5-on-5: Midseason Black & Blue
Posted by Hayes Davenport on Feb 23, 2012
The season’s half over. How did that happen?
While Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce heading to Orlando, and the rest of the Celtics taking a few days off, we keep rolling with our latest 5-on-5, authored, as usual with Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston and contributions from our readers.
1. What’s the biggest Celtics-related disappointment of the first half?
Hayes Davenport: The fan reaction. The Celtics ended last season as a middling team in a second-tier conference. They barely improved in the offseason as their players all got one year older and their competition made moves all around them. Now they’re at the bottom of the East, and the majority of fans are either a) stunned, b) jumping ship, or c) confident that the record is some kind of freak accident and the Celtics are still the best team in the world because of ubuntu or something. The Celtics are not contenders right now. This should not be a surprise.
Brendan Jackson: It sounds weird because of how big the Celtics’ problems are, but the biggest disappointment was losing Jeff Green for the season. The loss of Green caused a chain reaction where Danny Ainge had to focus his attention on guys like Sasha Pavlovic and Marquis Daniels instead being more aggressive in addressing their rebounding issues. If Green were healthy this season, Ainge could have focused on getting a Reggie Evans-type player and Paul Pierce would have had a more suitable replacement at the beginning of the season.
Chris Forsberg: The bench. And that’s not entirely fair, because injuries have forced so much shuffling that neither the starters nor the reserves have had much of a chance for continuity. When this team is healthy, a second unit that includes Avery Bradley, Mickael Pietrus, Brandon Bass, and Chris Wilcox is actually intriguing (and you can even run that group with, say, Ray Allen, at times). Trouble is, this team might never be fully healthy and, right now, it needs more from the likes of Keyon Dooling and Daniels, two guys that were pegged for much bigger roles. (We’ll exclude the rookies here, but there’s a lot to be encouraged by with JaJuan Johnson, even as he goes through the natural growing pains of NBA acclimation).
Brian Robb: The inconsistency. Lose three, win four, win five, lose four. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for this team and while injuries are partially to blame, the unevenness of this squad has been straight up disturbing over the first 32 games of this season. The maddening thing is as bad as some of the team’s numbers are offensively and on the glass, they are still collectively underperforming. They squandered three or four extremely winnable games with atrocious execution down the stretch, further digging themselves into a hole they may not have a chance to dig out of.
CelticsHub Reader Crosby Tencher: The Celtics’ abysmal record is the biggest disappointment so far. With the truly grueling second half of the season looming, it’s getting tougher and tougher to imagine this team maintaining their current .500 pace. The schedule opening the season was ideal, with Boston playing host to a ton of sub-par teams… yet they haven’t been able to capitalize. This leaves very little room for error if the team plans to play past mid-April.
2. What’s the most encouraging Celtics-related development of the first half?
Davenport: Maybe a reach, but JaJuan Johnson. For the first time in six years, the Celtics have seen a player drafted in the first round show significant potential in his first season. Johnson can shoot, score inside, and get around quickly. His defense and rebounding have visibly improved in 18 games. He seems to be capable of withstanding the emotional firing squad of KG, Doc, and the Boston media. Ultimately, the move to deal MarShon Brooks straight up for him may actually not look as dumb as it currently does.
Jackson: Avery Bradley has gotten so much playing time this season out of necessity, he’s actually starting to look like an NBA player. More importantly, his confidence has skyrocketed.
Forsberg: The defense. Probably not the best answer the day after allowing a 72-point first half, but the Thunder will do that to you. And maybe it’s only because the defense looked so disjointed out of the gate and we were all wondering if they had simply lost it. Boston played its best ball this season when its defense was clicking (and masking the persistent offensive woes). Boston needs that familiar defense to make any sort of a run this season.
Robb: Almost every rotation player on the roster has shown — over a stretch — that they can still play at a high-level. Whether it was Pierce turning back the clock to 2006 over 10+ games, Allen starting the first quarter of the season shooting over 50 percent from downtown or Rondo exploding for 35 points, these things tell me this team should be able to compete once they get their act together. They should be able to go a round or two deep into the playoffs and give an Eastern Conference contender a run for their money. That alone makes me feel a bit excited about this squad being a massive underdog in Round 1.
CelticsHub Reader Michael Javid: This may seem counter-intuitive, but the most encouraging development of the first half is the fact that everything isn’t working right. It’s not a secret, and it’s out in the open. Rondo seems to be very unhappy. We may not see another game where KG, Pierce and Allen each score 20 points in the same night. No one has to guess whether or not changes have to be made, but rather, the question is: which direction is best? Danny Ainge has proven to be fearless and unconventional, and time will tell whether his next move was the right one. Any informed Celtics fan will acknowledge that this bunch will not win it all this year. I’m looking forward to the future.
3. It’s been a year since the Kendrick Perkins trade. What’s your perspective on it now?
Davenport: Unchanged! I don’t think I could have been lower on that trade if I’d known about Jeff Green’s heart condition (I would have been focused on alerting Jeff, obviously). I still think last year, not this year, was the year to let the core stay together and make a run at the Heat in the playoffs. But if the Celtics were intent on getting value for Perkins, they should have gotten more. Doesn’t bode well for a team that could potentially have 4-5 valuable pieces on the market in a matter of days.
Jackson: Ehhh…I’ve moved on. The tribute video at the Garden was incredibly moving but it happened and regardless of what anyone else says, Perkins wouldn’t have been the x-factor in any championship run. To say otherwise would be clinging to revisionist history.
Forsberg: Time hasn’t altered my view (read more HERE). In fact, I still submit that the Luke Harangody/Semih Erden for Cleveland’s second-round draft pick was far worse of a deal than the Perkins move (Erden could have helped you this year; Troy Murphy and Carlos Arroyo did not last year). The fact that Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green are not around this season will leave some even more bitter about the deal, but it’s just an unfortunate bit of circumstance. On paper, the deal made a tremendous amount of sense for Boston at the time, though the team certainly might have underestimated the initial emotional impact (by May, no one was lamenting it; the health of Shaq and Rondo at that point were the bigger story lines).
Robb: A lot of people around the country don’t get the unending sentiment for Perk from the Boston faithful. The fact he was traded is just the tip of the iceberg. Boston fans never had a chance to say goodbye to one of their favorites and reward him for rehabbing hard all season from an ACL injury. It’s not just about the fact that he was traded; it’s when it was done, a mere hour before the trade deadline which magnified the negative sentiment. While he likely would be gone now, I can’t help but look back now and see the deal as the beginning of the end for Boston’s contender prospects in this era.
CelticsHub Reader Mitch Fager: In all honesty, it probably doesn’t change anything. Sure we would have won a couple more games last year, but Perk would not have given us enough to win the title. He and Rondo are not enough to carry this team, so we would have either had to over pay him or let him walk in the off-season. It wasn’t a pretty exit, but in hindsight, it likely did not have an impact on the final results of last season.
4. What do you see in your crystal ball for Boston’s second half?
Davenport: Sweeping, devastating change. Danny’s made his position clear on several occasions: he doesn’t want to let this Big Three depreciate to zero value like the last one did. At the same time, I think some Celtics might actually be looking for a change of scenery or a shot with a better team. I think Danny’s going to consult his players, see where they’d like to go, and make moves accordingly. The next few weeks could definitely be very, very sad. I also think they could be a disgusting kind of fun.
Jackson: I see a first round playoff exit and not a lot of roster change. We’ve been discussing the pros and cons of the blowup for weeks and I think Ryan hit the nail on the head yesterday. The only player I can see being traded is Rajon Rondo because no one else will net the kind of parts a rebuilding project needs.
Forsberg: I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t expect more inconsistent play, particularly if the injury bug hangs around. I think you’ll see this team thrive when healthy; struggle when it’s not. That health will dictate how high of a seed the Celtics get in the postseason. Heck, I don’t necessarily think being a 7 or 8 seed is a bad thing. Give Miami or Chicago your best crack in the first round and, if you pull off the upset, all of a sudden Boston becomes a top seed with a more favorable second-round matchup. Crazier things will happen in the playoffs this year.
Robb: Trade rumors galore, but no major moves made involving the team’s Big Four. A seven or eight seed for the playoffs along with a spirited first round exit against Chicago or Miami. It’ll be fun while it lasts, a potential 2-2 tied series in the first round against one of those squads would keep everyone entertained, but that’s as good as it’ll probably get.
CelticsHub Reader Brian Moseley: More .500-level Basketball, a #8 seed, and a first round butt whooping by Team South Beach.
5. What has caught your attention around the Association this season?
Davenport: The top three most-publicized stories of the season have been, in order: 1) Jeremy Lin, 2) reckless Dwight Howard rumormongering, and 3) Lobs. Not making the list: maybe the greatest basketball season of all time by any player. LeBron is silently evolving from Charmeleon to Charizard right now. He’s unhandleable. He also plays for the best team in the league. Yet some basketball writers are not even selecting him for midseason MVP. This is the equivalent of the media completely ignoring Jordan’s 1990-1991 season to focus on Craig Hodges making 19 consecutive shots at the Three-Point Shootout. Is undermining LeBron because of personal distaste worth totally destroying your credibility as an expert?
Jackson: I am SOOO sick of Linsanity (no I’m not!). I have loved watching teams like Denver and Philadelphia play really well without a bonafide superstar. I also have liked watching the Kings play so poorly despite having top picks and players everyone expects to be awesome. Remember when everyone wanted the C’s to draft Hassan Whiteside?
Forsberg: Clearly the schedule is just brutal for everybody and it’s only going to get worse with March and April absolutely loaded with games. With a lack of practice time, it will be interesting to see how many teams make deadline moves given how hard it will be to integrate new faces on the fly. Ultimately, the healthiest teams might be the last ones standings, which is a concern if you’re a Boston team that’s seen players sit out a combined 58 games due to injury over the first 32 games. But they are hardly the only one trying to simply survive this condensed slate.
Robb: Jeremy Lin and mayhem in the Western Conference. I won’t go into the Lin phenomenon, but I must say I just love the unpredictability of this season and how tightly packed the West is. OKC is the frontrunner, but I’m not sure they play enough defense or rebound well enough to make it through three rounds. Playoffs should be as good as ever this year given how well the talent is spread out.
CelticsHub Reader Michael Skitsas: The Denver Nuggets. Before being struck by a bunch of injuries they were playing the most appealing basketball I’ve seen in ages. Lightning fast, pass first, selfless, fun, spectacular ball, from a young “starless” group 12 players deep. All in all, the exact opposite of watching the Celtics this season. It’s also nice to watch a franchise bounce back from all that drama, and losing their “franchise player”, without being devastated.