaningless. Whether you want them to win or want them to lose, the Celtics will do whatever it is they’re going to do. You rooting for them one way or the other has no bearing on their performance.

But that’s clearly the least fun way to look at things. So, what’s the “proper” way to watch this team? How do we assess a lost season knowing it’s a necessary step back to smooth out the future. Whether you’re type A, B, or C, here are several segments of the team all Celtics fans should agree are vital. Treat this as your guidebook for the dark days ahead.

The trade deadline has passed. Barring any injuries or public meltdowns by Gerald Wallace, Brad Stevens’ rotation will look the same two months from now as it does today. These are the guys you’re watching and cheering for, but for how much longer? A few are entering free agency—Kris Humphries, Avery Bradley, Jerryd Bayless—and even more could easily be in another jersey (or even out of the league) next season: Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Vitor Faverani, Gerald Wallace (if the Basketball Gods are merciful), Joel Anthony, Chris Johnson, and Phil Pressey.

Of these players, who deserves the most of your attention? Bradley will enter restricted free agency this summer, but it’s unlikely he isn’t a Celtic for the foreseeable future. He’s only 23 years old, possesses a valuable and elite skill, and shows month to month improvement when healthy. He can certainly average 30 minutes on a competitive team, and is worth it for $6-9 million per year.

Humphries’ return is a question mark, pending offers he receives elsewhere this summer, and the odds are against Bayless coming back (because he isn’t very good). Everyone else can either be traded, bought out, or have the stretch provision used on Gerald Wallace’s contract. If Danny Ainge can spring a first-round pick or useful rookie-scale contract for any of those guys, he will.

On the other end of the spectrum are Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, two players with valid value early in their contracts. Neither will be involved in any trade discussion that doesn’t bring back an All-Star. How should you watch them?

For Sullinger, focus on how he takes advantage of mismatches, uses his humongous ass body to create space in the paint, takes threes only when he’s wide open (still not a bad shot in the right context), holds his own in the post, displays incredible touch eight feet and in, and avoids having his shot blocked—a flaw that stifled Glen Davis’ development. I wrote more about Sullinger’s development a couple weeks ago.

Olynyk is nowhere near as consistently productive as Sullinger, but he might be more intriguing as a long-term prospect. He’s getting to the free-throw line more of late. Watch how aggressive he is in the post. Can he score with his back to the basket? Will he be anything more than a spot-up shooter this season? Can we catch glimpse of a turnaround jumper? Will Olynyk use his size and length to an advantage against smaller defenders? Can he do more than crash the offensive glass and pop out on a pick-and-roll? Is he the most underrated passer in basketball? Will these questions ever end?

Last but not least, how did we go this long without mentioning Boston’s franchise star? Watching Rajon Rondo play basketball is a nightly pleasure. Now that he’s unquestionably the best Celtic, Rondo must show he can score in different ways. People love talking about his jump shot, and the three-pointer that’s gradually improving, but as this season winds down look for Rondo to take what the defense isn’t giving him. That’s speedy drives to the rim off a high screen, post-ups, nifty hand-off plays, and, yes, pull up jump shots from all over the court.

He’ll always be a pass-first player, but for these last few games try to focus on how Stevens is using Rondo as a scorer. Are there pin-down screens? Is he ever the screener in a pick-and-roll (an effective way to put the defense in an uncomfortable position)? Rondo was phenomenal against the Atlanta Hawks last night, the most aggressive we’ve seen him play in well over a calendar year. He’s that much harder to deal with when he forces the defense to foul him in the paint, when he’s selfish in the open court. Rondo has weaknesses in his game, but with a third contract looming on the horizon, now’s a great time to see if he’s fixing them.

Is there a right way to watch the Celtics? Of course not. But some players deserve more attention than others. Players who have relevance in Boston beyond this season. Players who’re still growing and could very well be a part of this team when its fans are once again united behind category A.

Michael Pina regularly contributes for Sports On Earth, CelticsHub and Red94 (ESPN’s TrueHoop Network), Bleacher Report, and The Classical. His writing can be found here. Follow him@MichaelVPina.

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  • hax

    I root for them to win every game, and hope every single player plays above their talent level.
    But also understand that losing this year is the way to get a superstar that we won’t get without trading a mass of picks and assets.

  • The Cardinal

    I always want them to win despite knowing it’s not going to happen. But the number one and two things I’ve wanted to see this season are: 1) a team that plays hard and tries to win every night despite the odds, and 2) players continuing to improve in a measurable way provided they are given the chance to play decent minutes.

    Avery Bradley receiving the same $7 or $9 million that Brandon Bass or Jeff Green receive, respectively? Surely you jest – the fan base barely accepts the $7 million Bass receives as about right, and many – if not most – still argue that Jeff Green is overpaid at $9 million.

    At best, I would offer Avery Bradley a 2 year contract with a 2nd year team option at $3.5 – $4.5 million/year, maybe throw in another few hundred thousands in potential bonuses for number of games played, All-Star or All-Defensive Team selections, and let him take it or leave it.

    The dude is injury prone and with the frequency and severity of the injuries, his career will probably be prematurely ended a la Brandon Roy – and he’s nowhere near a Brandon Roy type player. Do.not.invest.in.the.Jermaine.O’Neal.of.NBA guards!

    • hax

      I agree. 🙂
      He has some great games.
      Some dreadful games.
      Then some injuries.

      It’s hard to throw money at that, but he’ll probably be overpaid by a desperate team(Pelicans) in the offseason.

  • James Patrick

    I’m 42. Celtic fan all my life. Favorite team of any sport. I remember beating the Rockets in ’86 for banner 16. I remember Magic’s mini sky hook in game 5 of ’87 and how much that hurt. I remember Len Bias dying. Reggie Lewis dying. Rick Pitino… Augh! Pervis Ellison, an old Dominic Wilkins. Losing Tim Duncan in the draft. Getting Paul Pierce. Jim Obrien, Pierce and Walker almost upsetting the Nets. The big 3. Winning #17 and crying like a baby because I knew how painful it was for 22 years without a title. I remember 2009 feeling unstoppable only to lose KG for the year. I remember 2009 losing to the Lakers only because we lose Perk in game 6 and STILL almost pull it off with 4 minutes to play in game 7. I remember trading Perk, destroying team chemistry, Wade playing dirty and rolling over Rondo’s arm, taking the Heat to a game 7 just 2 seasons ago tied up going into the 4tg qtr. I remember the goodbyes, knowing KG and Pierce were Celtics for life no matter where they played, not some trader like Benedict Allen who left for the hated heat. And here we are. A wash of a season. This is what we signed up for. You wanna cheer for them to win? That’s great. But take it from a guy who knows, the sooner we can get back to the top, the better this is going to be. So I’ll happily root for them to lose… With pride!!!!!!!!!

    • hax

      Since you mentioned the 2 deaths.

      7 year Curse for the Celtics?

      1986: Len Bias dies.
      1993: Reggie Lewis dies.
      2000: Paul Pierce stabbed 11 times and survives, thank God.
      2007: 1st or 2nd overall pick? Nope, take this 5th pick.
      2014: Very worried about the draft lottery.

      • CelticsBIG3

        The 2007 draft was the best thing to happen to this team since 1986, are you kidding? You think we’d be in better shape if we had gotten pick one and taken Oden (which we likely would have)? Without the fifth pick for Green we wouldn’t have gotten Ray and in turn pushed KG to the point where he decided to come aboard. I’d hardly call that a curse.

        • hax

          Well, the curse part was against the odds falling to the 5th pick.
          It doesn’t mean good things can’t happen as well. 🙂
          (86 championship, Pierce surviving, Sonics and Wolves selling us superstars, etc.)

  • High Rollers

    There’s only one way to watch the Celtics.

    With a chip on your shoulder.

  • Massive Celtics fan here. Have watched almost every single game, good or bad, since I can remember. You gotta be a nice combo of A and B to watch these games. I want our young, developing players to play as well as possible and show great promise. I want Rondo, Jeff, and Avery to be at the best of their games and show what they can do best.

    However, I want the Celtics to continue to keep losing these hard-fought, close games. The draft class has been slightly overrated, but not as much as you think. There’s a reason they’ve been talking about it for a while now. It’s stacked. If we land in the top 5, we’ll be all set. Marcus Smart at 5? YEP. He’s amazing and could definitely be a future all-star. Get even higher in the lottery? Get Jabari? HUGE take for the Celtics. Lots of cap room and assets to bring in an established star as well? Absolutely can happen. Starting the 2015 season with Rondo, Bradley, 2014 Draft Pick (Jabari, Wiggins, Smart), Sully, Kelly O/Embiid, with Jeff Green coming off the bench? Very solid. Use our assets to get Kevin Love or another legit star? Sure! The future is bright folks, so let’s just all agree losing hard-fought games this season to get the best possible pick is the best option.

    Also, for those of you thinking Bradley doesn’t deserve 6-9 million.. absolutely foolish. So foolish. He will be one of the best 2 guards in the league, you can bank on it. Yes, he’s had some unfortunate injuries, but most of them are just bad luck. How do you know they’re not purposely sitting him down right now to get him 110% healthy, and as almost as importantly, not have him win us games? I wouldn’t put that by Ainge. Why rush any of our best players back this season? Very little upside to that. Bradley’s defense is on its own level, and his shooting is primetime. Plus, remember when him and Rondo played together? Not many backcourts in the entire NBA are better then them together. Do NOT sleep on Bradley. He’s only 23 and will be healthy. Letting him go to another team would be about 10x more regretful than letting Tony Allen go. Finally, don’t compare him to Brandon Roy, please. Brandon Roy had a degenerative knee condition.. that’s a whole different level of injury. Roy may have been a better offensive player, but Avery is almost as good at offense, and AB’s defense, again, is elite, which should not be underestimated. Bradley NEEDS to be a Celtic for a long time.