Maybe writing when I am angry is not the best idea and it is possible my better judgment could be clouded by having sat through yet another second-half collapse by the Boston Celtics. Having said that, it has become clear that the 2009-10 Celtics, as presently constructed, are done.
For a team that entered the season with title aspirations, the Celtics enter the All-Star break on about as low of a note as possible.
Boston lost on Wednesday night to the Chris Paul-less New Orleans Hornets, 93-85.
The loss was really a microcosm of everything that has plagued Boston this season – a veteran missing due to injury (Ray Allen), other veterans hindered due to injury (Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett), too many turnovers (23), one awful quarter (outscored 29-12 in the third); and a poor second-half (outscored 50-30). All that was missing was Rasheed Wallace chucking up three pointers (he was just 1-2).
Not much is going right for the Celtics these days. As Bill Simmons tweeted after tonight’s game, “Celtics midseason scouting report: Old, sloppy, poorly coached, chemistry-less, uncaring, as fun to watch as a colonoscopy.”
After beginning the year 23-5, Boston is just 10-13 since a win in Orlando on Christmas day. Going into the break, there are not many answers for what ails the Celtics, just questions. As Lieutenant Frank Drebin said, “All the questions keep coming up over and over again, like bubbles in a case of club soda.”
What are some of those questions:
Is this team more like the 23-5 team to start the season or the 10-13 team we have watched since Christmas?
Are we really putting our faith in Marquis Daniels to fix the team’s problems?
Should the team forbid Garnett and Pierce from taking part at all in All-Star weekend?
Does Danny Ainge lay awake regretting the Rasheed Wallace signing?
If Kendrick Perkins’ points and rebounds are up this season, why are his minutes down?
Why does this team turn the ball over so much?
Why can’t they hold on to second-half leads?
But really, none of that matters. There are only two questions that do: 1) Does Danny Ainge need to make a major trade? and 2) If Ainge does not, can this team right the ship and compete for a title?
The answer to the first question is a resounding yes.
If the window for the Celtics to win a title is even still open, it is closing rapidly. A move has to be made now not just to try to put this team back on the right track, but to shake up what has become a team with no energy, that is going through the motions at times, and appears to believe there is a switch they will be able to turn on when the games matter.
The obvious starting point with any trade is Ray Allen and his $18-million expiring contract. Allen’s contract makes him an extremely attractive trading piece. He has also struggled with his shot all season, shooting a career-low 33.8 percent from three.
Allen has been everything a fan could want out of a player in his time in Boston, but for the Celtics to acquire an impact player, Ainge must part with Allen.
Ainge needs to be on the phone with Sacramento asking about Kevin Martin; Golden State about Monta Ellis; Washington about Caron Butler or Antawn Jamison; Philadelphia about Andre Iguodala; Chicago about Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons; or any other major deal that is out there to be made.
I know Ainge has the courage to pull off a blockbuster trade. What I do not know though is if he will find another general manager willing to do the same and willing to make a trade to help a possible title contender. There are only so many Chris Wallaces out there.
If Ainge cannot move Ray Allen, he also has options for a smaller-scale trade, with over $10 million in expiring contracts between Tony Allen, J.R. Giddens, Eddie House, and Brian Scalabrine.
As for the answer to the second question, can this team compete for a title if Ainge is unable to make a trade, that is a little more difficult to answer. Yes, this team through 28 games appeared ready to fight with Cleveland and the Lakers for best record in the league. And yes, they have had injuries.
But, I cannot ignore the way this team has played since Christmas. I cannot ignore, not just the losses, but how they lose. And I cannot ignore the lack of effort this team shows for large stretches of the game.
Rajon Rondo hinted at chemistry problems in the locker room. Doc Rivers talked about a poor attitude permeating throughout the team where they believe because they have won before, they will win again when the games matter.
Maybe most importantly, I cannot ignore Kevin Garnett’s knee problems. Rivers and the Celtics insist he is healthy. My eyes tell me differently. And others have noticed too.
At halftime of the Hornets game, Eric Snow on NBA TV said of Garnett, “He still looks like he is limping”. One of the announcers for the Hornets said, “Look at [Garnett] run up the court. That is not the Garnett we are used to seeing. . . . Kevin Garnett is struggling.”
KG is averaging the fewest points and rebounds, 14.5 and 7.3, since his rookie season and those numbers fall to 13.0 and 6.4 since Garnett returned from missing 10 games due to his latest knee injury.
Garnett does not have double-digit rebounds since December 18 and only has more than 10 rebounds three times all season.
People keep saying once KG is back, once he is healthy, the Celtics will be fine. KG will always play hard and even on one leg, he can still be a factor. But it is time for everyone to realize that the Garnett we saw in 2008 is long gone and is never coming back.
An optimist might say the team began the year 23-5 and can return to that form as quickly as they have lost their way.
That same person might say Rondo at times can dominate a game at both ends of the court like no other point guard in the league; that even if KG can’t return to full health, Pierce will; that once Marquis Daniels finds his rhythm, the Boston bench will be deep, versatile, and talented; and that as bad as things have been the last 25 games, Boston is just 2 ½ games out of the two-seed in the Eastern Conference and is four games up on Toronto in the Atlantic Division.
Also, an optimist might add that it isn’t as if the Celtics have been getting blown out in these recent losses. A few adjustments, most notably being cutting down on turnovers (only Minnesota, Charlotte, and Golden State average more), and Boston could be winning these games.
A few days ago, I might have even felt the same. But after watching Boston get outscored 106-58 in the second halves of the last two games, I cannot agree with that optimistic outlook.
This team just does not have what it takes to compete for a title and there is no switch they will be able to flip.
Awaiting their game with the Hornets, the Celtics spent Tuesday in New Orleans while the Saints and the city had a parade to celebrate their championship. Unless there is a major shake-up with the roster, there realistically cannot be any expectations of the Celtics having their own title parade come this June.