Celtics

Another Celtics disaster

987681.jpg

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.

Why?

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?

Nope.

Celtics at Hawks on Friday?

Nope.

THIS SUNDAY HEAT AT CELTICS.

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

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

BOSTON – When Brad Stevens took the Boston Celtics job in 2013, he knew what he was getting into.
 
Yes, the Celtics at that time were rebuilding which usually means years and years of slow but steady progress – if you’re lucky.
 
And then after maybe a few years of struggling to win games, a breakout season occurs and just like that – you’re back in the playoffs.

MORE:

 But here’s the thing with the Celtics.
 
While most rebuilding teams spend years working their way towards being competitive, Stevens hit the ground running and in just four years, he led the Celtics from being a 25-win team to one that was just three wins away from getting to the NBA Finals.
 
He has the kind of basketball resume that’s impressive on many levels.
 
But Stevens knows good isn’t good enough in this town.
 
“We’re here in Boston,” he said. “Winning is good, but hanging one of those (banners) up is what it’s all about. That’s what makes this such a special franchise.”
 
And for Stevens, a franchise where the expectations for success under his watch have never been greater than they are now.
 
Boston only returns one starter (Al Horford) from last year’s squad which advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after having won an East-best 53 games.
 
However, they added a pair of All-Stars in Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to join Horford. In addition, they drafted Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft.
 
Boston also has a slimmed-down Marcus Smart (he lost 20 pounds from a year ago) as well Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier who will both benefit from having another NBA season under their belts.
 
And while it’s a small sample size and consists of just two teams (Philadelphia and Charlotte), the Celtics breezed their way through the preseason with a flawless 4-0 record which included at least one game in which they did not play their usual starters which shows how impactful their depth may be this season.
 
That success can only help, especially with a challenging schedule that includes seven of their first 11 games being on the road. 
 
Still, the potential of this Celtics team has never been greater than it is right now since Stevens took over in 2013.
 
And just like the increased expectations of the team, the same can be said for Stevens who is considered one of the better coaches in the NBA.
 
Marcus Morris will begin his first season with the Celtics, but had a lot of respect for Stevens well before he was traded to Boston from Detroit this summer.
 
“You hear a lot of good things about him from other players,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “And once you get in here and start working with him and seeing what he does every day, you see what they’re talking about. He’s a good coach, man.”
 
This team’s success will hinge on how the players perform, but there’s an added element of pressure on Stevens to find the right combinations that will position the Celtics for success.
 
“We have a lot more guys who can do a lot more things on the court, so it will be a little more challenging for us to figure out how to best play with each other, and for Brad to figure out which combinations are the best ones,” Boston’s Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “But we’ll figure it out. Brad’s a really good coach, a really smart coach. And on our team, we have a lot of players who are smart, high basketball I.Q. guys. We’ll be OK.”
 
Basketball smarts aside, the Celtics’ success will hinge heavily on how quickly they can bring a roster with 10 new players up to speed quickly.
 
It’s still early, but players like what they’ve seen from the collective body in terms of team chemistry.
 
“I think that’s the beauty of a lot of guys on the team,” said Gordon Hayward. “It’ll be different each night with some of the different roles we play.”
 
Which is why the Celtics, while lacking experience as a team because of so many new faces, are still seen as capable of winning because they have a number of players who can impact the game in many ways.
 
But as good as they are, it still comes back to Stevens doing a good job of putting them in the best positions to find success individually as well as for the Celtics team.
 
When you look at how time with Stevens jumpstarted Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder’s careers, or how it helped revitalize the career of Evan Turner, it’s obvious that he has the Midas touch when it comes to getting the most out of players.
 
For Boston to have the kind of success they believe they are due for, it’s going to take the contributions of many.
 
And even that might not be enough.
 
But having the path being bumpier than expected is something Stevens embraces.
 
“Here in this league,” he said. “You have to love challenges.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Smart 'not worried' about lack of contract extension with Celtics

Smart 'not worried' about lack of contract extension with Celtics

CLEVELAND – For the third year in a row, a first-round pick of the Boston Celtics is unable to come to terms on a contract extension prior to the deadline.

That means Marcus Smart will become a restricted free agent this summer. Last year it was Kelly Olynyk (now with the Miami Heat) and in 2015 it was Jared Sullinger (now with Shenzhen Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association).

Both the Celtics and Smart's camp intensified their discussions in recent days as the October 16th 6 p.m. EST deadline drew near.

MORE:

While there was progress made, there wasn’t enough to get a deal done.

Smart has repeatedly indicated that he wants to re-sign a long-term deal to stay in Boston.

And the market for the 6-foot-4 guard became clearer based on the contracts that some of his fellow rookie class of 2014, were receiving.

Denver’s Gary Harris agreed to a four-year, $84 million contract after establishing himself as one of the better young two-way talents in the NBA last season. And at the other end of the financial spectrum, you would have to look at Phoenix’s T.J. Warren who signed a four-year, $50 million contract.

More than likely, Smart’s deal next summer will fall somewhere between the deals those two players received.

As much as Smart would have preferred to get a deal done heading into the season, it’s not something that he’s going to cause him to lose any sleep.

“Get it done now, or get it done in six months, I’m OK either way,” he told NBC Sports Boston. “I’m not worried about it.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE