There are 30 teams in the NBA, and among them a total of 1,230 regular season games are played annually over a six-month slate. As you might imagine, the process of scheduling these games is beyond complicated. It’s pretty much an art form. The guy who puts it together is actually referred to as an “architect” -- a man after George Costanza’s heart.
A majority of the schedule is random. Well-designed and mathematically sound, but there’s no rhyme or reason to who plays when and where, aside from the fact that a given matchup on a given date fits within a much larger puzzle. Of course there are a few exceptions: Opening night. Christmas Day. Each Sunday after February 1 and a handful of games every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday throughout the season. Those match-ups are determined through conversations and negotiations with the league’s broadcast partners. All in the name of national TV. But other than that, there’s no room for subjectivity. The beast won’t allow it. I’m talking about the schedule. Not David Stern.
But come on. COME ON.
Are we really supposed to believe that the Celtics just randomly fell into to the 48 hours that currently stand before them?
Tonight in Brooklyn, against Paul Pierce (most likely), Kevin Garnett and the Nets.
Tomorrow night at the Garden, against Doc Rivers and the Clippers.
What are the odds?
I’m awful at math. My guess is “something factorial.” But I do know that this marks the Clippers 30th season in Los Angeles (after moving from San Diego), and that in the time since, the Celtics have played the Nets and Clippers consecutively (in some order) only three times: December of 2012 (last year, oddly enough), December-January ‘93-‘94 (annoying, but the Clippers were the last game of the calendar year and the Nets were the first) and March ’88.
How many times have the Celtics played some variation of Nets and Clippers on back-to-back nights?
Avery Bradley. Leon Powe. Orien Greene. Walter McCarty. Eric Montross!
Zero. It’s never happened. And while there’s a first for everything (or most things), the fact that this particular first was scheduled immediately after the Celtics sent their head coach of nine years to the Clippers and two of the most important players in franchise history to the Nets is juuuust a little suspect.
I say suspect like it’s a bad thing, when it’s really the opposite. This is great. You couldn’t have handpicked a better time this season for the Celtics to come face-to-face with their past.
That’s because there’s already so much hope for the future. Granted this is just the beginning. There are many important decisions to made. Far too many potential lucky bounces and bad breaks lurking in the shadows. But at this point a few things have already become clear:
1. Brad Stevens is for real: An elite coach at this or any level, and not only from the sidelines. Two months removed from the start of training camp, and after only 22 games on the bench, Stevens has silenced every doubt surrounding his ability to relate to and earn the respect of NBA players on a day-to-day basis. This team is all in on Brad Stevens. And this is only the beginning.
2. It was time for Doc Rivers to go: That’s easier to say now given Stevens impact, and that’s not a knock on Doc’s ability as a coach. The Clippers are 14-8, first in the Pacific and the fourth seed in an unreasonably competitive Western Conference. The guy can coach. But he was no longer the right coach for this team.
Can you imagine how miserable Rivers would be in Boston this season? Depending on where you stand on the tank talk, the only benefit is that I guarantee the Celtics would have fewer wins than they do right now. And either way, given the state of his relationship with Danny Ainge once Danny commenced Operation Rebuild, I guarantee that Doc would have ended up walking away after this year. At that point, who knows what would have happened with Brad Stevens?
Instead, the Celtics guaranteed themselves Stevens, and got a first-round pick in return for a coach who no longer wanted to be the coach.
3. Thirty-seven-year-old Kevin Garnett and 36-year-old Paul Pierce for three first-round picks, the right to swap yet another pick and a $10 million trade exception is one of the most lopsided trades in recent NBA history: Of course, the Celtics still need to make good on the opportunity at hand. If those three first-rounders turn into Joe Johnson (and ultimately a season and a half of Tony Delk plus 27 games of Rodney Rogers), Kedrick Brown and Joe Forte, then I’ll have to re-think things.
But right now, Boston’s future is brighter than you ever imagined so soon after hitting the reset button. As a result, I’ve heard a few people suggest that Ainge waited too long to move on from the Big 3, and should have pulled the trigger at last year’s deadline or after Game 7 in Miami (2012) or Game 7 in LA (2010). And maybe that’s true. But at no point between then and now would Boston have found a deal as good as the one Brooklyn agreed on last summer. Three first-round picks. The right to swap a fourth?! No one was matching that. It was the perfect time for Ainge to strike.
The funny/wildly depressing thing about how this all played out is that, as it turns out, if the Celtics were really intent on losing as many games as possible this season, they should have brought everyone back. They could have had Doc on the bench, losing his will and plotting his escape. Paul Pierce, another year older and slower, playing games (though not always directly) with Jeff Green’s head. KG laboring through limited minutes. Jason Terry would be hurt.
They wouldn’t have Gerald Wallace’s relentless and contagious energy. Kelly Olynyk wouldn’t see the court. Jordan Crawford would have never emerged in that atmosphere. They still wouldn’t have Rondo. The Celtics would be a mess. Everyone would be miserable. They’d probably lose more games than this team will.
But reality’s even better for Boston. They’re still a decent bet to miss the playoffs. But now, they’re building up and firmly focused on the future instead still blindly holding onto the past. The Nets helped map out that future while simultaneously destroying their own. And that’s a shame because Brooklyn’s present is already a disaster.
They’re 6-14. Tied for the third worst record in the East. Proud owners of the NBA’s 30th ranked defense.
They’ve also been decimated by injuries. Deron Williams is supposed to play tonight for the first time in two weeks. Pierce is likely to play for the first time in more than a week. Jason Terry is out indefinitely with a bruised left knee. Andrei Kirilenko is out indefinitely with a bad back. (Note: His mullet is still having an All-Star campaign.) Brook Lopez missed two weeks in November.
Garnett’s been on the floor just about every night. He’s played in 20 of 22 games. But at this point he’s only good for 20-25 minutes. And even for those 20-25, “good” is a relative term. In this case, “good” is more like “depressingly bad.” You notice it most on defense, and we’ll talk about that more tomorrow, but with KG’s lack of effectiveness piled on top of all those injuries, you can understand why the Nets have struggled. If not, this should help. Here’s are the Nets’ top four in minutes played this season.
1. Joe Johnson: 678
2. Shaun Livingston: 488
3. Alan Anderson: 442
4. Andray Blatche: 442
It’s been hard on Jason Kidd. Understandably so. Most coaches would flounder with the hand that Kidd’s been dealt. But right now, nothing has done more damage to the state of Jason Kidd’s coaching career than Jason Kidd. Through two months on the job his two most memorable decisions have been a) blatantly dumping his soda on the court at the end of close game against the Lakers and b) abruptly demoting his lead assistant to the position of “World’s Highest Paid Intern.”
Things should improve as more players (especially Williams) come back, but even in the best-case scenario, Brooklyn doesn’t look like a team that’s prepared to challenge for the title. And if not this year, then when? What was all this for?
Time will tell what happens next, but if the first quarter of the season is any indication, it’s going to be incredibly bizarre. I don’t even like that word, but it’s the one that best describes what we’ve witnessed over these last two months, in Boston and Brooklyn, and the general vibe surrounding tonight’s long awaited reunion. How bizarre is it?
Bizarre enough that Jordan Crawford will take the court as the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
Bizarre enough that I present you with the following blind comparison:
Player A is averaging 22.7 minutes, 6.4 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.
Player B is averaging 22.6 minutes, 7.5 points and 5.4 rebounds a game.
Player A is shooting 36.3 percent from the field, and 8-9 from the foul line.
Player B is shooting 38.9 percent from the field, and 17-17 from the foul line.
Player A is Kevin Garnett.
Player B is Kelly Olynyk.
But above all else, the most bizarre and surprising aspect of tonight’s game is just how high the Celtics can and will hold their heads as they walk into to the Barclays Center. As they get ready, talk to reporters, go through warm ups and take the floor for a game that they fully expect to win. Proud of where they are, and hopeful about where they’re going.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Back in September this had the potential to be an incredibly sad, resentful and jealousy-ridden 48 hours for the Celtics and their fans. It was supposed to be a reminder of how great things used to be, and how far removed they were from being great once again.
But in reality, things are OK. Maybe you’d prefer a few more losses, but personally, I never imagined being as optimistic about the Celtics future as I am right now. At least not this soon. And regardless of what happens tonight, that optimism will carry into tomorrow’s date with Doc. It’s an optimism that transcends wins and losses all together. It’s big picture.
But as far as the immediate future, I still couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that this is all just one big coincidence. Celtics at KG and Pierce on Tuesday. Doc at the Celtics on Wednesday. Even though neither game is on national TV. Even though it’s all supposed to be random. I’ve watched enough X-Files to know that nothing is truly random. (But not enough to know if that reference makes sense.) It was too good to be true.
So, I e-mailed the architect: Matt Winick, the Godfather of the NBA schedule, and the man behind the arrangement of every single game for more than 25 years. I asked: Was it really just a coincidence?
(Note: The Clippers and Nets will complete the reunion threesome on Thursday back in Brooklyn.)
“The Clippers road games against Boston and Brooklyn are part of an East Coast road trip for the Clippers and works out well geographically,” Winick wrote. “In fact, the Clippers @ Brooklyn game is a National TV (TNT) game on Thursday while the Boston @ Brooklyn game on Tuesday is merely a coincidence.”
So, I guess that’s a yes. Total coincidence. You don’t argue with the Godfather.
Either way, you won’t hear anyone in Boston complaining.
It’s day one of Reunion Week, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
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