Wednesday, May 23, 2007

No Tommy Point for Tommy

Oh, well, Celtics, you know the old saying. Lucky at Red, unlucky at ping pong balls.

Boston's fifth place finish in the NBA draft lottery would spook me were I the superstitious sort. There's such an obvious karmic explanation. A team that chose Tom Heinsohn as its good luck charm was begging Fate to smack it with a tire iron.

Heinsohn is a wonderful person. He was a Hall of Fame player. He won two NBA titles as a coach. He's a true Old Celtic, the only brand of Celtic I care to recognize. But never in a million years should Heinsohn have attempted to play the role of Red Auerbach's cigar.

Think about it. Aside from his legitimate exploits in pro basketball, what is Heinsohn's most famous attribute? Rage. Frothing, foaming anger at the many injustices done to the Celtics by venal referees and a hostile universe. Heinsohn's been making a good living off that schtick for 30 years. Remember the Miller Lite commercial he did with Mendy Rudolph in the '70s? "Heinsohn, yer outta the bar."

As the highly intelligent Heinsohn was quick to realize, he is one of those persons afflicted with Donald Duck Syndrome. His temper tantrums strike others as top-notch comic entertainment. There are more than a few guys like in sports. Lou Piniella comes to mind.

That's what made Heinsohn such a dangerous Celtic totem. If there ARE such things as Basketball Gods, they must enjoy a good Tommy rant as much as the next fan. How could they resist the temptation to set the stage for the most historic, over the top Heinsohn fit of all time?

On a more material note, the fact the Celtics won't draft either Kevin Durant or Greg Oden is a terrible blow to their marketing department, but may not affect the team's performance as much as some fear. Danny Ainge is right. With the fifth pick, the Celtics will get a very good player, someone who'll help them win games in 2007-2008. The Florida trio of AL Horford, Joakim Noah, and Corey Brewer (my pick, kid plays defense) should all be available. They come from an experience no Celtic can claim - winning. And they are just the names off the top of my head.

People who've seen far more basketball than myself swear Oden will be the next dominant center in the NBA. Maybe so. Many of those same people said the same thing about Yao Ming. Yao's a superior player, but dominant? You couldn't prove it by Jeff Van Gundy's unemployment check. So far Yao is more Bob Lanier than Bill Russell.

Centers are often the number one pick in the NBA draft. Sometimes, they turn out to be just as dominant as was advertised (See: Duncan, Tim, and Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem). Just as if not more often, they are complete stiffs (See: Martin, LaRue, and Olawokandi, Michael). Oden doesn't look like a stiff, but he doesn't quite yet remind one of Wilt Chamberlain, either.

It'll take five years before we know if missing out on Oden was an historic catastrophe for the Celtics. I can't look that far ahead. I will make a prediction about their chances for next year.

The Celts will play in front of many empty seats. But should Paul Pierce remain healthy all season, they will rebound from one of the worst teams in the NBA to the middle of the pack, somewhere between 30-40 wins, depending on those pesky Gods and their odd sense of humor. That will be enough improvement to save Ainge's job, but not Doc Rivers'. And I think most Celtic fans will find that a satisfactory year.


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