Another Celtics disaster


Another Celtics disaster

Maybe its the lingering depression over another lost Patriots season. Maybe its the blistering cold, combined with the knowledge that its only getting started. (To be completely honest, I'm out in California right now, but I feel everyone's pain and know what's waiting when I get back.) Maybe its the fact that despite every argument for why this time is different, we have been here before screaming for trades, demanding results, burying the Boston Celtics and theyve made us look stupid on a pretty consistent basis.

Whatever it is, Im all over the place on the current state of this team. Im fighting through waves of anger, apathy, hope, reality and whatever else you can think of. On one hand, I look back at this last week how they played; things Doc said; the growing belief that, of all things, this team just doesn't care and can't help but overreact. I mean, forget the four-game losing streak. It's not ideal, but it happens. More importantly, win or lose, there's something off about this team. Something isn't right.

Maybe it's just time? After all, it's been six years. And thanks to the Patriots, we're all getting pretty good at coping with how much things can change. That when it comes to winning, the familiar stars Brady, Belichick, Wilfork, Rivers, Garnett, Pierce, Rondo can keep you in the hunt, but it takes more than that to win it all. Much more. It takes finding the perfect set of secondary players to support that foundation; players who not only have the physical ability to contribute, but also the mental and emotional capacity to roll with the punches and give everything to the team. That's a rare combination. And even if you find it, you still need a ton of luck to finish on top. Honestly, it was probably unfair to expect Belichick and Ainge to become the first general managers in the history of the world to play for a championship every season for 100 years.

We get that now. It sucks, but we get it. Despite the fantasy world that we all got to live in for the better part of a decade, we've been reacquainted with the fact that sports aren't always fair.

Do you realize that since 1980, only nine of 32 NBA franchises have won a title? In other words, for 33 years, more than two thirds of the league's fanbases have been neglected the ultimate payoff. Talk about unfair.

We should just be thankful that they got one at all. I mean, you look back at semi-recent NBA history and there's an entire generation of superstars and their teams who lost out on a ring because of one guy: Steve Kerr.

No, it was Jordan. And either way, we're heading down the same road with LeBron. After him, Kevin Durant might have a little run, too. Now obviously, who knows? But would you be surprised if, eight to 10 years from now, there's a new era of Hall of Famers Carmelo, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul forced to retire without a ring?

But the Celtics snuck one in. Pierce, Garnett and even Rondo avoided ever being lumped in with Barkley, Malone, Ewing and Stockton. And Celtics fans were saved. That might feel like a long time ago, but it's really not. Even if it's almost entirely faded, the C's are still wearing that 2008 championship. It still means something.

Anyway, back to this year's team. Things certainly aren't headed in the right direction. For a group that has trouble staying on the same page, their current struggles have been a group effort.

First of all, Pierce and KG should be held accountable, but it's hard to hold them entirely responsible. They're doing what they can. They just can't do as much.

Rondo's a different story. When you factor in the increased expectations, there's no question that this is the most disappointing season of his career. Oh, he's leading the league in assists? Fine, but what good is that when the offense sucks. The Celtics rank 21st in the NBA in offensive efficiency this year. That's horrible. So ask yourself, does leading the league in assists mean that Rondo's making the Celtics better, or that he just always has the ball?

Two things that aren't up for debate:

1. Rondo's perimeter defense is still non-existent.

2. He still won't attack the rim.

Want to see something crazy?

As a 20-year-old rookie, Rondo averaged 23.5 minutes and 2.4 foul shot attempts a game.

As a 26-year-old four-time All Star, Rondo's averaging 37.2 minutes and 2.5 foul shot attempts a game.

As a rookie, he shot .647 from the line. This year, he's at .640.

That's really disturbing.

Speaking of which, Jason Terry looks out of it. He's not the guy we all watched in Dallas. Not yet at least. First of all, Terry's averaging single digit shot attempts for only the second time in the last 13 years. And before you blame it on decreased playing time, Terry's also averaging fewer shots per 36 minutes than he at any point in his career. In related news: He's shooting .427 from the field, which is his lowest number since 2004.

Courtney Lee and Jeff Green come and go. They've each showed signs of being able to contribute, but haven't earned any significant level of trust from fans, coaches or teammates. Rounding out the rotation, Brandon Bass' numbers and performance are down across the board and Chris Wilcox is oft-injured and currently in the dog house.

The two bright spots are Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger. Bradley plays like the game the way all fans pretend that they would. Complete effort and intensity every time he takes the court. It's so much fun to watch, and makes the Celtics so much better. Unfortunately, it often results in him getting hurt. And finally, Sullinger is just great. Anyone who watches knows why.

But add all these guys up, and it's not working. Doc Rivers isn't getting through to them, and he's running out of patience. Everyone is. We're still holding the team to this crazy standard. Demanding that they still compete with the very best.

But what if that's just not possible anymore?

At least for now. What if, thanks to some bad decisions and (most importantly) the emergence of LeBron, the Celtics aren't in a place where they can realistic compete for a title?

In that case, what should they do?

Freak out and trade everybody for less than their worth? Make trades for the sake of making trades? Give away Pierce to a contender? Convince KG to waive his no-trade clause for another ring? Trade Rondo, who still has one of the best contracts in the NBA, and start from scratch?

Or even if they make a small trade for another big man, something to give them a boost this year, will that be enough? Is Marcin Gortat the difference between the Celtics and Miami, Oklahoma City or the Clippers? I don't think so. So what's the point?

The way I see it, if the Celtics are as bad as everyone thinks they are, changes are coming anyway. For instance, let's say they're eliminated in the first round this spring, or embarrassed by Miami in the second round, or worst case scenario, if they don't even make the playoffs . . .

I think that's it for KG and Paul.

Don't you? You really think either one wants to go through another year of this in exchange for that?

Obviously, that would be a horrible and emotional day in Boston. But seeing how it's even a remote possibility, I'd say it makes more sense to play this out, (if it fails) let them walk, and then start from scratch with a level head, rather than being stuck with whatever mess you traded them or anyone for in the heat of a regular season collapse.

You know, this would be a hell of a lot easier if the Celtics were in the Western Conference.

That stupid and unrealistic sentence came into my head last night after I switched my TV from CelticsCavs to ClippersThunder and saw two teams the first without its best player who are simply on another level. Man, if the Celtics were out West, I thought, wed look at these two teams, plus the Spurs and Grizzlies (even the Warriors and Nuggets), and hold zero false hope for this season. Theres no way the Celtics would make it through the West. Theyd be lucky to make the playoffs.

And while that opens up another can of sardines, in the end, whats the difference? Which is better: To accept reality and try to make the best of it, or to believe beyond belief, and set yourself up for disappointment?

The answer seems pretty obvious, but the fact is that as long as the Celtics are in the Eastern Conference and unless the NBA turns into the NCAA, its safe to say that will not change Celtics fans will continue to believe. Maybe not with the same passion, but we'll never close the door.


Because even through these frustrating a few months, weve seen the Celtics beat Indiana, Brooklyn, Chicago, New York, and Atlanta. In a seven-game playoff series, there's still reason to trust that Boston can come out on top. And then there's Miami, who's probably better than any of those Western Conference teams I just mentioned, but CelticsHeat is special. We suspend reality when those two face-off. Will they beat them? Probably not. But there's always a chance. That chance is both a gift and curse, but it can't be denied.

We know it's there. We've seen it before. We've seen Rondo morph into the best player in the world. We've seen Garnett look a million years old and then suddenly 30 again. We've seen Pierce struggle for extended period of time, and then reemerge as the cockiest, most-deadly scorer in the game. We've seen those three guys and a supporting cast that heavily featured Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins take the Heat to brink.

Why can't they do it with this team?

I think it's worth finding out.

And if they can't do it, they can't do it. It's not the end of the world. We all knew it was unlikely to begin with. We know you can't play for a title every year. And if they fail, at least they won't have added to the failure by pulling the trigger on something stupid. By trying to fix a mistake with two more mistakes. That's the only thing that can make this worse.

On that note, there's one thing that can make it so much better.

Knicks at Celtics on Thursday?


Celtics at Hawks on Friday?



One win that will erase these last 2,000 words, and every column, tweet and TVradio rant like it.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

BOSTON –  Terry Rozier was having a rough stretch where his minutes were limited and when he did play, he didn’t play particularly well.
Among the voices in his ear offering words of encouragement was Avery Bradley who knows all too well what Rozier was going through.
For all his time as a Celtic, Bradley has let his work on the floor do the talking for him.
But as the most tenured Celtic on the roster, his leadership has to be about more than just getting the job done, but servicing as a vocal leader as well.
For a player whose growth from one year to the next has been a constant, being a more vocal leader has been the one dynamic of his game that has improved the most during this past season.
And it is that kind of leadership that will carry into the summer what is a pivotal offseason for both Bradley and this Celtics franchise which was eliminated by Cleveland in the Conference finals, the first time the Celtics got that deep in the playoffs since 2012.
He is entering the final year of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2014. And it comes at a time when his fellow Tacoma, Wash. native and backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas will likely hit free agency where he’s expected to command a max or near-max contract that would pay him an annual salary in the neighborhood of $30 million.
At this point in time, Bradley isn’t giving too much thought to his impending contract status.
Instead, he’s more consumed by finding ways to improve his overall game and in doing so, help guide the Celtics to what has to be their focus for next season – a trip to the NBA Finals.
While Celtics players have said their focus has always been on advancing as far into the playoffs as possible, it wasn’t until this past season did they actually provide hope and promise that Banner 18 may be closer than you think.
It was an emotional time for the Celtics, dealing with the unexpected death of Chyna Thomas, the younger sister of Isaiah Thomas, just hours before Boston’s first playoff game this season.
And then there were injuries such as Thomas’ right hip strain that ended his postseason by halftime of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with Cleveland.
But through that pain, we saw the emergence of Bradley in a light we have seldom seen him in as a Celtic.
We have seen him play well in the past, but it wasn’t until Thomas’ injury did we see Bradley showcase even more elements of his game that had been overlooked.
One of the constant knocks on Bradley has been his ball-handling.
And yet there were a number of occasions following Thomas’ playoff-ending injury, where Bradley attacked defenders off the dribble and finished with lay-ups and an occasional dunk in transition.
Among players who appeared in at least 12 playoff games this year, only Washington’s John Wall (7.9), Cleveland’s LeBron James (6.8) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (5.2) averaged more points in transition than Bradley (4.7).
Bradley recognized the team needed him to be more assertive, do things that forced him to be more front-and-center which is part of his evolution in Boston as a leader on this team.
“It’s weird but players like Al (Horford) definitely helped me get out of my shell and pushed me this year to be more of a vocal leader,” Bradley said.
And that talent combined with Bradley doing what he does every offseason – come back significantly better in some facet of his game – speaks to how he’s steadily growing into being a leader whose actions as well as his words are impactful.