Green Thoughts

Chronicling the Boston Celtics quest for banner number 17... and beyond.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Doc on the Clock

There's been a lot of back and forth about the future of Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Some prognosticators put Rivers at the top of their list of coaches on the "hot seat," citing the disappointing 2005-2006 season and Doc's lack of game management skills. Others say Rivers deserves credit for holding together a team of head cases like Mark Blount and Ricky Davis, for getting Paul Pierce to take his game to a new level, and for giving young players like Kendrick Perkins and Ryan Gomes a chance to develop.

Count me among those who say Doc's on the clock, but not because his game managment skills are lacking. The schedule and Rivers' own history are working against him, as is the pressure on the team's front office.

At first glance, the calendar seems to smile on Doc. The Celtics play nine of their first fourteen games at home, and eight of their first fourteen against lottery teams. A record of 8-6 should be a cakewalk, and 10-4 isn't out of the question. That's a good thing, because December is loaded with playoff teams and road games, including the always challenging West Coast swing.

But Doc's history as a coach, both in Orlando and in Boston, is working against him. In the month of November, Rivers career W-L is a hideous 37-65 (.363). Moreover, Rivers' teams pretty much hover around .500 or below for the entire first half of the season. Here are the W-L splits pre and post January 31 for every year of Rivers' coaching career:

(ORL) 1999-2000: 20-26/21-15
(ORL) 2000-2001: 21-23/22-16
(ORL) 2001-2002: 23-23/21-15
(ORL) 2002-2003: 24-24/18-16
(ORL) 2003-2004: 1-10/NA
(BOS) 2004-2005: 21-24/24-13
(BOS) 2005-2006: 18-27/15-22

If Rivers stays true to form this year he puts the front office in a difficult position. Do they hang in there and hope for a second half surge or pull the trigger and replace Doc?

The team's said recently that it's seen a surge in ticket sales. With the Red Sox coming off a disappointing season, the Patriots playing once a week through January at most, and the Bruins... well... being the Bruins, the Celtics have an opportunity to expand their fan base and become relevant again. It's a tribute to the team's marketing ability that, by stressing the development of young players, they have been able to spin the worst season in seven years into great anticipation for this year.

The guess here, though, is that it wouldn't take much to make fans look away again. The team can't afford that and, for all their "stand by your man" rhetoric, Wyc, Steve and the boys know that Rivers has never won more than 47 games, and never won a playoff series, much less a championship. In other words, there's nothing in Doc's coaching history that would argue against cutting the team's losses and cutting him loose. If the team can't ace November's cupcake schedule, look for Rivers to be gone by Christmas, with either Ainge or Tony Brown stepping in as head coach.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Less "Upside." More Results.

I’m afraid I can’t join in the high fives going around the major media and the blogosphere over the Celtics draft yesterday. Here’s how I see it.

Sebastian Telfair is probably an upgrade over Dan Dickau, but is that really saying anything? Telfair was the third string point guard on one of the worst teams in the NBA. Dickau was injured all of last season, so we never really got to see what he could do. And, amidst all the happy horsecrap coming out of Causeway Street, it’s worth remembering that last year, Dickau was supposed to be the steal of the offseason.

We didn’t really get out from under Raef LaFrentz's deal, although two years of an onerous contract is certainly preferably to THREE (particularly when you’ve already eaten three). Ratliff could provide sorely needed help on defense, but it’s all contingent on him being HEALTHY, which has been a problem, and seems likely to be in the future, given the fact he’s been in the league for 11 years.

Rajon Rondo. This is the real head scratcher. Marcus Williams was good for almost 9 assists a game at UConn. Rondo? Barely 5, and he can’t shoot. People talk about the laptop thing, but do we need a boy scout or a point guard. And the kid sure didn’t look fat on that stage last night. With the Grant deal, we’ll essentially be paying $2M plus this year for the services of Rondo, who might well have dropped to the second round.

At the end of the day, the team is probably a bit better, but nowhere near what it could have been with Randy Foye and Williams. The draft was textbook Ainge and a classic example of why he’s been able to look so good, while his teams perform so poorly. Ainge, like most fans, is intoxicated by the whiff of potential. That’s why the team now sports four players under the age of 21 who have never played a minute of college basketball. Unfortunately, while Jefferson, Perkins, Telfair, and Green all look great and have flashes, none of them have a history of consistent performance against high level competition. In fact, the only Celtics youngsters who do – West and Gomes – are also the ones who have been most successful and had the greatest impact. And so, for three years now, the Celtics have delivered lousy results.

Ultimately, this draft is so troubling because it demonstrates Danny’s utter inability to recognize his mistakes and learn from them. The best example of this is his line that if Telfair had gone to Louisville for two years, he’d be the top point guard in this draft. It demonstrates Ainge’s inability to grasp a crucial bit of reality: Telfair DIDN’T go to Louisville. It’s impossible to say how he’d have performed or where he’d be in the draft.

Maybe I’m being negative. Maybe I’m being overcritical. After three years (and counting) of underperforming teams, though, I don’t think the Celts “brain trust” has earned the benefit of the doubt. My prediction: Iverson or no, the Celtics underperform, Doc’s gone by the All-Star break, and Danny takes the reins. By this time next year, the team’s looking for a new coach (LB!) and GM.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Baser Instincts

Did anyone see Shira Springer's VALENTINE to Danny Ainge in the Globe? Here are a couple of clips:

"(Ainge's) approach has loaded the Celtics with young talent -- Kendrick Perkins, Al Jefferson, Delonte West, Tony Allen, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, and Orien Greene... Given what Ainge had to work with, mid-to-late first-round picks and second-rounders, the Celtics arguably have drafted better than any other team in the league the past three seasons in terms of stockpiling for the future. ... For all the lists and statistics and scouting trips and team workouts, Ainge said the decision about whom Boston drafts each year ``boils down to instinct."

Somewhere, Billy Beane is throwing a chair.

Springer goes on to use Al Jefferson as a shining example of Ainge's great instincts and draft savvy. ``Al was a guy that we weren't on all the time," said Ainge.

``Al was kind of a guy that came in late in the process because he was a high school kid. We saw him play in high school. I didn't, but my staff all saw him play at least once each. The first time I saw him was in the [McDonald's All-America] game, in practices, and I was impressed with Al at that time. That was when my antenna went up with him and I started watching him very closely. Then we brought him in for a workout and it was a disaster. My coaches are going, `You've got to be kidding me.'

``But those initial instincts, those initial feelings that I had when I first saw him [remained]. I thought he had a special-enough upside. I thought he was a real competitor. He just hadn't been able to prove it at a high level like Delonte and Tony had. I believed that he was going to instigate physical play and he was going to compete and he had a skill that I thought was unique and special -- scoring in the low post."

The part that scares me the most - and perhaps gives the greatest insight into the team's troubles and the way Ainge operates is the stuff about " he was a real competitor. He just hadn't been able to prove it at a high level..." Umm... Danny, THAT'S WHAT COLLEGE IS FOR!

Two years and three sprained ankles later, we’re still waiting for that "unique and special" player. Maybe it will happen this year, but it hasn't happened yet. At least not consistently. In fact, it's just as likely that Jefferson, Telfair, Iverson and the draftees would be the best example of why Ainge's approach is outdated. It's not about instinct. It's about analysis.

The economics professors who authored the new book "The Wages of Wins" said it best:

"One can play basketball. One can watch basketball. One can both play and watch basketball for a thousand years. If you do not systematically track what the players do, and then uncover the statistical relationship between these actions and wins, you will never know why teams win and why they lose."

We have a team full of players now that are guys Ainge picked up primarily because of his "instincts" and "feelings." And it's taken us from the playoffs to the lottery. My own "feeling" is that if we pick up Telfair and Iverson, we'll be wondering, as the Sixers have for the past few years, why we have "the Answer," not to mention "the Truth," but we still can't win.

No "Answer"

Soooo... it seems like the rumors about the Celts working a trade for Allen Iverson weren't quite as baseless as first reported.

What do we think of AI on the Celtics? Here's an excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell’s review of "The Wages of Wins" (David J. Berri, Martin B. Schmidt, and Stacey L. Brook, Stanford; $29.95), in the New Yorker last May:

"According to (the authors’) analysis, Iverson's finest season was in 2004-05, when he was worth ten wins, which made him the thirty-sixth-best player in the league. In the season in which he won the Most Valuable Player award, he was the ninety-first-best player in the league. In his worst season (2003-04), he was the two-hundred-and-twenty-seventh-best player in the league. On average, for his career, he has ranked a hundred and sixteenth. In some years, Iverson has not even been the best player on his own team."

Iverson's not the answer for the Celtics. On WEEI, Ian Thompson from SI is talking about how Philly is done with AI. They feel they can't win with him (which supports the analysis above). According to Thompson, the thinking is that if they don't move Iverson now, everyone in the Philly front office could get canned.

Just the guy for an underacheiving team, no?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Fair to Tel?

The latest is that trade talks between the Celts and the Blazers are for real. and Chad Ford on ESPN say the talks “have legs.” The deal? Dickau and the #7 for Sebastian Telfair. (Danny Ainge loved ST when Portland drafted him couple years ago.)

The Celts fan blogosphere has erupted predictably around poles.

On the one hand…
“NO!!!!!!!!! Telfair is not worth the number 7 pick. “

On the other…
“I’d make the deal in a heartbeat ! There isn’t a point guard in this draft that has the skills of Telfair and he is still very young.”

A little perspective here.

I don't believe all that much in the whole "development" thing. I think you know in the first couple of years what a player is going to be. There are exceptions (Chauncy Billups is one), but I’ve observed that, generally, players who are successful in the NBA go through adjustment, not development. Takes 2-3 years max. Either they can play or they can't.

I don't mean to say players don't improve throughout their careers. They do. But after two seasons, we know what Delonte West brings to the table and we know he belongs. Perk's still on the fence. Al Jefferson is beginning to look like Kedrick Brown. Just can't get it together.

So, after two seasons, I think it's likely that Telfair is what he is. He's not a great shooter and he's turnover prone, and he'd be coming to a team where TOs are a huge problem. On the other hand, his numbers project to 15 ppg and just over 6 assists/40 minutes. He's quick, but I haven’t seen enough to make a judgment about his defense.

Telfair wouldn't be steal and he wouldn't be a stiff either. He’d give the Celts some depth at point. I think it's a toss up whether or not he's better than Williams or Rondo or even, perhaps, a healthy Dickau.

At the end of the day, though, I'd like to see something more from Portland. I'm not so interested in the rights to their picks this year. NEXT year though...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Terry Tate, Contract Linebacker

Celts blowing more smoke on signing Pierce to an extension. Read it in the Herald.

If I'm Paul Pierce's agent, I'm hiring Terry Tate, office linebacker to follow him around all year and DRILL him if he even THINKS of signing an extension with the Celtics.

Think about this for a second. Here's Pierce, one of the ten best players in the league, playing the best ball of his career on a team that has won 38, 45 and 33 regular season games and a whopping three playoff games in the last three years. Am I really going to sign this guy - who has maybe another 3-5 good years in him - to a team whose motto is "Be patient with us?" Nope, nope, nope. I'm going to let Pierce play out the season and then watch the teams line up to sign him for the big money, a chance at a title or both.

Can you imagine what the reaction would be if the Celtics had another lacklustre season and then LOST PIERCE at the end? "The parts of Danny and Doc will now be played by Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

King-makers again

Is it just me or do the Celtics seem to have an uncanny knack for getting OTHER teams a ring?

The Chucky Atkins deal they did with Detroit in Ainge’s first year allowed the Pistons to grab Rasheed Wallace and a title. The Celts? They got a back-up point guard with (here’s a shocker) a huge contract.

Now, Antoine trade numero dos nets Miami a starter that, love or hate his game, was an integral part of their championship run (14 points 11 boards last night on ‘Toine-ean shooting of 6-17). What did we get? Some cash I guess and a ticket to the lottery.

But it’s all good, right? Because Al Jefferson wouldn’t have become an All-Star without the playing time. Oh that’s right… he WASN’T an all-star.

I don’t begrudge Antoine anything, though. I hate his game, but he’s a class act. Great person and a great teammate. Good for him.

Friday, May 26, 2006

What should Danny do with #7?

Whatever GM Danny Ainge does in the draft, he should break with the Celtics’ tradition of the last 15 years or so and actually get value for the team’s pick and payroll dollars. Seems to me the best way to do that would be to package the pick with Wally Szczerbiak - a player with some value, but a one-dimensional game and a gargantuan long–term deal – for a veteran player who can defend and rebound, and whose contract gives the Celtics flexibility in the future. Of course, it would be better to package #7 with LaFrentz, a player with a worse contract and less value. As a friend of mine says, though, “If you mix doo-doo with lobster, it don’t taste like lobster.” No one will take that deal.