SQ #31--Continuing to Gamble With the Right Odds

Summer Quandaries #31
Aug 31—30 Days to camp

Continuing to Gamble With the Right Odds

Perk is due back in February (March?, the playoffs?, in time to negotiate a contract extension next summer?)—perhaps we should just say he is out until further notice. And that leaves a serious hole at backup Center. The early solution was to hedge bets by signing the last pick in the 2008 draft who was left overseas for seasoning these past two season. The good news is that he is seven feet tall, is not immobile, and has improved since being drafted. The bad news is that he is very raw, a bit clumsy, and is probably not ready to assume a regular role as a backup. Having the bird, albeit an awkward one, in the hand allowed Ainge to play it cagey waiting for the market to shake out and see what would be available for the vet min which, other than the Sheed contract, was all he had to work with. With such luminaries as Kwame Brown and Earl Barron wanting a much larger slice of pie, you have to say that Danny’s patience paid off when the Big Leprechaun dropped through the free agent window and was available for, not the $8M/yr he originally asked, not even half that, but the veteran minimum. Once again there are no guarantees but Danny hedged early and picked off a timely and frugal coup late—well played!

Even as far back as the draft Ainge was putting his money on the smart odds. Avery Bradley was a highly prized high school recruit whose stock had dropped after a year of being misused on a guard-heavy Texas team that vastly underachieved. His stock dropped further when an ankle injury took him down late in the pro tryouts process. While most Celtics’ fans watched the draft night proceedings weighted down with the needs created by Perkins’ serious injury and the increasing age of the Big Three, Danny cheerfully jumped at the best player available in Bradley in whom Ainge saw potential greatness. Rondo makes the point guard the only position at which the need is negligible, so what--buy low, wait for improvement. In the second round he picked up the too short, too slow, big-man-on-campus/fish-out-of-water-in-pros Luke Harangody. So far Luke has shown he is a tenacious and effective rebounder (the talent that seems to translate best into the pro game), opportunistic and sneaky around the basket out to mid-range, and surprisingly deadly from long range. Any player picked that low is a long shot but Harangody has taken advantage of every opportunity thus far.

Tony Allen, tired of his flickering candle being an afterthought in the shadow of greatness, bolts for essentially the same money and backup position on a far less competitive team. No problem, move on. Nate Robinson played his way deep into Doc’s dog house, only to emerge with renewed effort on defense and some timely shooting. Danny’s betting that a full training camp will ease the problems of unfamiliarity with the offense and that Krypto-Nate will remember the lessons from the consequences of lackadaisical defense and undisciplined shot selection. Marquis Daniels, showing flashes of competency followed by injury and long periods of inconsistency, gets the fall-back call in the wake of Tony’s departure. Quis needs the Celtics and a good season, the Celtics need Marquis and a good season. Betting that Daniels will not suffer another injury riddled season is not as good a bet, but the pool of competent offense/stout defense small forwards is vanishingly small. A measured risk but once again with some hedges—Tony Gaffney is on the roster (and this spider-man looks to the kind of defender that offensive machines hate to run up against) and Luke Harangody waiting for camp to begin so that he can prove yet another “can’t” (that he can’t play the three) erroneous. I don’t think anyone would say that SF is solid, three-deep; but there are options, several tiers of them, and Marquis has previously filled the backup role competently, at least for a while.

Behind Ray Allen there was a similar void. Tony’s gone, Marquis penciled in at backup three, and Ray is the oldest of the Big Three. O.K., everybody that figured Danny would tap that Greek league, D-league, and NBA vagabond as the new backup designated shooter, raise your hand . . . thought so. I think Danny is picking up the man-of-many-nasty-departures at about the right time. There seems little doubt that there is some real talent in that wiry 6’5” frame, talent that every coach so far has ultimately decided he was better off without. Von Wafer says he is so thankful to get another chance in the NBA—he should be. He has been the epitome of the one-on-one black hole with no real interest in the defensive end. If the several cuts (being told to go away by a Greek team??) hasn’t lit the bulb; if he doesn’t buy in, and I mean totally, to the Ubuntu and defense-first mantra; if he doesn’t show up to camp a changed man (and I use that term advisedly since so far he should be classified as a petulant boy), then I don’t think Von will see the end of October wearing green. I think part of Danny’s “gamble” on Wafer is the hedge that if Von is the Von of old, his best contribution will be as an example of how quickly one can go from being a Celtic to a non-Celtic. Considering the volume of new faces that are potential problem children, this object lesson might be a most valuable demonstration. Ainge’s other hedge is the aforementioned Bradley. Avery is an intense defender with a good mid-range game. He may be a threat to displace Wafer as Ray’s backup even if Von does well. At the very least Bradley’s presence should make Von a harder worker, and more attentive defender. Similar situation at point guard—Avery may challenge Nate for minutes by midseason.

The last point I want to make is about the depth of the roster being a hedge in general. The 15th and 16th players are Oliver Lafayetter and Tony Gaffney, the late-season D-league signings who are entering camp on unguaranteed contracts. I would bet that at this point they have been bit parts (matching salaries, talent add-ins, worth-a-looks) in about 100 trade scenarios, probably half involving Sheed’s contract. Now short of a broken ankle or indictable legal offense, I don’t see Lafayette making the final roster (although I do see some scenarios where he might rejoin the team after a 2 or 3 for 1 trade say around December 15th). He and/or Gaffney may yet be part of some pre-season trade (although even together they fall short of the salary match needed for Fernandez). Point is that they were signed to the multi-year contract to allow Danny such flexibility. Similarly the third string may all see some court time. The old guard is getting older, and more fragile. They will need to be rested more, and more often. If those inevitable nagging injuries strike, the older guys will need longer to recover. The very depth itself is a hedge against age, injury, and complacency. Perk may not make it back this season. This team is very vulnerable to losing another starter. Then again, never in recent history (like the Big Three era) have the Celtics had so many options from which replacements might come. It would seem that Danny has a pretty good handle on both the strengths and weaknesses of this team, and has taken steps to shore up the walls wherever possible.