Green Thoughts

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

Friday, March 17, 2006

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.


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