By Patrick Trotti
Thanksgiving is over and Christmas and the New year is almost upon us. The first month of the NBA is in the books and well, the Celtics aren’t playing as bad as I thought.
They’re lucky that they’re in their division is so bad that no team is even close to .500. Celtics fans knew that they were in for a long season coming in, with Rondo injured, a new head coach, and the departure of KG and Pierce but things aren’t looking that bad, even if only a month in. Again, it helps that (as of December 1st) Toronto is in first place with a whopping 6-10 record followed by Boston at 7-12, Philadelphia at 6-12, Brooklyn at 5-12, and the Knicks at 3-13. So yes, technically my team is only a half game out of first place in the division but will it last? Simple and most probable answer is no. Even with the Nets looking like an over 40 men’s league at the local Y and the Knicks without Tyson Chandler and Melo putting up a ghastly amount of shots per game, I’m not ready to concede that they’ll be in the basement for the season. Toronto is playing to their talent level and Philadelphia may not end up with the first pick but they’re still playing .333 basketball. Am I surprised that the Celtics are 7-12? Yes, and that should sum up the prospects for their year in a nutshell.
They started the season with four straight losses and already my mind was being filled with pictures of Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker donning a green uniform and making us forget about Jeff Green. A week later the pesky Celtics had evened their record at 4-4 and I was starting to worry that we might end up with one of those in between picks, not quite high enough to get a superstar, but not low enough meaning we made the playoffs. I had nightmares of just eking into the lottery and getting that last pick, sandwiched between another team that just missed the playoffs and some number eight seed that got swept in the first round. Sensing a pattern here? With every win, every loss, hell every play is seen through the prism of the upcoming draft. So much for enjoying the moment, right. Then the bi-polar continued as the Celtics dropped six straight in a ten day span, with only one being within single digits. Then we won two straight before finishing out the month with a loss, win, loss trio. The final game, a loss, at Milwaukee was especially tough, and weird. Coming into the season Milwaukee thought they had enough to sneak into the playoffs for a second straight year and we were playing, well, for the draft. But they were 2-13 and seemed destined to take our place among the worst teams in the East. Of course, the Celtics came out flat and lost by seven. They came to the end of November with 7-12 record but with these crazy streaks and swings it felt like an entire season had been played.
What can Celtics fan take away from November? Besides the predictable inconsistent play, not much. We only have player shooting over 50% from the field in Courtney Lee and he hasn’t managed to crack the starting lineup once this year. The next two best shooters on the team, in terms of field goal percentage are Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries. Yikes.
Balanced scoring, with five players in double figures and ten players averaging five points per game makes this team hard to analyze. Out of the 13 guys on the roster, Stevens is giving 11 players at least 12 minutes of action. Jeff Green is putting up decent numbers with a line of 17 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. Jared Sullinger is proving that, when healthy, he could be a nice young piece to build around. In only 25 minutes per game he’s put up 13 points and a team leading 7.4 rebounds. It’s been tough to really glean anything of substance from the first month as only Jeff Green is getting more than 30 minutes of action per night. Another surprise has been Jordan Crawford who’s put up solid numbers in limited minutes (28 to be exact) averaging 12.4 points, 5.2 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game. But looking a little deeper there are signs of trouble. For one we don’t have a single player even approaching double digits rebounds or assists per game and as a team we’re averaging 17.8 assists with 16.7 turnovers per game. Not exactly a recipe for success. The thing that scares me the most is the fact that Avery Bradley has attempted the most field goals on the team. My expectations were very low for this year so overall there’s not much to complain about but these pesky Celtics, with their winning streaks, have got me feeling greedy and, dare I say, optimistic even. The one think that doesn’t compute is why Courtney lee can’t seem to get more playing time. The six year, 6’5” guard, who started as a rookie on Orlando’s Eastern Conference championship team, has averaged only 17 minutes per game. Overall, though, Lee is shooting 51-100 from the field, 12-25 from behind the three point line and 7-8 from the line. Sure, small sample size but I’m not really sure what else he has to do to warrant more time. Why not go big and run him and Crawford in the same backcourt for a while and see if you can get some mismatches.
As always I’m looking at the trade market, which is my number two compulsion/fetish of the NBA season. Our best asset is Rajon Rondo. I’d wait to get the point guard fully healthy, showcase him for a few weeks and trade him sometime in January. We also own three expiring contracts which are the Holy Grail of NBA trades. Kris Humphries contract is at $12M, Avery Bradley’s is at $2.5M, and Jordan Crawford’s is $2.1M. With all three either having good years (Bradley and Crawford) or being a veteran body to add to a championship team fro depth (Humphries), the Celtics could look to unload some of their more unfavorable contracts in tandem with these, more coveted pieces. The contracts they should look to shed, almost at a no matter what cost type of thinking, should be Gerald Wallace’s 3 year, $30M contract, Jeff Green’s 3 year, $27M contract, Brandon Bass’ 2 year, $13M contract, and Courtney Lee’s 3 years, $16M contract (all contracts were rounded off.) Sounds like a lot of work for Danny Ainge to do between now and the deadline but if a rebuild is the goal than this is what he needs to shoot for. If he comes up a bit short than at least he got something done.
Perfect world would be maximizing Rondo’s value and unloading Wallace’s contract with it to a team in a need of point guard (Rondo) and veteran leadership (Wallace) to put them over the top. Crazy idea but what about sending Rondo and Wallace to the Bulls for Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, and a 2014 1st round pick.
The money works out perfectly, we get two expiring contracts and another draft pick this year, and the Bulls get someone to fill in this year for the injured DRose and show their fans that they’re not giving up. Disregard the plus/minus win projections because Rondo hasn’t played yet. They probably wouldn’t have re-signed Deng anyway and getting Rondo back is a great option. Plus in the future you could try Rondo at the point and put Rose at the two and lessen his ball handling load.
As long as we’re talking trades I got a few more. This is one with the Pistons and the Celtics. Joe Dumars has coveted Rondo for over a year now and this might be the time that it happens. In my proposal the Celtics send Rondo, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, and Kelly Olynyk to Detroit for the expiring contracts of Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villaneuva, and young big man Andre Drummond. Now you might ask why Detroit would do this? Simple, the Pistons have Brandon Knight starting at the point guard position. If they’re serious about contending than they could have a great one two combo with Rondo and Knight backing up. Jeff Green could slide to the shooting guard spot and play alongside Josh Smith and Greg Monroe. Olynyk and Sullinger, while not of Drummond’s caliber, are solid performers and could provide depth on the bench. Another thing to consider is that Monroe is in his final year of his rookie contract and if the Pistons are going to sign him than they needed to find a way to improve their team with a top point guard (when healthy) at only $11 million per year while ridding themselves of the cancerous Villaneuva and ball hog Stuckey. Why do the Celtics do it? Simple, Drummond is a second year center, a double-double machine and is under contract for a few more years. I’d rather get a known quantity at the center position going into the draft and get a wing player than the other way around because drafting centers is much more hit and miss. Again disregard the plus/minus winning difference because Rondo has yet to play and Villanueva’s PER score is skewed because he’s only logging 7 seven minutes a game.
The final trade proposal is the most ambitious yet. Which means it’s confusing and detailed and HIGHLY unlikely. It involves the Knicks and the Rockets. I do truly believe that this trade would help all three teams involved. The Celtics would send Rondo, Brandon Bass, and Sullinger to the Rockets giving them added depth in the front court and giving them a pass first playmaking point guard that is a perfect third wheel to Harden and Dwight Howard. Then the Celtics send Humphries and his expiring contract, Jeff Green, and Courtney Lee to the Knicks. Humphries will give the Knicks financial flexibility in the near future while also giving them some toughness down low in case Chandler’s injury is more serious. Green can slide to the three, leaving Melo at the four and Courtney Lee is more than capable of putting up 10-15 points per game at the two guard position. Finally the Celtics would receive Iman Shumpert and Amare Stoudemire from the Knicks. Shumpert is in the doghouse with Woodson and comes with a great contract and even though Stoudemire’s contract is horrible it’s only for two years which means the Celtics can dump him next year when it’s set to expire. From the Rockets we’d get Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, and Greg Smith. Lin and Asik would energize the fan base and are only on the books for this year and next and Smith is a throw in bench player with an expiring contract. Asik wants to start and in Boston he would. Lin would also be given free reign, for at least the rest of this year to be shoot first, pass second. The money works out, each team gets something they need either position wise or financially. Again, highly unlikely but why not? Crazier things have happened.
All three are long shots, I know, but with so much time before the deadline it’s the perfect time to dream up the best trades and then slowly lower the bar as the deadline approaches.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot it’s only December! There’s more than 60 games to play. So what does December look like? Well, the Celtics have plenty of winnable games on the schedule and have 9 of the 12 games at home which should help young coach Brad Stevens as he continues to get the most out of a rotation that isn’t particularly talented. Realistically, I think we can be competitive in pretty much every game except for road game in Indiana. I’d be happy with a 6-6 month which would mean the Celtics would be sitting at 13-18 going into the new year and getting Rondo back healthy. Not bad if you ask me.
Here’s a look at the upcoming schedule:
Bucks Dec. 3
Nuggets Dec. 6
@Knicks Dec. 8
@Nets Dec. 10
Clippers Dec. 11
Knicks Dec. 13
Timberwolves Dec. 16
Pistons Dec. 18
Wizards Dec. 21
@Pacers Dec. 22
Cavaliers Dec. 28
Hawks Dec. 31
Final Celtics thought for the week courtesy of former Celtic and current Assistant Coach Walter McCarty who hasn’t played since 2005-2006 and is 39 yrs. old, “In a pinch, in a specific situation, I could still go out there and play. If it was spotting up somewhere, then yes; if I have to run up and down the floor and get tired, then probably no. I play one-on-one with some of our guys, and it’s fun. I’m trying to create game-like situations, so they’re not going through the motions on some of their moves.”
Check in at the end of December for my next update. I promise less trade talk and more focus on, gulp, the basketball being played on the court. Until then may you holiday be merry and your team’s wins a plenty!