Saturday, May 14, 2011

Belated Thoughts on an Early Exit

In the final 29 minutes of their next-to-last game of the 2011 season, the Boston Celtics scored 37 points. In the final 4:29 of their last game, the Boston Celtics scored no points at all.

So can we please, please, please stop hearing about Kendrick Perkins? Granting that the Celtics would be marginally better with him then without him, are there any sentient carbon-based life forms that think Perk could have addressed the problem indicated in the first paragraph of this post?

I (and many others) underestimated the Miami Heat because I (we) did not give them enough credit for their defense. Won't make that mistake again. But scoring collapses of the magnitude suffered by the Celtics are always murder-suicide pacts. The Celtics could neither execute their half-court offense (see end of regulation, Game Four) nor could their Hall of Famers create individual scores when the Heat asserted themselves down the stretch.

Well, the Hall of Famers are getting old. And Rajon Rondo was playing with one arm. But we know for sure that the Hall of Famers will continue to get old, and it is foolish in the extreme not to expect that an NBA team will reach the playoffs without at least one important starter either out with or limited by an injury.

The Celtics WILL reach the playoffs next year, if there is a next year in the NBA. If Danny Ainge does nothing at all this summer, the Celts will win 50 plus games and the Atlantic Division. It is a rule of both international relations and sports that great powers in decline take longer to decline than most folks expect. Look West and gaze upon the Dallas Mavericks, a power considered washed up by one and all is doing quite nicely, thank you, in 2011.

So the "doom is nigh" riff on the Celts strikes me as premature. Apparently it struck Doc Rivers the same way. While I do not subscribe to the theory that Rivers' presence as coach will make free agents eager to enlist with the Boston franchise (players influence other players, and pretty much no one else does), I do not think Rivers would have re-enlisted himself if he thought he was signing up for a five-year waterslide ride at the Lottery Land theme park.

Return to paragraph one. It shrieks that what the Celtics need to remain a legitimate championship contender, which they were, Heat loss and all, is a player who will provide one more serious individual scoring threat to compensate for the gradual decline of the Big Graying Three. This was, of course, supposed to be Jeff Green, but so far, the problem with the Kendrick Perkins trade hasn't been so much that Perkins isn't in Boston anymore, but that Green is.

So the search will begin anew. And it is a search that is likely to start and end in the riskiest form of NBA talent acquisition there is -- riffling through the discard pile. The Celtics' best shot of acquiring a player of real value lies in choosing from the players other teams have given up on -- the coach-haters, the guys who tweet mean things about teammates, the players with a knack for late-night beefs with the law.

I'd make the odds at such a pickup working for the Celts as very, very long. But not prohibitive. After all, the guy who has been hands down the best performer in the 2011 playoffs, Zach Randolph, is like the computer-generated composite sketch of just such a hard case, available to whatever franchise was willing to risk working with high explosives in the locker room.

If there's one NBA coach who might be very good at ascertaining which of those fallen souls can be redeemed, and who could get through a season without losing his sanity if said soul achieved only partial redemption, it's Rivers. We note, however, that he demanded and got top dollar to participate in the Celtics of Tomorrow. For a high-risk investment of time, he wanted his high reward up front.


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