Summer Quandaries #21-22
Aug 21-22—39 Days to camp
Odds About Even
The more I tried writing these two pieces, the more I realized they were opposite sides of the same coin. Now my green-tinted lenses are about as emerald as they can get, but any rational appraisal of the Celtics chances this season arrives at the same either/or impasse. This could all go very, very well; or it could fall off the cliff. The strange part is that most of the convincing positives have a dark side that lends itself just as well to support a view of an impending disaster.
The full glass presents a loaded lineup with current or former All-Stars cross the board as starters, credentialed backups at every position, and at the end of the bench youthful promise rather than declining veterans. Add to this a stable and able leadership at the helm and the midseason return of the anchor of the ferocious defense. The busy off season has reloaded and primed a potent weapon that was just 4 points, 7 minutes, or one critical injury away from the Championship.
The arsenal is about as complete and flexible as any time in recent memory. We can play inside/out or outside/in. We can penetrate and dish, play pick and roll, or pick and pop. We have energy guys off the bench, instant offense inside or out, slashers and bangers, early offense opportunists and end-of-the-shot-clock assassins. We have clutch performers and streak shooters. We can blind you with speed or bury you with size.
Danny appears satisfied he has addressed the weaknesses since he apparently is only keeping his eye out for another shooter. He doesn’t seem to be looking too hard. Perhaps not surprising since the Celtics already have Allen, Pierce, Nate, Wafer and maybe even Harangody on board as long distance threats and Garnett, Davis, Jermaine, and reportedly Avery Bradley are all proficient from mid range.
All this firepower is backed by a defense that has been both stingy and intense since the aggregation of the Big Three. True the backbone will be out until at least midseason but Shaquille standing in the middle means that there will be no shortage of bruises in the offing. Also KG’s return to health means the vocal leader of mad dog frenzy is back patrolling the paint. The Celtics’ helping and swarming defense likely played no small part in encouraging LeBron and Wade to band together as each was summarily dismissed in the past post-season by the Green Meanies.
About the glass half empty, it’s more like somebody dropped the glass and it broke and all the good stuff drained away. All those All-Stars? Other than Rondo, most are former, just barely, or rapidly disappearing in the rear-view mirror. That youthful end of the bench? Not a single minute of NBA play among them. Is Boston the place where aging greats go for one more Championship, or the dinosaur graveyard?
Perkins goes down and Ainge adds two seven foot All-Star centers—but will all the pertinent action take place before either can get down court? The Celtics’ help defense absolutely depends on getting set up and the back line stepping up when their aging swing players get beaten off the dribble. Until (unless?) Perk gets back, the big man rotation consists of Big Baby (short), second-rounder Harangody (even shorter), the raw Turkish rookie, and three players with about a million miles on the odometer and long out of warranty. This is an area that could legitimately be categorized as a strength and a weakness.
That credentialed second line comes with an asterisk. If there are chemistry issues, they are most likely to come from members of this group. Nate, Von Wafer, and Shaquille have all clashed with coaches in the past, and in ways that would be a direct threat to Ubuntu. This philosophy is a modernization of a long-standing Celtics’ emphasis on team play over individual agendas. Shaq, Marquis, and Big Baby all missed lengthy periods last season with injuries and Wafer failed a physical after returning from Greece and his soured foray overseas. All are saying all the right things. All should be properly motivated to get with the program. All but Shaq are playing for new contracts and revived careers, and the Big Leprechaun is playing for his legacy. I hope, and actually believe, that attitudes will not be a problem. I am quite certain that D&D will not allow this to be an issue. Should any fail to toe the line, I am positive that Danny will cut his losses (and excise the malignancy.)
Every successful team needs a certain amount of luck to avoid devastating injuries. At the same time no team goes through an 82 game schedule without getting nicked up. Older players don’t recover as rapidly, either from the exhaustion of a particularly trying game or sequence of games, or from those minor injuries that sap every player’s energy and resolve. It is improbably that Boston’s collection of aging stars will play every game. The best hope is that injuries will be minor and recoveries rapid. This team can go from deep to dangerously thin with a bad ankle sprain.
Perhaps the best mindset is that of cautious optimism. An objective appraisal would place about the same odds on 60 wins and a second seed, and on 40 wins and an eighth seed or lottery pick. The good news is that making it into the playoffs would carry them into the more leisurely paced schedule of the postseason. This plays to the strength of the mature Celtics by giving them more time between individual games and should allow those thirty-something players to rest their legs and perform each contest at maximum efficiency.