18 Questions on the Drive to 18: Part One

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18 Questions on the Drive to 18: Part One

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

18 Questions on the Drive for 18.

18 Questions on the Drive for 18: Part Two

Nine today. Nine tomorrow. Let's get it started.

1. How Driven is Rondo?

And I don't mean this as: "Do we have to worry about Rondo's drive?"

I mean, how driven will Rondo be this season:

a) Really driven
b) Insanely driven, or
c) So driven that he's going to take the court every night looking to embarrass someone, not crack a smile for the entire year, average 15 points, 6 rebounds and 11 assists a game, lead the league in steals, and not stop until he's on the cover of NBA 2K12.

Because let's face it, the guy's has more than a few chips on his shoulder this season.

There's being cut from Team USA. There's the fact that he didn't play well in the Finals. There's the constant fight to prove his worth and maintain the confidence and respect of his Hall of Fame teammates. There's the fact that he was an All-Star and first team All-NBA defender last year, and he has to prove it wasn't a fluke. Plenty of guys in this league have made one All-Star team; the truly great ones a crew Rondo desperately wants to be a part of make it every year. There's his budding rivalry with Derrick Rose and the debate over who's the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Theres the fact that he was 16 assists shy of averaging 10 a game last season a nice milestone for a star PG.

There's also his contract.

After the way the GMs spent their money this summer, Rondo's five-year55M contract is a steal for the Celtics. He basically got Rondo'd.

That's not to say the C's pulled a fast one; the offer was fair at the time. But in a world where Rudy Gay signs a five-year86 million deal, you're not getting Rondo for 55 million. In hindsight, the C's got an enormous bargain.

And don't think for a second Rondo isn't aware of that.

It will be on his mind. Its going to piss him off. And, in turn, he'll become an even bigger steal.

A pissed off, ultra-motivated Rondo is the best kind.

2. How much can the O'Neals give?

One overlooked aspect of last year's baffling regular season was that Rasheed Wallace and Kendrick Perkins combined to miss a total of only seven games.

Perk played in 78; Sheed played 79 (at least in body). And over the course of a long season, that pays dividends. That was 50 front-court minutes Doc could pencil in every night, and they went a long way towards giving the team more flexibility with KG and keeping them afloat when the injury bug turned rabid.

Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal are this year's Perk and Sheed, and as of right now, it's silly to expect that same type of consistency.

Shaq's the oldest player in the league. He's also the biggest guy in the league. He's third to only Jason Kidd and KG in minutes played for active players. Hes already missed time in the preseason with a hip injury that Doc Rivers says "will be an on-and-off issue" this year.

As far as Jermaine goes, last year marked the first time since 2004 that he played 70 games in a season, and he's already been hit with two injuries (wristhamstring) this season. At one point or another, he's going to miss time.

And that's the expectation. No one's coming into this season predicting either of the O'Neals to appear in 80 games. You'd be happy with 70. But still, it presents a problem that last year's team never had to deal with

It puts more pressure on Big Baby, and more importantly, KG, and creates an opportunity and a need for someone else to step up. Which is a perfect segue to . . .

3. Is Semih really ready?

I never thought we'd see Semih Erden in a Celtics uniform.

The "Late-Second Round Foreign Guy Nobodys Heard Of" never makes it to the league. He goes back home, has trouble escaping his contract and plays out the rest of his career overseas. Or at least it seems that way. Thats always my expectation.

But over the last few years, I continued to hear Erden's name thrown around. He hadn't been forgotten, and seemed to legitimately be in the Celtics plans. Now I'm thinking: "OK, so maybe hell come to the States eventually, but he's a stiff. He's Stojko Vrancovic Jr."

Then I watched him in the World Games and saw a young, active, more-coordinated-than-I-ever-could-have-imagined big man running down the floor and holding his own with the best players in the world. A month later, he was in Celtics camp and then on the court for preseason and doing a pretty good job.

Sure, he looked a little slow. And he definitely needs to get a little stronger. But he was never out of place. Watching Erden in preseason, you got the sense that he belonged in the NBA, and will probably be here for a while. I don't think hes a rotation player, yet. But if the Cs are in a bind say the O'Neals are hurting, and they don't want to burn out KG I think you can throw Semih Erden into the mix against most second string centers, and he won't kill you.

Sorry, I know that's not the most glowing endorsement, I'm just still getting used to the fact that Semih Erden actually made it this far.

Considering Danny's success with second rounders, you think I'd learn my lesson by now.

4. Can Shaq keep it up?

Everyone's been converted by Shaq.

And I get it.

Its impossible to look at what he's done in and around this community over the last three months and find anything to complain about. The Shaq Experience has been as out-of-this-world as advertised.

But while the preseason's been fun, when it comes to real thing the Real Shaq still worries me.

On one hand, he's still big, mobile(ish) and crafty enough to get his numbers. If he plays 25 minutes, hell give you at least 12 points. He can still rebound, too. He definitely helps the team there.

But he really can't play defense anymore. He can't deal with the pick-n-roll which will have a trickle-down effect on the entire "team defense" strategy. He can't keep pace up and down the court with guys like Joel Anthony, Dwight Howard, Al Horford and Joakim Noah, and even on the offensive end hes looked sloppy and often out of sync.

I know that there are people out there who couldnt disagree with me more on this., and that the anti-Shaq camp dwindles with every amusing quote andor Random Act of Shaqness. But I'm still not sold on things playing out well with Blackie Bulger: The Godfather of Sudbury.

If you Google Shaq October any of the other cities he's played in before Boston, youll find all sorts of interesting and heart-warming stories. I'm not taking that away from him; I respect all the excitement he brings to the game and all the happiness he brings people. I'm just saying that Boston's not unique. He starts happy everywhere. And with his skills now not nearly as primed as they used to be and firmly under the Boston microscope it will be harder to stay happy.

I hope I'm wrong. I just feel like we've seen this all before.

5. Wheres Babys head?

I brought this up in a column earlier in the year, but theres something Glen Davis said during last year's Finals thats always stuck with me.

When I say it like that, it sounds like I've been holding onto this memory for 15 years, when in reality it's only been about three months, but still, heres what Baby said in his media session before Game Seven:

"I'm not a threat out there. And I know I can be a threat. I know what kind of player I am. The Lakers know what kind of player I am, but they really haven't seen me. I haven't hit a lot of jumpers this series. I have hit a lot of jumpers this year. But I can hit an open jumper, and they're giving it to me. I'm gonna be real aggressive. I'm either gonna be aggressive and Doc pulls me out of the game because I'm being too aggressive or I'm gonna be aggressive and hit my shots. I'm not about to sit here, and think about what I should have did. I'm gonna go out do what I should do."

Coming into this season, you have to assume that Davis is looking to take a very similar approach. He wants to be a scorer. He wants to be a threat. And that means bringing back that 13-15 foot jumper we saw down the stretch in 2009.

Is that a good thing? For Big Baby, yes. Hes proven that he can put up numbers playing that way. I guarantee you he averages more point per game this season than he did last, which is great because hes about to be a free agent.

The only question is whether that's the Glen Davis that Glen Rivers is looking for.

At times, sure, the C's will need Baby to step up and take a more offensive role. And when they do, theres every reason to believe that hell succeed. But that "need" won't be there for every minute of every game that Davis plays. There will be situations for instance, if he's out there with Rondo, Allen, Pierce and KG when Glen "The Threat" Davis isn't what the team wants.

And he'll have to accept that. I'm not saying that he wont, but given some of the things he's said recently, we at least have to question it. And hope it all works out.

6. Can Delonte stay on the court?

Here's a little fun fact that didn't make it into this year's media guide:

Its literally impossible not root for Delonte West.

I'm not kidding. Go ahead and try not to root for him.

Anyway, he was a fan favorite since the second the Celtics drafted him. A guy who remained a fan favorite through his entire time away from the team, even though he played the last two seasons for Bostons fiercest rival. Despite all he's been through, and the mistakes hes made, hes still one of the most endearing guys in the entire league. Everyone except maybe LeBron loves him.

Part of that is a result of his bizarre charisma and legendary take on pretty much everything, but the sometimes forgotten aspect of Delonte West is that he plays harder than just about anyone in the league.

What else can you ask for from a guy?

If Delonte stays healthy, he's my favorite to lead the team in Tommy Points. He may go undefeated.

But of course, there was going to be a but we still have wonder "if" he can stay healthy. West's determination and insanely competitive nature are a gift and a curse. You never want to say that a guy plays too hard, but Delonte has a habit of maybe playing a little too recklessly, and that doesn't always end well. It sometimes ends with him sitting on the sidelines in street clothes.

Thats not to say he's soft. NBA injuries are like Wendy's "when it's real, you know when it's real." And his are always real. (I know that analogy makes no sense; it's very Delonte, though). But he's injury-prone nonetheless, and this year, hes dealing with a sore back before the season even starts.

In the end, the 10-game suspension might help out, help him get healthy and better prepare him for the long haul. And in the end, it will hopefully also go down as the only significant stretch of the season where the C's were forced to exist without Mr. West.

For all his off-court genius and hilarity, he still has a very essential role on this team. If he can stay healthy, Doc may have shot to finally make good on his promise to limit Ray Allen's minutes. He makes the C's a far better and more complete team, but not when he's wearing a suit on the end of the bench.

7. How can Aztec Gino become less annoying?

Glad you asked.

a. Learn another dance move. The finger-pointing, knee-jiggle move is OK, but it's stale. You've overused it. And seeing that you're clearly not going anywhere, why not spice things up? Maybe a twirl, or some kind of twist? Or how about this: Break out into the Roger Rabbit on Tuesday night, and I guarantee people will go nuts. Theyll love it. You'll be a hero. And then once you've really got them going, then its BAM! back to the finger-ponting!

It's gold.

b. Watch the game once in a while. Its hard to sell people on the fact that youre a super fan when most of the time youre facing the other direction or scoping out cameras.

c. When there's two minutes left in a game and the Celtics are down by 15 points, just stop dancing. Turn it off. If it's not good enough for the real Gino, it's not good enough for you. Take a break. Have a drink. Might be a great time to start brainstorming those new moves we talked about.

8. Is this a lost season for Avery Bradley?

In reality, "Develop Avery Bradley" probably falls somewhere between "Learn Turkish" and "Write love letter to Bill Kennedy" on Doc Rivers' list of 2010-11 priorities, but because Bradley was a first-round pick, were allowed to wonder: Will we see anything from him this season? Is it worth getting even the most remote of hopes up, or should we just block him out for now and check back next season.

Obviously, it's a long year. Anything can happen. But between the ankle injury that won't go away and the options Boston already has at point guard Rondo, Nate, Delonte it's fair to say we wont be seeing much of the 18th pick in this years draft.

And that's fine. He's 19 years old. He's got time.

9. How much will they miss Tom Thibodeau?

They'll miss him.

He's a defensive genius, a tireless worker and a great basketball mind. You don't lose a guy like that without being adversely affected in some way shape or form. But thanks to two people the C's will adjust just fine:

One is Kevin Garnett.

If Thibodeau was the mastermind of the Celtics defense, then KG's his Jedi Knight. For the last three years he's lived and breathed Thibodeau's system. And while he may not have come up with it, Garnett can probably coach better than anyone else in the world.

The other is Lawrence Frank.

Isn't it unbelievable how well he's fit in here? Of course, he's gotten a little extra exposure because of Doc's surgery, but I feel like we know more about Frank after three weeks than we did after three years with Thibodeau. Players, namely Paul Pierce, have been quick to applaud what Frank brings to this team. Doc Rivers can't say enough great things about him. Not to mention, his resume already speaks for himself.

Thibodeau was and is a very rigid guy. Frank is far more laid back, which couldn't be a better fit for the 15 guys Danny's put together this season. So, yeah, they'll miss Thibs, but I'm not sure there was a better replacement out there than Lawrence Frank.

Don't you get the feeling he might be here for a while? He looks like the next head coach.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Blakely: Celtics not as feared as they were last season

Blakely: Celtics not as feared as they were last season

BOSTON -- On more than one occasion Monday night, the Boston Celtics were a discombobulated bunch with some players thinking they were running one play, while others were thinking the play called was something totally different.
 
You see that stuff in the preseason and to a certain extent in the regular season for a lot of teams. It is in those moments that we’re reminded that this Boston Celtics team is a work in progress on so many levels.
 
Because of that, we all need to hit the pause button when talking about them as a team inching closer towards Eastern Conference supremacy.
 
After the first month of the season, they have yet to show that they are going to be better than last season’s 48-win ball club.
 
The big problem a year ago was the offense bogging down and for the most part, not making shots. This year, it’s the team’s defense that has let them down on many nights.
 
And with that comes a sobering reminder this crew is good, but at best are maybe top-five in the East.
 
As a team on the rise, beating teams you’re not supposed to has to happen with some semblance of regularity.
 
There were only three teams on the Celtics’ docket this season thus far that they should have been beaten by without there being any argument: Golden State, San Antonio and Cleveland.
 
They were beaten in all three, two of which (Golden State and Cleveland) had final scores that did not indicate the level of dominance they had over the Celtics.
 
The average margin of defeat in the three games was 9.3 points, but two of them (San Antonio and Golden State) were at the TD Garden, which is supposed to be the equalizer for upset-minded teams.
 
But in each game, Boston put up a decent fight only to fail to emerge victorious.
 
The struggles against the upper echelon teams of the NBA has nothing to do with not having a superstar or a great rebounder or any of the kazillion reasons/excuses offered up as to why they’re not better.
 
It’s hunger.
 
It’s effort.
 
It’s about being blinded by the internet clicks that tout them as one of the best teams in the East, and them not seeing the danger that comes with embracing all that patting on the back.
 
It makes you soft.
 
It makes you fat and happy.
 
And maybe most significant, it creates a false sense of arrival before you’ve left the tarmac.
 
That’s where the Boston Celtics are right now: a team that seems to have forgotten why they were the team nobody wanted to play last year.
 
It wasn’t that teams feared playing them. It was the fact that they knew playing the Celtics would be tough, and it would force them to play a lot closer to their full potential than they were used to if they wanted to win.
 
It was because everyone knew that to beat the Celtics, you don’t have a choice but to play hard because you damn well knew they would.
 
Not anymore.
 
They bring that toughness to the game in small doses, like an intra-venous drip full of hope and promise, providing just enough to life to keep their fans optimistic but not nearly enough to kill the noise of their haters and critics.
 
And while the season is still young, the Celtics need to start racking up some quality wins.
 
Right now, their most impressive win is a toss-up between beating Charlotte 104-98 on Oct. 29, or a 94-92 win at Detroit on Nov. 19.
 
Boston plays at Orlando on Wednesday, a team that’s likely to be back in the lottery again. But after that, they travel back to Boston where they’ll host Toronto -- a game that they desperately need to not only to pad their win total but also provide a much-needed boost of energy and confidence going forward.

The Celtics have to find that hunger, that collective desire that we’ve seen in the past which has propelled them to greater heights than we’ve seen thus far.
 
Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford… you can go down the roster and the mission for all of them has to be the same: play harder, for longer, and be smarter about it, because this team has too much collective talent to be just three games above .500.
 
At 12-9, Boston is third in the East and trail conference-leading Cleveland by three games for the best record in the conference. But then you look at the teams behind the Celtics and realize that they’re only two games out of having the ninth-best record in the East.
 
It speaks in part to the season still being in its infancy stage. But it’s also telling as to how Boston does not have a huge margin of error when it comes to losing winnable games.
 
And as we’ve seen thus far, the Celtics can play with any team in the NBA and hold their own.
 
But beating them is a totally different narrative that this squad has yet to write.