Green Thoughts

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

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Stay of Execution

Celts blow out Knicks 123-98 last night. Here's Laske:

"God... if there is a team more deserving of pity than NY who is it? Isiah just plain sucks. They're probably waiting to see if this lady wins her lawsuit. Then they can fire him for cause and not have to buy out his contract. It was a 34 point lead a few minutes ago... it's safe to go to bed."

If you're a Knicks fan, though, you have one thing the Celtics don't: clarity. You KNOW you stink, the season's over and there are big changes in the offing. You even have something to look forward to: the distinct possibility you'll win the draft lottery (although any Celtics fans would tell you not to get your hopes up).

Celts fans, on the other hand, have to read and listen to more garbage about making the playoffs (seriously, kill me now), and more "stand by your man" stuff from Danny Ainge about coach Doc Rivers. It's like listening to Scott McClellan talk about Iraq. Yeesh.

These kinds of wins are more frustrating than the losses. I mean, Gomes went 15 and 13. Kendrick pulled down 12 boards. Delonte went for 21 and 6. WHO CARES? It’s completely meaningless against the Knicks. All it does is buy Doc another game.

The Celts have Chicago, Washington and Philly next. Best thing that could happen is they lose all three, get a better lottery pick and Rivers is gone. With things this bad in NYC, maybe we could get a shot at Larry Brown. Worst thing: they win all three, make or fall just short of the playoffs and bring Doc back for another year, only to can him when the team stinks again, thereby deep-sixing another training camp and a good chunk of the year.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Doc Rivers Countdown

After last night's fiasco against the Bulls, I'm taking guesses on how long before Danny makes Doc walk the plank. Laske says Tony Brown's the new head coach no later than Friday, March 31. (After all, it would be cruel to can Doc on April Fool's Day!) I'm standing pat on my last prediction. With the team on the hook for $5 million a year for the next three years, I don't think the Celts can Doc right now. I say Doc closes out the season and either doesn't come back, or does on a very short leash.


So... our guys blew another double digit fourth quarter lead last night, at home to the sub .500 Chicago Bulls, who happen to be between us and the free-falling Philadelphians.

Quoth my buddy Frank Laske:

"Celts...what can you say...10 point lead going into the 4th quarter...Have we heard this before? Do we want to hear anymore? Where's my 'done fork?'"

Right on Frank.

Can we please stop talking about the playoffs now? Pumping up some drive to get executed by the Pistons in four games was garbage to begin with, and it clearly hasn't inspired the team, particularly the youngsters. In fact, it really isn’t even fun to watch the kids anymore. Jefferson’s out (again). Perkins had 14 boards last night and Gomes 15 the nightbefore, but otherwise, both have been thorougly underwhelming over the past couple of weeks. Delonte's consistent. Green is still non-existent.

The Globe's Shira Springer makes a great point in her account of the loss. All this stuff about developing the kids and team progress seems pretty ridiculous in March when you're losing games in exactly the same ways you did in November and December.

Organizational rhetoric aside, I don't know how they bring Doc back next year. It was painful, but gratifying last Sunday to see SOMEONE in the media other than Bill Simmons take notice of the fact that Rivers' career coaching record is mediocre at best. The Globe's Peter May made the point that no one in the NBA has coached more games without a playoff win. And it ain't gonna start this year.

The take here is that if Rivers is back next year, he'll be on a short leash. If the team starts off with more of the same inconsistency and softness, Ainge will pull the trigger, can Rivers and either take the reins himself or go with Tony Brown, who actually has some pretty good experience and the respect of the players. We all love Doc and want to see him succeed, but watching the Celts this year has been like watching a car crash in slow motion over and overand over...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Playoffs or Play Off?

From erstwhile sports guru Frank Laske:

The Celts are 4 behind Philly with 15 games to go. Chicago also has us by half a game. Not sure if we can make it, but I still want them to try. Sorry to see Al Jefferson get shut down by Doc. I guess the ankle is too questionable. And I'm happy to see GG getting some more time and points. An upside for us is that most of our rookies have made impressive leaps over the year. Gomes, West, Jefferson, Perkins, Greene...have all improved dramatically. I'm a little less impressed with OG and Tony Allen (although TA did have a breakout game the other night). Jones got in last night as Candy went on DL. Doc doesn't seem interested in developing those two at all, so the quest for the big man continues I guess.

Would it be better to make or miss the playoffs? That's about the only thing left to debate this season.

I'm on board with the Globe's Peter May that it's probably better for the team to make the lottery. It's not the answer, but it gives them better options in the future. And if this year isn't about the future, than it's pretty much a complete loss.

That said, the answer is not so much in who we add in the offseason, but who have now and can develop. If the kids started to play so well that the team made the playoffs. I guess that would be good news, even if the offseason options aren't as enticing. But I'm so utterly disgusted by the NBA's playoff system - designed specifically to squeeze the fan and cater to the greed of owners and players - that the entire notion of a Celtics-Pistons series makes me want to vomit.

I agree with Frank that it's been gratifying to see some of the kids develop, but I'm not so sure what we're left with here, and if we'll be all that much better next year. Delonte West is a bona fide player, although the Celts could still use a big assist guy at the point. Ryan Gomes seemed to be a star in the making for awhile there, but have you seen his numbers lately? Since the Milwaukee game, he's gotten big minutes, with little production. Between injury and legal hassles, this has been a lost year for Tony Allen. (What a shame.) And I'd hoped to see Al Jefferson's star rise quite a bit, but he's often injured and inconsistent. I still don't know what we have there, or with Kendrick Perkins. Some nice games here and there. Not much more. And Gerald Green? He can hardly get on the court.

Next year really is make or break for this team. Youth won't be an acceptable excuse anymore. No more talk about potential for Jefferson and Perkins. They need to stay healthy and produce. Rivers needs to show he can win a playoff series and get a team to perform with some consistency. Ainge has said next year, he's looking for 45-50 wins. If they get it, he, Rivers and the youth movement are vindicated and the "plan" moves on. If not, Danny will be remembered as the guy who blew up a playoff team for something a notch above the Atlanta Hawks.

Monday, March 20, 2006


To prove that it's hip with the whole new media thing, has set up a faux blog (a fog) called "the Green Room." Three online columnists throw down in a format that looks like a blog, but of course, doesn't actually allow anyone outside the star chamber to post. And these guys wonder why Google and Blogger are eating their lunch. Oh well...

Today, fogger Jesse Nunes carries on about the Celtics still having a chance to make the playoffs. Jesse, no one cares. The team is buried on page three or five or whatever of the sports section.

To say the Celts are playing meaningful games in their quest to be clubbed by Detroit like a harp seal by an eskimo, ignores the fact that 16 playoff teams and four rounds essentially make the regular season meaningless. By perpetuating this nonsense, Nunes acts as a mouthpiece for NBA owners and their absurd system, which exists primarily to fleece poor suckers like him who support teams that have no business being anywhere but the lottery.

This isn't to say that the lottery is the way to banner number 17. The Celtics don't really need any more young players, and I'm not seeing any franchise players in the NCAA tournament. A lottery pick would probably be most useful in trade to get some cap relief or a veteran who could contribute. But Danny's in love with Raef (ugh), and how much veteran you gonna get for a mid-level lottery pick?

So... playoffs, no playoffs... it's unimportant. If the team is going to get anywhere in the long term, the players they have now are going to have to develop into something special.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Without leader, Celts will always be green

Another hideous loss for our beloved Boston Celtics: 102-94 at the hands of the Suns. Welcome to ten games under .500.

It’s not about blame at this point. It’s also not about talent or Wally or even youth. It’s about the fact that the team has lost three in a row and is now ten games under .500. It’s about turnovers, missed foul shots, comebacks that consistently fall short and leads that evaporate.

Sure Wally was off from the floor. But he stepped it up on the boards and with assists and Pierce picked up the scoring slack. If I told you before the game that Pierce and Wally would give the Celts 45 points, 13 boards and seven assists, that West would give you 12 and 4, Perk would add ten boards and Big Al would give you a 17 and 7, and then if I told you that the Celts would both outshoot and out rebound the Suns, who were on the last leg of a brutal road trip without Amare, You’d have thought that would add up to a sure win. Buuuuttttt NOOOOOoooooo….

And can we please stop using youth as an excuse? How many times last year did we watch the team come roaring back in the second half and then let a game slip away in the final minutes? How many times did they blow big third and fourth quarter leads? This was a team that was sub .500 before the Walker trade in 2005. It’s not a talent problem or a youth problem or even, necessarily, a coaching problem. They have a LEADERSHIP problem.

Sometimes your team leader can be one of the players: Russell, Havlicek, Cowens, Bird, Magic, Jordan, etc… As good as Pierce is – and last night that was SMOKIN’ good – he’s not that guy. He’s not the guy that simply will not allow his team to lose. He missed some crucial foul shots down the stretch and went cold from the floor in the last seconds. And it’s not the first time.

Traditionally, though, leadership comes from the coach: Pat Riley, Larry Brown and, yes, Jim O’Brien. In the NBA, a coach doesn’t necessarily have to be a good teacher, good at game management or x’s and o’s (although I think Doc comes up short in those areas too). He’s got to win the respect of his players, motivate them, and give them the sense that they’re capable of winning. The greatest coaches can inspire their teams not only to reach their potential, but also go beyond.

Doc has the respect of his players and does a terrific job of managing difficult personalities. But both here and in Orlando, he’s had a hard time getting the most out of his TEAMS. And when it comes to crunch time, Doc’s guys often crumble.

My guess is they stay with Doc for the rest of the year. The kids will keep developing. If they finish strong, the Celts may keep him around next year and can him if the team underachieves next year, with Danny taking the reins. If they keep playing .390 ball, though, they’ll drop Doc quickly after the last game.

Where they go from there is anyone’s guess.

Could O'Brien Change Rivers' Course?

The satisfaction of seeing the Globe's Peter May and ESPN's Bill Simmons FINALLY start to hold Celtics coach Doc Rivers to account provides some relief during this fiasco of a season. Local scribes have been nibbling at Doc's edges for weeks now, most notably in Bob Ryan's year-end assessment of Boston's big four sports teams.

Look, it was agony to watch the Celtics when Jim O'Brien was coaching. Even when they won it was ugly: sludgeball and all those "silly threes." And the style of play was less enraging than O'Brien's contempt for anyone who questioned the wisdom of an offensive approach that allowed your starting power forward to lead the league in three point attempts. "We can't win any other way," Obie would snap at his critics. What crap.

BUT - and this is the thing - O'Brien won. He took a perennial loser, won just shy of 50 games and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. And he did it with a team that certainly was less talented than the current 14-22 squad. (Just ask Paul Pierce.) O'Brien's teams may have been unbearable to watch, but GM Danny Ainge's decision to blow up the Celtics and go in another direction (which led to O'Brien's resignation) has not panned out.

It's unfair of Simmons to say " the local media doesn't seem to care -- there hasn't been a relevant writer covering the team since Jackie MacMullan." May in particular called Ainge out last summer for essentially blowing up the team AGAIN and going with a youth movement in the third (rather than the first) year of the new regime. He predicted that things would not go well and they haven't.

But the initial decision to hire Rivers went largely unscrutinized. And until now, Doc has largely escaped criticism for the way the team has underacheived this year and last. Doc never won as many as fifty games in Orlando, and has never won a playoff series. His teams underacheived - particularly in the first half of the season, but most notably in an embarassing 3-1 postseason collapse to Detroit. He famously feuded with Tracy McGrady. True, he won Coach of the Year, but the Magic still missed the playoffs that season. Why was this the guy to take the Celtics to the next level? And why did he escape criticism after last year's Celtics performed pretty much the same as Rivers' Orlando teams, including the disgraceful game seven loss to the Pacers?

Yes, play the kids. Yes, settle on a rotation. And, if Rivers can't do that, then, yes, can him and have Danny take the reins. But... here's another, completely insane, utterly outrageous idea. Bring O'Brien back.

O'Brien got the team to play defense and rebound. He was a master at getting more out of a less talented team. Other than Pierce, he had a bunch of guys nobody else much wanted. (I mean, Mark Blount? Tony Battie?) He got them to play a grueling defensive style because they really COULDN'T have won any other way. The problem was that success (as moderate as it may have been) made him resistant to change. Ainge came in and saw that the team was just going to have to get more talented if it was ever going to be a real contender. He blew up the team and Obie - who had won doing it HIS way - split (and did a pretty good job in Philly if you ask me).

But what if both men could swallow their pride? What if Danny could call up Obie and say "Y'know... you may have been right about the importance of toughness and the need to focus more on defense." And what if Obie could admit "You know, you DO have more talent now. Ricky Davis wasn't the cancer I thought he'd be. The kids could be great and Pierce is playing better than ever." What if they both could swallow hard and focus on the fact that, if Obie could get the Celtics to play defense and stop coughing up the ball, this could be a very good team.

I KNOW. Now way it will happen. But O'Brien does, as they say, have some time on his hands. And, other than one brilliant twelve game run after the Antione Walker trade last year, the Celtics haven't been able to succeed without him. Pride has left O'Brien unemployed and Ainge with a team that's irrelevant. It couldn't hurt to call.

In November, Celts fans have little to be thankful for

So... my beloved Celtics are 4-7. They've lost four of their last five games. Two of the losses came against the bottom-dwelling Seattle Supersonics (5-6) and... gulp... Atlanta Hawks (1-9, the 1 coming courtesy of the Celtics).Shira Springer was dead on in the Globe this morning. The Celtics can talk about the youth of the team all they like, but when you give up 120 points to the worst team in the league, experience isn't the problem, showing up is.

In fact, the kids are alright. Last night was something of a coming out party for Justin Reed, the second year, second rounder the Celtics touted last season. Reed shot well, made good decisions and, most of all, played stifling defense. On a night when veterans Raef LaFrentz and Mark Blount were making Al Harrington look like Kevin Garnett, Reed was the only Celtic to put the clamps on. Orien Greene started at point in place of the oft injured Delonte West and, despite the fact that the Globe's Springer was unimpressed, seemed to play with composure, to play defense and to take care of the ball. Not bad for a rookie second round pick. Allen and West are hurt, and someone may need to mention to Al Jefferson that he's not quite ready for Springfield yet (playing defense would help), but again, the youngsters aren't the problem.

Seven footer Mark Blount (one rebound and five turnovers in 25 minutes) may be. LaFrentz too has been unimpressive on defense. Dan Dickau has showed he can shoot the ball, but is also a defensive liability, and fouled out stupidly at the end of the game just when the Celtics needed a little scoring. From quarter to quarter, Ricky Davis seems either to be taking over a game or almost completely MIA, as when he dribbled into Orien Greene last night, another costly mistake at the end of a game.

As a team, the Celts fall apart in the fourth quarter. They turn the ball over. They don't execute. And what hapened to the running game the Celtics were supposedly committed to? I watched nearly the entire second half and, other than a Ricky Davis sneak away, everything was half court, which is problematic when your bigs won't rebound and the team can't effectively run the plays you've drawn up.

We're hardly a month into the season, of course, but the trends are troubling. Moreover, the Celtics' early season schedule is heavy with home games and some mediore teams. Boston has yet to win on the road. Just a guess, but if you can't win in Atlanta, I'm thinking you're not going to win in San Antonio. Or New Jersey for that matter.So... what to do. Trades? Ainge has already traded or released most of the team he inherited. Hell, he traded Antoine Walker twice. People talk about moving Pierce, but he's not the problem. In fact, Pierce seems to have taken things up a notch from last year, which was arguably one of his best seasons. He scores. Many nights he pulls down more boards than LaFrentz and Blount combined. And anybody catch his steal on Joe Johnson in the fourth quarter against the Hawks? Brilliant. Spare me the crap about body language. Pierce is playing his guts out.

Be nice to move LaFrentz and Blount, but those contracts Danny took on make them "immobilare." And even if they had great contracts, I don't imagine that Blount, for instance, has a whole lot of value. Teams aren't looking for seven footers who don't rebound or play defense, then bitch to their coach about wanting more touches on offense.No one's talking about it, but if things haven't changed after another ten games, or if they've worsened, Ainge may need to take a look at the coach. The Celtics aren't competing and the players a beginning to look a little like they're tuning Rivers out. People will say it's early to start pointing fingers at the coach, and the Celtics gave him a long term deal for big money, but the Rivers coached Celts have followed up last year's disappointing playoff loss with a disappointing start. If he can't turn the team around by the quarter point in the season, Ainge may have to start thinking about taking the reins.

In the long-term, though, Ainge himself has to take some heat. He's brought on some terrific young talent and made some smart trades, but Ainge has also taken on some hideous contracts that have left the team unable to fill holes or bring on veterans to balance out the kids. The Celtics have been whining about the salary cap ever since the inception of free agency. If Ainge wants to be remembered as a successful GM, though, he's going to have to figure out a way to clear some space so the team can do more than dip a toe into the market. Otherwise, the Celtics will be perpetually green. And perpetually disappointing.

The 2005-2006 season: Stepping back?

It's midsummer now and I'm trying to get a sense of just where the hell this team is going. I have to say, I have decidedly mixed feelings as we get closer and closer to the 2005-2006 season.

On the one hand, I don't share the jaundiced view of the youth movement that I read from some scribes in the print media. I'm excited about the kids and this last draft looks like another steal of Auerbachian proportions. Folks were talking about the Celtics taking Ryan Gomes in the FIRST round. It's as though someone handed the Celtics the number three pick in the draftfor nothing.

I also think that it's awfully early to begin post mortems on the 2005-2006 season because of the lack of veteran talent. This team would be looking a lot better if it had held on to some young players named Chauncy Billups and Joe Johnson. And who's to say that the Celtics won't develop some of the kids and trade them for veterans who can balance out the roster?

On the other hand, what we see is apparently what we're going to get from the Celtics when they tip off in November. It WILL be a step back and as a fan and a member of the paying public, that makes me both furious and frustrated. After burning through two seasons, how can the Celtics turn to the fan base now and say "We're rebuilding. We need you to be patient?" The time for that was TWO years ago. A couple of great drafts can't hide what the team is really saying to fans: "Our strategy for the last two years has been a failure. Keep buying tickets while we give it another try."

I was first in line to drive Antoine to the airport when I heard he'd been traded two years ago. He symbolized an unwatchable style of play. GM Danny Ainge decided that he wanted to try and build around Pierce and moved Walker for LaFrentz and Welsch.Now flash forward a couple of years. The team is essentially rebuilding again. They actually had to bring Walker back to salvage last season. Although healthy and serviceable last season, LaFrentz has been a "trick or treat" kind of player and the Celtics can't do anything in the free agent market because they're choking on his contract (along with Blount's and... GUH! Vin Baker's!). On top of that, they now want to move Pierce, the guy they wanted to build around, but he has ZERO trade value.

Consider this: of the two "stars," Walker and Pierce, who had more value two years ago? Pierce, to be sure. And whose skills as a passer and rebounder were more suited to a running game? Walker. What if the team had held on to Walker and moved Pierce? Chances are they'd have gotten more "value" for Pierce, while not having to swallow a poison pill like LaFrentz's contract. Now Maybe Antoine would have worked out. Maybe not. One thing's for sure, though. His contract would be UP and the team would be under the salary cap.

After this season, it will be 20 years since the last championship. I'm sick of the excuses. The big three, Len Bias, and Reggie Lewis have all been gone for a long time now. And you can blame the f'ed up NBA lottery system for awarding Duncan to the Spurs, but not for letting go of talented players like Billups and not for Acie Earl, Kedrick Brown, Joe Forte, Jerome Moiso and a bevy of other forgettable draftees. And is it just me, or have the Celtics NEVER brought in a real impact free agent? It's the same salary cap for everyone boys. Stop whining and taking on monster contracts like LaFrentz and Blount and deal with it!I wrote a friend earlier this week and told him in a fury that the Celtics were going to have to show me something this year if they wanted to keep me buying tickets and watching the games. I don't mean they have to win 55 games this season. Just give me a reason to believe they will contend sometime this DECADE.

Draft 2005: Green go Green

The end of last season was a huge disappointment for the NBA's Boston Celtics and their fans. The loss to Indiana - a less talented team - in the first round of the playoffs was hard enough to swallow, but final game's blow out loss in Boston was probably one of the most humiliating moments in Celtics history. The regular season wasn't exactly a bell-ringer either. Although they played strong for stretches in the second half of the season, the Celtics still ended up only eight games over .500. A team that featured all-star guard/forward Paul Pierce, past all star forward Antoine Walker, perennial all star and sure hall of fame guard Gary Payton, dynamic sixth man Ricky Davis a healthy center in Raef LaFrentz and a crop of exciting rookies should have done more.

The offseason promised to be both interesting and complicated for Boston. The team has already made it clear that Payton won't be back, although he talked a good game to the press last year and seemed to do a lot of nodding in the huddle. The word is, though, that on the floor he did whatever he wanted. He was always bitching about other people not running, but count the number of times he walked the ball up the floor last year.The conventional wisdom has been that the Celtics won't bring Antoine Walker back for more than $5M a year. That's quite a drop from last year's $14M salary. Antoine has said he expects to take a pay cut, but he's probably thinking of a deal in the $8M-$10M range. He can't get that. Not here. Not on the market. He can take the pay cut and stay in Boston where he's loved and wants to retire, or he can take it somewhere else. Be interesting to see if he can swallow his pride, or if he'll split out of spite. Whatever the case, Celtics GM Danny Ainge won't budge.

Perhaps the most frustrating news during the offseason has been reports that Celtics captain Paul Pierce has drawn no interest from teams around the league looking to make a deal. Pierce has a stink on him like doo-doo since the world championships a couple of years ago when he acquired a reputation as a bit of a pouter and a selfish player. Pierce only reinforced the perception during the playoffs, when he nearly cost his team a win taking a swing at Pacer Jerome Tinsley after a hard foul in the closing minutes of game six. Now Pierce is seen as a talented player who wants to be the man, but can't win.

The Payton move will probably be addition by subtraction. If 20-year-old Al Jefferson continues to develop into a bona fide monster in the post next year, it might blunt some of the impact of Walker's exit (should he and Boston not come to an agreement). And pouting or not, Pierce would probably be good for 22-25 ppg and 7-8rpg. Still, it's hard to say that the 2005-2006 Celtics would be better than last year's model. The team would be very young and still have no proven point guard. You could almost hear the fan base deflating.

That's why last night's draft was so huge. Texas high school phenom Gerald Green was projected by most draft-masters to go to Portland, who held the sixth pick in the draft, smack dab in the middle of the lottery. ESPN's Chad Ford had Green going as high as three. Described as an explosive player, and a lights-out shooter who can "jump out of the gym," Green has been compared to Rockets superstar Tracy McGrady. It was such a foregone conclusion that Green would be a lottery pick, in fact, he wasn't even on the Celtics' board. They were sure he wouldn't be there. It's the sort of luck the Celtics' haven't had in the draft since Len Bias died.

Now the offseason becomes even more intriguing. Does having a young talent like Green embolden Ainge to trade one of his other young players if it makes it easier to move Paul Pierce, open up some playing time for the kid and get some value in return?It's a crucial time for the team. They have a group of extraordinarily talented - and extraordinarily young - players. If they learn to play the "right way" - ferocious defense with an emphasis on transition, sharing the ball and making each other better - the Celtics could have the core of a team that will contend for many years to come. That's why it's so important for Ainge to move Pierce and fellow malcontent Mark Blount and bring in some strong veteran leadership, even if that means sacrificing on the talent end of a deal. The team needs a seasoned point guard and an enforcer who can tell the kids to shut up, come correct and play team basketball. Boston will certainly be a more dynamic team in November 2005 than it was in November 2004. Only veteran leadership, though, will make the Celtics a better team.