Archive for February, 2012

What if the Celtics don’t make a move?

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Let’€™s say for the sake of argument that the NBA trade deadline passes on March 15 without the Celtics making a major move. Under that very plausible scenario, they would move forward with their aging core for presumably one last playoff stand. Who knows? Maybe they channel both the 1999 lockout Knicks and their own not-so-distant history by blazing an unexpected path to redemption through the postseason.

That last part may be unlikely, but the chances of team president Danny Ainge standing pat at the deadline rank at least even with pulling off a major move. What then?

As everyone knows, the Celtics will have enough salary cap space to pursue a max free agent with money left over. As everyone also knows, the chances of landing Dwight Howard fall somewhere between slim and none, which leaves Ainge in a quandary.

Does he use that new-found space to pursue lesser free agents or trades and try to stay competitive, or does he hold tight and wait for bigger names to become available down the line? The answer lies somewhere in between. In both his public comments and his actions, Ainge understands that the fastest way to irrelevancy is blowing through cap space on middling free agents. That doesn’€™t mean, however, that he will just wait for a savior to become available.

The Celtics’€™ rebuilding process is likely to take several years and will require patience and planning. Here is a highly speculative look at how it would look:

WHAT WOULD BE LEFT

The Celtics have four players under contract for next season: Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Avery Bradley and JaJuan Johnson. Brandon Bass has a player option for $4.25 million, which is a bargain for a player of his caliber, meaning he’€™ll likely opt out.

They also have an option on E’€™Twaun Moore and can make a qualifying offer for Greg Stiemsma, who have both flashed NBA ability and have the advantage of being extremely affordable. Assuming they retain both players, their cap situation looks like this:

Committed salaries with Bass: $35.52 million

Without Bass: $31.27 million

Expected salary cap for 2012-13 season: $58 million (Note: The cap is set after the season, but for the purposes of this exercise, the $58 million figure will do.)

It’€™s important to remember that the Celtics’€™ cap space is theoretical. The eight free agents, plus assorted other blasts from the past represent over $95 million in “cap holds.” (See Sham Sports salary page for details).

In order to use that space one of two things have to happen. Either the free agent player signs with another team, or the player’€™s rights are renounced.

It’€™s possible that say, Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen could be re-signed for significantly less money. It’€™s also likely that some players such as Mickael Pietrus or Chris Wilcox may be re-signed. Either way, it would be a surprise if all eight pending free agents had different addresses next season.

(The others: Jermaine O’€™Neal, Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic and Keyon Dooling).

THE DRAFT

Barring a complete collapse from the Clippers, the Celtics will have two first round draft picks: Their own and one from the Clips via the Kendrick Perkins trade. While that Clippers pick may not carry the promise of a lottery windfall like it once did, having two picks in what should be a loaded draft is a definite help in the rebuilding process.

The Celtics would have the 15th and 23rd picks in the draft at the moment. Per Draft Express, the 15th-rated prospect is none other than Duke freshman guard Austin Rivers and the 23rd rated prospect is North Carolina freshman forward James McAdoo. Obviously a lot will change between now and the draft, but even picking in the middle and latter part of the first round should yield quality options.

WHAT THE ROSTER MIGHT LOOK LIKE

PG: Rondo, Bradley, Moore
SG: Pietrus*
SF: Pierce, Jeff Green*
PF: Wilcox/Bass*, Johnson
C: Stiemsma

* Anticipated signing

We’€™ve gone ahead and slotted Pietrus, a returning Jeff Green and either Wilcox or Bass with the two first rounders on a theoretical roster, giving the Celtics 11 players for about $45 million. (Again, that’€™s very rough estimate).

That’€™s not enough for a max player, but if Howard goes elsewhere, as expected, there’s no one else besides Nets guard Deron Williams who is worth that kind of money. That’€™s still plenty of space to add players who can be part of the rebuilding project. The key is not breaking the bank and keeping their options open beyond next summer.

THE FREE AGENT MARKET

The obvious needs are at center and the shooting guard position. The free agent market may be thin in unrestricted free agents but there will be a larger-than normal influx of restricted free agents and they offer some intriguing possibilities.

Centers: Roy Hibbert, JaVale McGee, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, Omer Asik
Forwards: Ryan Anderson, Nic Batum, Mareese Speights, Michael Beasley, J.J. Hickson, Jason Thompson
Guards: O.J. Mayo, Eric Gordon, George Hill, Rudy Fernandez

SIGN-AND-TRADES

Garnett and Allen are the key figures here. It’€™s not out of the question that one or both could return at a reduced salary, but if they decide to go elsewhere, the Celtics could use them in sign-and-trade scenarios that could yield either players or trade exceptions for future use.

Remember, they used the sign-and-trade route to acquire Bass and turned a trade exception for Daniels into Dooling. Everything is an asset in the NBA, including expiring contracts.

TRADES

One of the benefits to having cap space is it allows you to absorb contracts without having to match salary in return. That opens the door to limitless possibilities for Ainge to wheel and deal. Teams below the luxury tax line can also take back 150 percent of player contracts in trades as opposed to 125 for taxpaying teams.

Additionally, Bradley, Johnson and Moore are getting important playing time. All three were unknowns before the season started, and while none of them may be cornerstone players that have more value now than they did when the season began. Add in two more first rounders and Ainge is in a position to begin stockpiling assets for a future move.

LUXURY TAX ADVANTAGES

It’s also worth pointing out that teams below the luxury tax threshold (about $70 million in salaries) have certain advantages, such as access to the bi-annual free agent exception (worth just under $2 million) and either the room exception ($2.5 million) or the non-taxpayer mid-level exception worth $5 million. In December, the Celtics could only offer the taxpayer mid-level worth $3 million.

It gets complicated in a hurry, but the larger point is that the Celtics would go from a tax-strapped, over-the-cap team to one with several new options and possibilities virtually overnight. All of that is why retaining flexibility is so important for the Celtics as they look to rebuild and why Ainge won’t trade his core players just to make a move.

Irish Coffee: 5 awful Celtics statistics, 1 good one

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

Following a 89-73 loss to the Mavericks, the Celtics dropped to 15-16 and the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed (just two games ahead of the lowly Cavaliers) — the worst start to any season of the Kevin Garnett era.

Facing the Thunder on Wednesday night without the suspended Rajon Rondo and possibly sans KG (personal reasons), things don’t stand to get any better, especially with injuries to bigs Jermaine O’Neal (wrist), Chris Wilcox (adductor) and Brandon Bass (knee).

Should all be unavailable in the team’s final game before the All-Star break, the C’s starting center midway through the 2011-12 season will come down to a choice between rookies Greg Stiemsma and JaJuan Johnson. Generally, that’s the kind of thing that happens when a team enters the year with an injury-plagued 15-year veteran as its only established center. Not to mention Kendrick Perkins will be starting for the opposing team.

In some respect Celtics president Danny Ainge had to see this coming, although nobody could have expected them to be this bad. Here are five shockingly awful statistics the 2011-12 Celtics have produced.

(more…)

Fast Break: Depleted Celtics no match for Mavs

Monday, February 20th, 2012

The Celtics came into Monday’s game with the Mavericks having lost three straight and five of six. It was also the second night of a back-to-back on the road and the next one of those they win will be the first.

Brandon Bass is out with knee problems. Kevin Garnett is away from the team and dealing with a family issue, and to top off the impending disaster, Rajon Rondo was suspended two games by the NBA after he threw the ball at referee Sean Wright in Sunday’s game.

In an utterly unsurprising result, they got blasted, 89-73. Give the Celtics who did play some credit. It could have been much worse.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– Without Garnett in the lineup, the Celtics had no one who could guard Dirk Nowitzki. Not surprisingly, the Mavericks took full advantage, not only running their offense through Nowitzki, but also getting Chris Wilcox into quick foul trouble, forcing the Celtics to use Mickael Pietrus on the All-Star.

– Rondo’s going to take some criticism for his suspension and all of it is justified. With his team falling apart, he simply can’t afford to let his emotions get away from him like they did on Sunday. It wasn’t the first time he’s whipped a ball at an official after a call he didn’t like and the NBA came down hard with a two-game suspension. Rondo is 25 years old. He’s a six-year pro and a two-time All-Star. This isn’t about growing up or maturity. It’s about keeping your composure when your team needs you and Rondo messed up. Simple as that.

– Just for kicks, Jermaine O’Neal sprained his wrist and didn’t return to the game. Ditto for Wilcox who strained an abductor muscle. At one point, the Celtics had Marquis Daniels and Pietrus at forward with Keyon Dooling and Ray Allen in the backcourt and Greg Stiemsma at center. That was one of the more conventional lineups the Celtics used in the second half.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Avery Bradley played 33 minutes and scored 12 points on 6-for-11 shooting with four rebounds, two assists and just one turnover. He played about as well as could be expected.

– Thanks to a late barrage of 3-pointers from the small-ball lineup, the Celtics were able to avoid a season-low in points. The Phoenix game lives on for another night.

Fast Break: Celtics get run over in Motor City

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

For brief stretches of Sunday night’s game against the Pistons, the Celtics looked like a competent basketball team. For most of the night, however, they looked like a team that would rather be anywhere but on the court.

It was hard to pick one moment that stood out as the worst in their 96-81 loss. There was the disastrous second quarter that saw them turn the ball over nine times while allowing six offensive rebounds and 16 free throws. Then there was Rajon Rondo getting thrown out late in the third quarter after a half-hearted comeback attempt had already run out of steam.

The Pistons shot a staggering 46 free throws, compared to 15 for Boston. Say what you want about the officiating — and the Celtics said plenty, picking up four technical fouls — but that speaks volumes about who was the aggressive team.

The Celtics are a .500 basketball team again and with games against the red-hot Mavs and the West-leading Thunder coming up, there’s a decent chance they will be less than that when the All-Star break mercifully happens next weekend.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– The Celtics scored 26 points and shots 65 percent in the first quarter. They had assists on eight of their 11 made baskets and the scoring load was evenly distributed between Paul Pierce, Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal. That was when Rondo went out of the game for a break, and once again the Celtics’ second unit failed to do anything offensively. It took them almost a quarter to score a basket and by that time Detroit had run up a 38-29 lead. Things were about to get worse.

– The Celtics committed 18 fouls in the first half, yielding 29 free throws. This, naturally, led to complaints about the officiating from Doc Rivers and Wilcox, who were both given technical fouls. Both men had valid complaints, but the Celtics were fouling guard Rodney Stuckey almost every time he drove to the basket because they couldn’t stay in front of him and they weren’t going to the line themselves because they once again turned into a jump-shooting team.

– Of course, the officials had nothing to do with the fact that the Celtics turned it over 13 times and yielded 10 offensive rebounds in the first half.

– Frustrated over a lack of calls, Rondo got shown the gate when he whipped the ball at referee Sean Wright late in the third quarter. The Celtics need more from their point guard.

JaJuan Johnson got pushed around physically by the Pistons front line. He better get used to it because that’s how it’s going to be every night until he proves himself.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– The Celtics once again kept a team under 40 percent shooting. It would have helped if they had rebounded those misses.

– O’Neal had eight points, five blocks and 11 rebounds.

Irish Coffee: Dichotomy of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Rajon Rondo couldn’t be hotter, averaging 28.0 points, 9.7 assists and 7.3 boards in the past three games.

Paul Pierce couldn’t be colder, averaging 11.3 points, 3.8 assists and 1.3 rebounds in his past four games.

And the Celtics are 1-4 in their past five games. So goes the 2011-12 NBA season for the aging champions.

Whether it’s the result of Rondo’s wrist injury coming on the heels of Pierce’s heel injury to start the season, compounded by whatever Pierce is going through the past handful of games (Charles Barkley credited age during Thursday night’s TNT broadcast), the C’s two best players haven’t been on the same page all season. Hence the team’s 15-14 record, which only stands to get worse if the trend continues in Dallas and Oklahoma City.

Just how poorly have Rondo and Pierce meshed on the court? Besides the fact that the two have yet to both exceed 15 points in the same game this season, take a look at their overall numbers with and without each other.

(more…)

Fast Break: Inconsistent Celtics lose inconsistent game to Bulls

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

The Celtics were good, bad and then good again against the Bulls on Thursday. Unfortunately for them, the game was four quarters long and by the time the C’s had pulled even with Chicago, they were out of gas. Give them credit for hanging in there against a tough team on the road on the second night of a back-to-back, but the Celtics should be way past moral victories at this point of the season.

The offensive balance returned as Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett all took between 12 and 17 shots apiece. Together, they took about 75 percent of the team’s shots. They just simply didn’t make enough. The defense also returned to previous level with the return of Garnett as they held Chicago to 40 percent shooting. But they gave up too many offensive rebounds (16) and fouled too much (the Bulls had a 28-18 edge in free throws).

It will go in the books as 89-80 loss, their fourth in the last five games and their long road trip is off to a frustrating start.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– Everything that happened in the second quarter. The Celtics were outscored 26-11, but that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. They shot 3-for-15 and were outrebounded 19-4. Omer Asik and Taj Gibson had seven offensive rebounds between them and played only four minutes each. They were scoreless for the first three and a half minutes of the quarter and didn’t make a basket until it was halfway over. Even all that doesn’t do justice to how poorly they played.

Chris Wilcox and JaJuan Johnson have made their contributions by being energy players. For three quarters, their collective batteries were on low. Wilcox picked up his game in the fourth, thanks to some highlight-worthy lob passes from Rondo. The rest of the bench play was ineffective at best and disastrous at worst. Without an effective second unit to provide support, the Celtics’ starters ran out of steam.

– Speaking of Wilcox, his fourth quarter technical foul couldn’t have come at worse time. The Bulls pushed their lead from five to eight and he went to the bench in favor of Jermaine O’Neal. The momentum the Celtics had built was gone.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Not so surprisingly, it turns out that Rondo and Pierce can co-exist when both players are aggressive. Less than 24 hours after a dismal offensive performance against Detroit, Pierce started Thursday’s game looking to score. He made three of his first four shots and while Pierce was doing his thing, Rondo stayed in the background. Once Pierce cooled off, Rondo took over. Together, they took 15 of the team’s 25 shots in the first quarter and set the tone for the rest of the night.

Ray Allen missed his first seven shots, but caught fire at just the right time, knocking down three straight 3-pointers as the Celtics pulled to within one point by the end of the third quarter after being down by double digits.

– Rondo operating in the post continues to be an intriguing wrinkle for the Celtics. While he’s not a true scoring threat on the block, getting Rondo isolated under the basket with shooters spaced out around him practically dares opponents to try and double-team him.

– Garnett had a double-double in his return from a hip flexor with 18 points and 10 rebounds. The Celtics desperately need him to stay healthy the rest of the season if they are going to have a chance.

Greg Stiemsma: ‘I’d love to pick Bill Russell’s brain’

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

BOSTON — Celtics rookie Greg Stiemsma won three Wisconsin high school Division 4 state championships in four seasons. Celtics legend Bill Russell won 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons. Needless to say, they’re worlds apart.

However, for one night at least, those worlds collided, as the two sat courtside to start Wednesday night’s Celtics loss to the Pistons — Stiemsma on the C’s bench and Russell next to team owner Stephen Pagliuca.

Of course, the the Development League project and the greatest winner in sports are forever linked after Celtics announcer and former Russell teammate Tommy Heinsohn compared Stiemsma to Russell earlier this season.

‘€œHis timing and how he goes about blocking shots does remind me of Russell,’€™’€™ said Heinsohn. ‘€œHe makes guys commit, he’€™s quick to his leap, and he gets his hand up there right when the ball is leaving the shooter’€™s hand.’€™’€™

While Stiemsma has 22 blocks in 176 minutes this season for an average of 4.5 blocks per 36 minutes, Russell is considered the game’s greatest shot blocker, so even the Celtics rookie laughed off the comparison.

“I mean, I heard it. Like I said before, that’€™s pretty far out of my realm. I would never imagine that,” he said, adding, “It was an honor to get that reference. And then, for it to come full circle, for him to be in the arena, it’€™s all part of the experience, all part of this journey that’€™s brought me here, so I’€™m trying to enjoy it as much as I can.”

(more…)