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Ian Thomsen on D&C: C’s need to adjust game

02.01.10 at 11:08 am ET

Sports Illustrated NBA writer Ian Thomsen made an appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning to talk about the Celtics‘ recent woes. He explored the team’s current struggles, whether the Big Three still has the legs to mount a championship run, whether the team might consider a major deal along the lines of a trade of Ray Allen or whether a move to acquire a player such as Kirk Hinrich of the Bulls could help the team to pull out of its current funk.

Following is a transcript. To hear the interview, click here.

How quickly is the window closing?

It’s going to close fast if they don’t make the adjustments they need to make. They aren’t themselves, and I’m talking about [Kevin] Garnett especially, and [Paul] Pierce a little bit, and even Ray Allen. They’re just going to need to adjust the way they play, to try to make the best of it while they get through this transition. If they still think they can win a championship, they can’t do it the way they are playing now. They have to sort of do a transitional style to get them to March and April with a chance to win it.

Meaning what? Get new people?

Garnett needs to be more of a center right now. He’s not himself. He’s not beating guys down the floor in transition. [Lakers coach] Phil Jackson brought that up yesterday. He needs to be more that post-up guy, play a little bit more inside, they can play the ball through him. He needs to figure out what he can do and do that. Because what he’s doing now isn’t very productive.

They’ve been outscored in the fourth quarter in 12 of their last 14 games. Is that age and injury?

It’s age and injury, and I really think they’re asking too much of Rajon Rondo in his [fourth] year to be doing so much, to be carrying them, playing a lot of minutes, and then to lead them in the fourth quarters the way he’s been having to do. I think he’s come a long way, he’s a terrific player, he’s going to be even better in a couple of years. But right now they’re asking too much of him.

A lot of it just doesn’t make sense. The team doesn’t make sense, when you look at the hierarchy. Think about two years ago. When you looked at the stats for the season, it just all made sense the way the shots were divvied out, the order of things. And they don’t have that order right now. Rondo’s a big part of the offense as a point guard who is not a great shooter. Really, it all just comes down to not having Garnett be himself, and he’s got to figure out some way to be productive right now.

Is Rasheed Wallace doing more harm than good?

He’s in a position that he cannot fill. He’s being asked to play too many minutes, play too big a role at his age. He did not have a good year last year, playing a lot of minutes for Detroit. The whole idea was for him to be a sixth man and a spot player, play big minutes every once in a while in big games, but not do what he’s having to do. So in this position, yeah, at this stage of his career, I don’t think he’s helping.

Will two more months have this team in better shape? Given that they seem to be losing steam, might it not be the case that they’re in worse shape when the playoffs arrive?

That’s true. The one thing you don’t see right now is the ingenuity. You don’t see the wisdom winning out. They’re worse in the fourth quarter than younger teams. They just aren’t being creative as players. It’s almost like they’re living in the past a little bit, saying, ‘I used to be able to do this, I should be able to do it now.’ I just think, at the moment, maybe not for the whole season, but at the moment, they need to adjust to what they can and cannot do and change their games just a little bit. Pierce could post up more. Garnett could play closer to the basket. They can just adjust their games. It doesn’t have to be this way all season. It just has to get them through this transition. They’ve got to use their wits more, it seems to me.

Do people in other NBA cities think the Big Three window has closed?

I don’t know if they did before this week, but it’s one of those things where, if the Celtics want to be included in the conversation, they have to prove it now. It’s because of what I’m talking about here, I think. It’s one thing for them for Garnett not to look good, but these guys are not strong in their minds right now. They’re not being creative.

They’re getting beat in the fourth quarter, and that really should not happen to older teams. Older teams should steal games in the fourth quarter. That’s really what the Celtics were doing over the first third of the season. They were stealing a lot of games that maybe they shouldn’t have won, and now they’re not doing that anymore, and I think that gets them out of the conversation.

Could they trade Ray Allen?

I really don’t think so. Then you’re really having to start over. But maybe they could. Danny Ainge is the one guy who could really do that. He’s the one guy that would take that gamble if he really thinks that’s what needs to be done. And they could trade Ray Allen, because right now in the league, an expiring contract like Ray Allen’s is a big asset. Teams are looking ahead to the year 2011, when it’s going to be a new collective agreement, there could be a hard cap, the salary’s are going to go way down, and a lot of teams will want to get Ray for that. If you have a guy with three or four years on his contract for big money, and that big money is going bad in 2011, you’ll want to trade him for Ray Allen’s expiring deal and get Ray for 2011 while the Celtics want to win now. So, I really think, before this week they were looking more at a guy like Kirk Hinrich who could come off the bench and be the third guard and resolve all their ball-handling problems in the backcourt.

During the offseason, if Ainge concludes that he would rather bail too early than wait too long, what would the formula be for an overhaul?

It’s funny. I hadn’t thought about this until you raised that point. A while ago, a couple years ago, Danny told me that he would have arguments with Red Auerbach, and he would tell Red, I think you ought to be trading Larry Bird and Kevin McHale and all these guys right now, because we’re too old as a team. Red would say, ‘No, no — it’s not the time.’

Danny was telling me back then that he used to joke with Red that all of us, including himself, should be traded right now. So obviously that’s in Danny’s makeup.

What they would do — man, I haven’t even looked at it yet, to be honest with you. I think Kevin Garnett has [three] years left and would be very difficult to trade. Expiring deals are the key here. I just don’t see it, that they can do anything quickly. I think Pierce has one more year left [after this season]. It would simply be a matter of trading the expiring deals first. Pierce expires next year, and he’s $21.5 million next year. Garnett makes $18.8 next year and he’s $21.2 million in 2011. So, you could trade Pierce next year, and Pierce would probably be easier to trade than Garnett, the way that he’s playing right now.

Do you think Garnett is dragging his leg up the court right now? Do you think he will be better and healthier in April or May?

It’s a fair question, and I wonder about it myself. He does look like he’s limping slightly or dragging it. He’s not Willis Reed dragging it. He’s running and everything, but he’s just not himself. I think in deference to who Kevin Garnett is, he’s earned that bit of benefit of the doubt where you say, ‘If anyone can figure out a way to do this, it’s this guy, who cares so much and obviously puts his whole heart into the game. If there’s anyone who can get through this, it’s him.’ I think he’s earned that benefit of the doubt, but whether he can really do it, the people around the league who are going to be very black and white about these things, very cold about them, they’re going to be skeptical and say, ‘I’m not going to believe it until he shows it.’

Three years from now, will Rondo be the centerpiece of this team, and will Kendrick Perkins be just another guy with the Big Three gone?

Perkins is a defender and rebounder and shot-blocker, those types of things. He’ll always have value, and I don’t think anyone overrates him right now for what he is, or underrates him. He’s got a lot of respect for what he does. When you see him play against the best centers — Dwight Howard and those guys — you really respect what he does. He’s always going to be a valuable guy, as long as his shoulders are healthy.

Rondo cannot be the centerpiece of the team because he’s not going to lead your team in scoring because of the shooting, unless it improves drastically. He’s always going to need somebody to pass to. He’s always going to need a guy around him. He’s not Chris Paul, who can carry a team. It’s almost like Derrick Rose needs somebody in Chicago very badly. He’s really missed Ben Gordon. That’s going to be Rondo’s deal. You can’t replace Rondo. He’s a terrific guy to have, and he’s going to be very good for a long time, but he’s not one of those guys who you’re going to say he’s carrying the team.

Which is why he’s not on the floor in the last seven seconds?

I just look at him and say, ‘It’s unbelievable how far he’s come. All the Celtics fans should be thanking God for how far he’s come, [because of] how bad they’d be if he wasn’t there right now with those young legs.

What would a Hinrich deal look like?

I think what they were proposing was just spare parts. I think the best of them was Glen Davis — they’re not calling him ‘Big Baby’ there — and whatever expiring contracts it would take between Brian Scalabrine and Tony Allen and a couple of those draft picks. Maybe they would even throw in some cash, though I doubt it because they’re taking on Hinrich’s money and paying the tax on it.

What would Hinrich’s role be?

He would be the third guard, coming off the bench, and they would finally have a back-up point guard. That was one thing Doc talked about yesterday — he wanted to play Rondo with the second unit to give them some ball-handling. The reason for that is they don’t have Marquis Daniels anymore to bring the ball up, and the second unit flounders without that. Hinrich would give them that, and he fits perfectly for who they are and what they want to be, between his defense, he can spot up from three, he’s got point guard instincts. He would do a lot for them. But really, that deal means nothing if the Big Three aren’t playing well.

It seems like no one on the team wants to post up anymore.

Pierce, when Jim O’Brien was coaching Pierce and they were all young, Pierce was their best post-up player. He’s a very good post-up player. Garnett has never really been that. Maybe that’s what he needs to be. He’s got that in him, though. We saw it in the NBA Finals when he punished Pau Gasol time after time. He’s got it in him.

Rasheed, ever since that Game 7, Portland against L.A., when the Lakers started their dynasty by coming back from 16 down or whatever it was, Rasheed has stopped playing in the post. It’s driven everybody crazy who’s ever had him, whether it’s Portland or Detroit and now here. You just cannot get him to do it, and it’s less likely than ever that you’ll get him to do it now that he’s 35.

Is Shelden Williams in the doghouse?

Shelden Williams’ hands are just a problem. It’s just hard to complete the plays. He needs to spend a lot of time with Clifford Ray, just like Kendrick Perkins has. Remember Kendrick Perkins couldn’t catch the ball at the beginning of his career? That’s where Shelden Williams is. So it’s just hard to play with him a lot if you need some scoring. And Bill Walker, it’s always been a question of his knees, and if he can just hold up.

Will the return of Marquis Daniels improve the team?

Yeah, but Marquis Daniels is a guy who’s had a career of being hurt. Just because he comes back doesn’t mean he won’t get hurt again. But he will help a lot. I’ll say two things. First, it’s amazing to me in one sense that the Celtics are still where they are. If you look at the standings, if their guys do get better, if they do adjust their games a little bit, they can be in position to make a run still. They have put themselves in a spot where they can do something still. It’s not like they’re dead. On the other hand, all these other moves, whether it’s Marquis Daniels or Kirk Hinrich, none of them matter if the Big Three aren’t playing well. That’s what’s going to lead them far into the season. Cleveland’s not going to worry about Marquis Daniels or Kirk Hinrich, or anyone but Kevin Garnett.

Read More: Danny Ainge, Kevin Garnett, Kirk Hinrich, Marquis Daniels
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