Eight games in, almost 10% of the regular season in the books, and the results are mixed. A 6-2 record is on pace for a sixty win season which would be better than most pundits predicted. It also has a pretty acceptable blend of positives and negatives with enough losses and glitches to give Doc both the team’s attention and plenty of teaching points. It is obvious that this team is far from maxed out and there are plenty of reasons to expect that things will get better. Most of the problem areas are correctable and even the intractable ones have alternate solutions. Next up is a rematch with the Miami 3-Egos in their South Beach sandbox and while neither team is whole, or hitting on all cylinders, it promises to be great theater and probably pretty good basketball.
The good news is that Delonte West has served his first five games on his suspension so the Celtics can move him to the inactive list freeing up all twelve slots on the game-time roster; the bad news is that the Green has yet to have twelve healthy players available. Most troubling is the center position where in spite of keeping four on the 15-man roster, Doc has had a hard time keeping two in uniform. Probably no one expected the O’Neal “brothers” to be available all 82 games but so far they have been out, or at reduced capacity, for more games than not and the latest word is that their troubles are ones that will be problematic all season long. Kendrick Perkins continues to work toward an improbably early return but I can’t think of anyone coming back from a torn ACL (much less all three ligaments) at anything near full speed in less than a year. If he makes it back in January we may be looking at Kendrick at 80% being the healthiest of the three—scary at best. The good news is that Semih Erden looks like an NBA center, raw and a foul magnet, but improving with legitimate skills, mobility, and aggression. These next two months I expect the Turkish Tornado to provide more energy and productivity than the “other” center (whichever of the O’Neal’s is least gimpy). I hope I am wrong because unless Semih comes on like gangbusters or one of the O’Neal’s makes a pilgrimage to Lourdes, it is going to be very difficult to keep Kevin Garnett’s minutes down. Regardless, the outlook improves as the season moves on and Erden progresses and Perkins returns.
Pierce and Allen are playing too many minutes. Admittedly with a quarter of the games going into overtime their numbers are inflated by a couple of minutes but they both have already exhibited the dreaded falloff due to dead legs that keeping their minutes closer to 30 was supposed to avoid. Delonte’s return will help this situation a lot as Doc has been keeping Allen on the floor with the second unit since Von Wafer has been ineffective, actually almost invisible. If the second unit plays better it will play more and the pressure to overwork the aging All-Star swing men will be alleviated. Hopefully the return of West will also help with increased flexibility in ball handling, hitting open teammates, and freeing Nate Robinson to shoot from the off guard. Full court ball pressure and harrying passes will also pay benefits as opponents will have to work hard to get their offense into gear. The thought of losing Rondo for any appreciable time, or even having his effectiveness reduced, is a frightening idea. Delonte’s return will help alleviate those nightmares but it merely lowers catastrophe into the serious problem category.
I had actually hoped for Wafer to have a hot hand, not because I see him as a long-term solution but because I wanted him to excel himself right into a hot trade commodity—alas, apparently not to happen. With his already negative body language I have a really hard time seeing him settling contentedly into the end of the bench to assume a Scal-like ever-ready cheerleader role. If he balks at all I think he will be history, either traded Dec. 15th or just waived with a warning wag of Danny’s finger to the rest of the team that bad examples are useful only if you realize they were good examples of how the Celtic way is NOT. If cut his roster position may not be filled immediately leaving some room for 10-day apprenticeships in the new year.
I think we have to resign ourselves to the fact that injuries will be an integral part of this season. Our older players aren’t going to get younger, or get completely well. They can’t run as long but can they run just as hard? They can be managed in such a way to get the maximum out of what they have left. If we are to be an elite team it will be because the second five (plus one or two or three) bring their own excellence to the table and complement the productivity of the starters. Help is on the way. Delonte next week. Perk next year. Maybe even Avery Bradley, who knows when. Semih is growing into a serviceable center before our very eyes. Big Baby might even grow into Got-Game Glen. Nate may deliver as a spark plug when relieved of the floor-general duties. Marquis is already reminding us of why his acquisition looked good before last season, rather than the shell of himself that sat on the bench last June.
If Rondo drives the bus, the aging stars can contribute proportionally (3/4 the production in 3/4 the minutes without letdown), and the ROY (rest of you) make their 20% of the game can-do energy, this team might just be better than the 2008 champs who leaned so heavily on the Big Three. The vaunted depth hasn’t looked so overwhelming with a third of the team in the training room but each night ten warriors have suited up and carried the battle to the enemy, and with success, at least so far. Before the season most would have said the Celtics are in deep trouble if only one of the O’Neal’s suits up each game. That’s been a sad truth so far, and Thursday it may be neither, but Gang Green keeps rolling and the cavalry is just around the corner.