Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It's Zero Hour In The NBA: Do You Know Where Your Celtics Are?

 
-- Buckaroo Banzai
 
So, where exactly is it that our beloved Boston Celtics find themselves as General Manager Danny Ainge ushers in season #1 of “The Causeway Construction Project?”

Short recap: Coach Doc Rivers? Gone. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry? Gone, gone, gone.  Era of Ubuntu and Championship aspirations? Gone.  Anything better than a weak puncher’s chance of even making the Playoffs? Gone.

The sole surviving member of the five who famously “never lost a playoff series together?” Gone – at least until December, but I’m hedging on Rajon Rondo returning at or after the All-Star break, if you must know.

After witnessing the tail end of the “New Big Three” era during last year’s Playoff series against the Knicks as the Celtics were dispatched in the first round, prompting their Championship window to slam shut so hard that the glass shattered, Ainge made the unpopular but inevitable and intelligent decision to take a keg to the team and blow things to kingdom come.
 
With the trade that sent 15-year veteran, All-Star and Celtic original Pierce – along with the iconic Garnett and Terry – down to the Brooklyn Nets, Ainge signaled the beginning of a reconstruction project that will take, at minimum, three years to begin bearing fruit.    

Returning as the only holdovers from last year are Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger, Courtney Lee, and Jordan Crawford who join draft pick Kelly Olynyk, rookie Phil Pressey, free agent signee center from Brazil Vitor Faverani, and the members of other end of the Brooklyn Nets trade Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Marshon Brooks and Keith Bogans. Not necessarily what you would call a “Championship Driven” lot, right?  

The team is now comprised of more
youth than age (only two players – Wallace and Bogans – have ten or more years in the League) and new coach Brad Stevens has approximately zero experience in the pro ranks, so any hopes by Greenheadz for a winning season or even an 8th Playoff seed should be of the faintest variety. This is not a team built to win, nor should it be. In possession of six first-round draft picks over the next five years, the goal of Danny and Co. should be to assess current talent for cultivating in either a new Championship core or trade value, develop a winning culture (even though actual winning may prove to be elusive at first), and make savvy moves that improve the team and add to that “Championship core.”

So, to answer the opening question, “where do the Celtics find themselves?” Talent-wise, this team will actually be able to compete with anyone on a strictly night-to-night basis. What it won’t be able to do is sustain any kind of consistency to speak of from night-to-night and certainly not enough make, let alone win, the Playoffs. Record–wise? I always shy away from this kind of prediction, mainly because there is no way to project things like the return of Rondo and other injuries to key players. But, if I were a gambling man, I’d place their wins in the high 20’s. Kind of an upper-middle of the bottom tier of the NBA.  I hesitate to use the label “mediocre” because for me, it implies a sustained level of lackluster play over more than one season. No, the Celtics will be a scrappy, never-say-die running basketball team that can take the New York's, Houston's, Golden State's and even (on occasion) the Oklahoma Cities and Miami's by surprise for a game.

What should we look for in this team? Commitment, measurable improvement and the building of bonds that are forged in the leaner times between players with character. For me, watching the development of Kelly “The K.O. Kid” Olynyk, Brooks, Pressey, Faverani and even Sullinger and Green, as well as the steady return to form of a healthy Rondo should provide me with enough entertainment to deal with the losses.  Wallace and Humphries have proven to be proud competitors as well as veteran leaders alongside Bogans, so any reports about tanking should be met with a portion of skepticism. Unless, of course, any two or all of these players happen to be shipped out of town by the trade deadline in February.

A suggestion that I would like to make to Greenheadz everywhere, if I might be so bold and yet humble: Just sit back and watch this young team without any expectations or frustration. Enjoy every learning moment for the players as much as you will their inevitable moments of success – however fleeting. You are now on the ground floor of a project that will ultimately lead to our #18th and maybe even #19th and #20th banner.
 
While the road may be bumpy and fraught with wrong turns and steep curves, when they finally arrive at their planned destination, you’ll be thrilled that you decided to come along for the ride.

Game #1…Hoo Rahhh!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Preseason Games 5 & 6: Keeping Enemies Close, Wins...A Little More Distant

See? That wasn't so bad! Going down to Brooklyn to face the Nets and our old teammates (well, teammate, anyway...Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry had the night off.) played out like any other game. Sure, there was good old #34, the Truth himself, giving the game what it needs for the opposition, but it was like he'd been wearing his New York whites all along. Even seeing him greet his old teammates Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and the others didn't make a...didn't make a...hold on....eyes tearing up...

Damn allergies!!!

Seriously, it was VERY strange watching the Captain come back and throw up one of his preseason special "getting the team involved" games against the MIG's (Men In Green), but nothing, I'm certain, compared to what it's going to be like when the other ex-patriots...er, ex-Celticots Garnett and Terry make their appearance at the Garden on January 26th.

As for the actual game, the C's were able to keep the game close and even had the chance to tie at the buzzer, though Courtney Lee missed a difficult acrobatic shot to let Brooklyn off the hook. Lee had a good game and showed flashes of regaining his offense as the C's high scorer. Kris Humphries showed up against his former team as well, and Jeff Green continued to right the ship from a slow start to the preseason.

What more can be said about this game that won't result in more tears allergies?

Actually, I'll let the truth be spoken by The Truth...


Brooklyn Nets

Box Score

Tale of the Tape

The Toronto game was another close one with the chance to win it at the end that didn't quite take. MarShon Brooks played well for the C's and looked more like the potential keeper many believed he could be with more experience and coaching. Green stayed on track and Kelly Olynyk, Vitor Faverani continue to make me excited about watching this team play together this season.

Toronto Raptors

Box Score

Tale of the Tape


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Who Got Next?

Boston Celtics vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Sunday, October 20, 2013
6:00 PM

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Preseason Games 3 & 4: The Good, The Bad And The Gino


Watching last night's game against the New York Knicks, there were just two things missing that prevented me from total enjoyment: Gino being called out of mothballs to dance on the Jumbotron and the childlike jubilation with which one former Celtic used to watch him do it.

Actually, there was one other thing missing...any remotely linked semblance to relevancy that this win has on the upcoming season.

Now, don't get me wrong...I am the greenest of GreenHeadz that you'll ever find and I've been told that, as far as my belief in and support for the Celtics goes, my balloon never lands. But, when the Knicks go-to high scorer is Ike Diogu -- a man not yet guaranteed to be on the roster come November -- and the only efforts in this game given by the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Ray Felton, Tyson Chandler, Ron Artest and Kenyon Martin were as high-priced cheerleaders, you know that your 30-point win is going to have to come with a major asterisk.

Still, there were encouraging things to be seen, like watching The KO Kid, Kelly Olynyk, hang a well-rounded game on the New Yorkers and seeing MarShon Brooks come alive. Jordan Crawford continues to play under control, Avery Bradley is making his shots consistently and Jared Sullinger's back looks to be in great shape.

On the downside, Courtney Lee is still turning over milk cartons trying to find his jumper and Jeff Green has yet to find the magic can of spinach that he was eating from towards the end of last season and into the Playoffs, but, hey...it's the preseason and most realists out there know that the real reason to watch the games this year is to see the newbies develop and admire the team's scrappy play, even in under the threat of a looming Lottery.

Of course, this team -- especially when Rajon Rondo returns (December? February?) -- is going to be competitive on most nights and may even surprise a few top-tier teams from game to game. But, I can't help but think that the game that was played the night before against the Philadelphia 76ers is more in line with what we're going to see as the season begins in earnest -- a close game in the middle stages between the 2nd and 3rd quarters with the requisite furious comeback, only to fall in the 4th as the better team locks in and drives it home.

Still...looking at some of the young talent that's been scratching and clawing for the Green and White, it won't be too long before Gino regains full employment and anything becomes possible again.

Preseason Game 3
Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Box Score
Tale of the Tape

Preseason Game 4
Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks
Box Score
Tale of the Tape
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Who Got Next?
Boston Celtics vs. Brooklyn Nets
(Yeah, THAT team)
Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
7:30 PM

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Preseason Game 2: Other People's Posts

Okay...I'm just gonna go ahead and admit it...I didn't see a lick of last night's game. I did, however, see some fantastic clips and read some excellent recaps. So, I just have this one question for you...


And, by O.P.P., I mean "Other People's Posts. Being out with friends and family, I felt a little old school nostalgia kicking in as I decided how the Hell I was going to try and comment on a game that I obviously didn't see. You say "lazy man's way to keep his blog updated," I say "excellent opportunity to bring good, quality content to the site while giving props (okay, maybe I've gone a little TOO old school...) to others who drop their own valid takes on their hometown club for GreenHeadz to enjoy everywhere.

So, without further ado...I do:

RedsArmy.com


CelticsHub.com


CelticsBlog.com


CelticsLife.com


And, from the estimable Chris Forsberg at ESPN.com

See, now wasn't that fun?

Box Score

Tale of the Tape

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Who Got Next?


Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Fri, Oct. 11, 2013
7:00 PM

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Celtics Preseason Game 1: So, What Did We Learn?


Well, folks...the first preseason game for the Boston Celtics post-New Big Three is in the books. So...what did we learn?

From my perspective, we now know a few little things about a lot of things we don't yet know. Got it? Good!
 
In no particular order of impression, here are the things that stood out:

* Brad Stevens is a patient guy. Not just with the team, which clearly has some deficiencies, but also with the sports media. To the numbskull who tried to explain to Stevens that the NBA isn't college basketball...congratulations. You're now the town moron.

* This Kelly Olynyk guy can play a little. Okay, I actually knew that already from having watched him work in Summer League. But, it was great to see that he was still comfortable doing his thing against real NBA-caliber defense in a fairly competitive game. His passing skills really can't be overstated. He's going to be very valuable in the future.

* Crash still has some things he wants to break. Gerald Wallace, The Invisible Man in Boston since his trade (you know...the one that sent future Hall-of-Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett out of town with The Jet?), "Crash" showed exactly how he earned his nickname by scrapping, clawing and diving to team high scorer. This guy can definitely be an asset to the younger set as a veteran worthy of emulation. Here's hoping he stays around for a while.

* Sully still loves to get sullied, and by sullied, I mean he does the dirty work and bodies, bangs, tugs and gets his shot off over taller players much the same as he was doing before back surgery took him out for the remainder of his rookie season. I'm still not happy with his recently revealed character flaws, but if he keeps playing like this -- and more importantly, keeps his nose clean -- he's going to provide the C's with a low-post presence they'll need to even think about being competitive this year.

* Kris Humphries can be a crowd favorite? Those words would never have crossed my mind before watching him in action on the floor last night, but the way he boxed out and boarded while putting up a few jumpers and scrappy putbacks has me thinking that it won't be long before fans are defending him when some tiny guard from another team decides to shove him for God knows what.

* Jeff Green was a complete gentleman. And by gentleman, I mean he was not the @$$hole that mentor Garnett and AWOL coach Doc Rivers encouraged him to be. For the Celtics to stay out of the bottom of the East, he's going to have to be less Uncle Jeff and more Mean Jeff Green.

* Courtney Lee still hasn't found it. Let's just hope that it's still sitting at the bottom of one of the moving crates marked "Houston to Boston" so he can unpack that bad boy and become the two-way threat many (including myself) thought he could be.

* Jordan Crawford played (gasp!!) under control!?! While I still think he's more Guards Gone Wild than Steady Eddie, I would LOVE for this version of the CrawDaddy to run the floor here in Boston.

* Filling the role of "veteran stabilizer" will be what Keith Bogans does while here in green.

* Brandon Bass is still Brandon Bass. And that's a good thing.

* We might just have a real center on the roster in Vitor "El Hombre Indestructible" Faverani. His body language certainly says "center" and he changed a couple of shots on defense while showing good hands on the fast break.

* The jury's still out on whether Avery Bradley can man the point until Rajon Rondo returns, but his three-point shooting looked to be back in order and his defense and slashing skills were on full display. Ultimately, he's just not going to be the answer at point, but he'll continue to be one of the best on the ball defenders in the game.

* And, speaking of points...we didn't get to see Phil Pressey try his hand at the position (though Stevens has said that he'll be out there vs. New York on Wednesday) and Mar'Shon Brooks wasn't on the floor long enough to see much of anything, but I expect some good nights from him in the near future.

On To Wednesday!! I'm Yelling Again!!

Tale Of The Tape

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Who Got Next?:

New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013
7:30 PM

Monday, October 7, 2013

Celtics Begin "Little One" Era As Preseason Kicks Off


That’s right, folks…the Boyz in green are back in town and ready to get down – preseason style, of course! While many (most?) of Boston’s sports-loving faithful are busy simultaneously watching the Red Sox mount their assault on the postseason and march toward another inevitable World Series showdown, lamenting the Patriots loss to the Cincinatti Tigers Bengals or are cheering the boys in black and gold as the Bruins start the season trying to recapture their winning form from last year’s disappointing trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Celtics have been busy preparing to start their first season in fifteen years without The Truth to set them free.
 
Recap: Pierce, KG and Doc are gone. Deal with it.

So, as we all dust off our old Antoine Walker jerseys and pretend we were Jeff Green fans from the git, here are just a few of the questions floating around the ether that we’ll begin to gain some resolution on.

So, in a tip of the cap to the chaos that will inevitably reign for at least the first couple of months of the C’s 2013-14 season, I replace that time-honored tradition that time-honored traditionalists like to post before their favorite teams head into battle – “What To Watch For” – with the more appropriate “What’s NOT To Watch For?!?”

As the Celtics start the preseason tonight at 7:30 PM against the much improved (but, really, who’s NOT improved this year besides the Celtics?) Toronto Raptors, here are some of the endless questions that we may begin to see the first grains of resolution for:  

·         What will the Celtics be like in a post-aPaulycliptic world?
 
·         Who is this Brad Stevens fellow, and does he speak Ubuntu?
 
·         Is Jared Sullinger fully healed from his back surgery, and should we even care following his recent domestic violence arrest?
 
·         Is Kelly “The KO Kid” Olynyk for real?
 
·         Will Brandon Bass make us forget Kevin Garnett (sorry…just had to check and see if you were paying attention)
 
·         Can Courtney Lee make us forget about E’twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Sean Williams? (okay, that was just unfair…)
 
·         Is “El Hombre Indestructible” Vitor Faverani really indestructible?
 
·         Can Jeff Green continue to “act like an @$$hole and lead the Celtics?
 
·         Will Kris Humphries be more than just a pretty face with an ugly reality show stint?
 
·        Will Jordan Crawford settle down or will he forever be a castmember of "Guards Gone Wild?"
 
·         Do we FINALLY have a true backup point guard in Phil Pressey?
 
·         Can Gerald Wallace find the fountain of youth and “Crash” the Celtics’ lineup, or is he just playing out the string until the trade deadline lets him off the hook?
 
·         Can Avery Bradley silence the critics by making defenses pay with the jumpshot, dish and dribble while continuing to ensure that his opponents don’t return the favor?
 
·        Can Marshon Brooks realize some of the great potential he showcased as a Nets rookie?

·         Will Rondo be back before the All-Star break? And will the so-called “experts" ever stop monotonously suggesting that he must be traded?

·         What the Hell happened to Donny Marshall?

·         Will new broadcaster Danny Ainge say anything bad about the General Manager and get himself suspended?

 
·         How long will it be before Keith Bogans tires of the rebuild and chokes someone out Leandro Barbosa-style?

These and other breathless questions await…the journey of discovery begins tonight! Tune in to Comcast Sportsnet tonight at 7:30! Why am I yelling?!!? It's pre-season!!!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Post Position: Celtics' Newest "Pole Cats" Key To Any Success In 2013-14

It's no mistake that the two most recent additions to the picture posts in the lobby of North Station at the Garden are also two of the longer tenured players on the roster. It's also no accident that they happen to play the same positions as the two Hall-of-Famers whose shoes they’re about to step into now that they’ve gone cookin’ for Brooklyn.

But, as exciting as it might be for friends, fans and family members of Jeff Green and Brandon Bass to see these guys sharing facetime with the team's one true All-Star, point guard Rajon Rondo along with Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger (another more recent "pole player" and another key ingredient in the C's kitchen this year), their actual significance to the team and any hopes it may have of an even moderately successful year can't be overstated.

For many, the natural inclination is to say that Green is the new Pierce, and as far as filling the open small forward position, this would be accurate. And he will, indeed, be asked to shoulder some of the load that Pierce once carried. But, fans shouldn't be expecting “The Truth 2.0” or even “Truth-Lite,” or anything resembling the Swiss Army Knife that was Pierce for so many years "giving the game what it needs" whether it was scoring 41 against LeBron in a mano-a-mano Playoff duel or posting multiple triple-doubles in point-forward mode in Rondo's absence.


Well, okay...he's got the "scoring 41 against LeBron" thing handled just fine and then some, but he’s never carried a team for an extended period in any season of his short career and expectations that he fill the sizable chasm of leadership that now exists behind Rondo are not only wrongheaded but just plain unfair. There is only one Paul Pierce (as it will undoubtedly take until his induction into the Hall of Fame for casual fans to fully appreciate) and Green is clearly not cut from the same cloth – but, then, few people are.

What he IS is a hyper-athletic 6" 9' forward that is as comfortable in the low post as he is slashing in from the wing and banging one off some hapless defender's dome or popping threes from the corner. He is an underrated defender and has increasingly shown a willingness to pick up his aggression on offense and, as Garnett once implored him, "be an @$hole." With an even larger role to play and a quicker team to play it with, Green can now thrive in the open court and take more shots in an offense in which he is no longer third and sometimes even fourth fiddle while not having to carry the total scoring burden in the way that Pierce was often forced to with Garnett resting on the bench – especially after Ray Allen took his talents to South Beach.

Brandon Bass is the other key that will determine whether the Celtics sink to the level that experts have been projecting or whether they rise above expectations, particularly with Rondo on the sidelines for a portion of the season and Garnett and his Big D down the road and out of town.

While no one will ever be confusing Bass with The Big Ticket, he has an uncannily similar midrange game (though not quite as consistent), is also unafraid to put his head down and plow to the hoop for a power-flush, and is an above-average defender. In fact, his “D” is vastly underappreciated by most average NBA fans and announcers alike. Just look at the variety of stories written by a heap of knowledgeable voices about both his prowess according to Synergistics (not that I buy into that sort of thing) and about how he is now using his massive 6-foot-9, 250-pound body to try and plug the defensive leadership breach for the team.

One need look no further than his defense against Carmelo Anthony – one of the League’s premier scorers, in case your head has been cryogenically frozen for the past ten years – during the Celtics v. Knicks series in last year’s Playoffs to see what he is capable of.

I know that Bass fell out of favor with a lot of fairweather fans last year as he struggled to regain his footing after Doc Rivers employed a revolving door for his power forwards, alternately starting Bass, then Sullinger, then Bass again when Sullinger went down for the season. While the argument has been made that NBA players are professionals and should be able to handle being shuffled in and out of the lineup with their ego and confidence intact, I challenge readers to honestly consider how well they’d adjust to being “benched” by their boss in favor of that young go-getter from [insert department here] and then being asked to take over for him only after he goes out on sick leave for the year.

Yes, Bass should technically have been able to adjust to the adversity and come to play when his name was called (jeez…I just completed the trifecta of modern sports clich├ęs!), but it seemed clear that his brain was a little scrambled by the process and it took him a while to straighten himself out – not coincidentally around the same time that his main competition for the position was cleared out of the way for the season.

Ultimately, it’s about the team and the sum of its parts, whether Coach Brad Stevens can adjust quickly to the pro game and whether Rondo comes back before the All-Star break – both physically AND mentally. But, for the team to defy the haters and prognosticators, it will be the actions of Uncle Jeff and B Bass that determine whether the Celtics will be stuck under water or if they’re able to stick their heads up and catch a breath or two.