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Irish Coffee: Cutting Big Three’s minutes to win it

Wake up with the Celtics [1] and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Plenty of Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge‘s comments on The Big Show [2] on Thursday incited debate, and perhaps none more than the potential of bringing team captain Paul Pierce [3] off the bench in favor of starting Jeff Green [4] next season.

“Maybe Paul comes off the bench to cut down on his minutes. ‘€¦ That’€™s just hypothetical,” said Ainge. “I have no idea if that’€™s going to happen. If Jeff is back next year, I think his role will be expanded, and it wouldn’€™t shock me if the starting five is different.”

Now, whether or not Pierce becomes the team’s Sixth Man in 2011-12 (doubtful, in my eyes), Ainge’s larger point is a good one: The Celtics need to cut down on the minutes next year for Pierce, Kevin Garnett [5], Ray Allen [6] and possibly even Rajon Rondo [7], and the best way to do that is to increase opportunities for young talent like Green (age 24), Avery Bradley [8] (20) and Free Agent X.

As a result of injuries to Delonte West [9], Marquis Daniels [10] and the O’Neal “brothers,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers [11] called on the Big Four more over the course of this regular season than he did in 2009-10, when the C’s reached the NBA Finals [12]. With three of those guys entering the autumn of their careers and the other dealing with injuries to almost every part of his body, that’s not what the Doc was looking for.

Here are the per-minute averages for the Celtics’ core for the last two regular seasons …

Those numbers should be declining, not climbing (unless, in Rondo’s case, he’s completely healthy). It’s kind of like when people sell their grandfather’s 1988 Buick with only 97,000 miles on it: “Other than running a few errands during the week, he mostly drove it on the highway to see his grandchildren every Sunday.” In this scenario, the playoffs would be that Sunday drive out on the highway.

Obviously, Green isn’t going to get the 37 minutes per game he was playing in Oklahoma City, but he should definitely be playing more than the 23 minutes he got in 26 games for the Celtics. Assuming he wears green next season — and there’s no reason to think he won’t — his increased playing time alone could help spell Pierce’s minutes into the low 30s and Garnett’s into the high 20s.

It’s not like this would be a revolutionary scenario. After winning back-to-back Sixth Man of the Year honors in 1983-84 and 1984-85, Kevin McHale [13] served mostly as a starter for the next four seasons. Then, McHale returned to his Sixth Man role, averaging 33.2 minutes and playing all 82 regular-season games in 1989-90. Like McHale, Pierce will be four years removed from an NBA championship.

I’m not saying he’s in the same stratosphere as Pierce as a player, but Ainge went through the same thing at a younger age. He started 81 games and averaged 37.3 minutes for the 1987-88 Celtics. A year later, his starts and playing time declined to 54 games and 32.6 minutes, but his production increased.

In no way am I endorsing Pierce’s relegation to the bench, but the Celtics must limit the minutes for at least the Big Three — even if it means fewer regular-season victories. If they’re going to have to go on the road to beat the Heat and Bulls anyway, what’s the difference between the No. 3 seed or a fifth seed? It’s not like this group would be afraid of a first-round road series against the Magic or Hawks next year.


Of course, the Celtics could still win 50-plus games and limit the Big Three’s minutes, but that would take a couple more young, athletic role players on their roster in addition to the improvement of Green and Rajon Rondo (cough … jump shot … cough … free-throw shooting … cough).

The Globe’s Bob Ryan doesn’t see that happening [14], comparing the New & Old Big Threes while penning an obituary for the former. But Ryan failed to mention the fact that the two best young, athletic guys who were supposed to carry the torch for the Old Big Three — Reggie Lewis and Len Bias — died. Lewis did his part in the late ’80s and early ’90s, but can you imagine Bias gave them anything close to what was expected from him in the late ’80s? The Old Big Three could absolutely have won another title.

As Bill Simmons wrote in “The Book of Basketball,” “Bias cuts down everyone’s minutes, keeps everyone from playing injured, makes the actual games easier … it would have been the difference between [Larry] Bird and McHale traveling 200,000 hours a year in coach or 125,000 a year in first class.”

Now, again, I’m not saying Green is Bias, but he is a top-five pick who can give you 15 points and six rebounds a night. And Rondo, of course, is a two-time returning All-Star and First Team All-Defense pick. Add a couple younger role players (Bradley, the No. 25 pick this season and Free Agent X?), and that puts the Celtics in a much better position now than they were when they eventually declined to 15-67 in 1997.

Joining “The Mike Lupica Show [15]” in New York on Thursday, Rivers — who signed a five-year contract extension worth a reported $35 million [16] — hinted that was the plan going forward:

“We’€™re not going to win it just relying on the Big Three anymore, we just can’€™t. But we can win it with the Big Three. So our job this summer, we have to go out and sign a couple of players. We don’€™t need any superstars, we need the right pieces to complement those guys so those guys can play less minutes and we can still win games and get to the playoffs healthy.

“We can’€™t try to do formula we used this year, just going to get a bunch of veterans and try to get through the regular season, because that doesn’€™t work. In the playoffs now, with all the rule changes, you need athleticism, you need quickness to the ball. And quite honestly we just don’€™t have that. That stood out to me more than anything in this series.”


While Ainge told The Big Show that Jermaine O’Neal [17] will require surgery on his fractured left wrist, the Celtics’ starting center in the playoffs hasn’t decided his future yet. He may still have $6.23 million reasons to come back in 2011-12, but he also has two huge reasons to stay home in 4-year-old son Jermaine Jr. and 11-year-old daughter Asjia.

As JO told the Boston Herald [18], “The most important thing for me right now is my family and my kids. Basketball has dominated so much of my life for so long that I have to really take an honest look. Now, every time I leave the house my son is asking when I’€™m coming back. When I call home, it’€™s, ‘€˜When am I coming back?’€™ My daughter has been forgiving of it, but it may be time. I don’€™t know. I don’€™t want to suffer when I’€™m 45.”

The Oklahoman published what seems to be daily praise [19] for Kendrick Perkins [20]‘ contributions to the Thunder. He admitted he’s still in contact with a lot of his former Celtics teammates: “I’d be lying if I was telling you I was disconnected. We knew everything about each other. I hated to see them go down like this.”

As for Nate Robinson [21], that’s a different story. Fort Worth Star-Telegram Mavericks beat writer Dwain Price tweeted [22], “Did Nate Robinson not like his stay in Boston? He said:’I don’€™t know what they miss. I don’€™t talk to nobody on that team besides Von Wafer [23].'” …

You’ve got to read this Globe story [24] about the guy who in 2005 asked for three more years on his 30-year prison sentence for armed robbery and shooting with intent to kill because he loved Larry Bird [25]. Needless to say, the dude regrets his decision: “I’€™m sorry, Larry Bird, but I don’€™t love you that much to hang out to 2033. I’€™m ready to go out now.” …

The Star-Telegram also featured an interesting piece [26] about the extent to which the Mavericks went to keep Dirk Nowitzki [27] out of the Celtics hands in 1998 and how the late Robert “Tractor” Traylor played into it. Said Don Nelson [28], “We thought we knew for sure that the two teams behind us were locked into their picks, and wouldn’t trade if Boston wanted to move up ahead of Milwaukee, but there’s never a given. I was really sweating it for 15 minutes before Milwaukee got on the clock.”

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’€™s Irish Coffee or a future mailbag? Send an e-mail to brohrbach@weei.com [29] or a Twitter message to@brohrbach [30].)