Wednesday, July 26, 2006


The Young and the Worthless

The grim summer of 2006 continues with the underwhelming-yet-apt news that summer league wash-out Kevin Pittsnoggle will soon throw his hat in the ring to vie for the title of Celtics "minimum wage roster filler" du jour. It is classic Ainge marginalia, a heavily tattooed shiny object to dazzle the fans as he sifts amidst the garbage that litters the NBDL and summer leagues to find some brand new fool for us all to hang our hopes on.

For us critics, head-scratching signings such as Pittsnoggle only raise more questions about the fact that the Celtics are in the curious position of paying $58 million a year for a roster that contains exactly two healthy players who have started regularly in the NBA, but includes 12 players with less than 4 years of NBA experience.

And, unlike other teams that stockpile young, lottery pick type talent, we have among our 12 young players not a single one who projects as an unquestionable, legitimate NBA starter. For all of Danny's vaunted drafting prowess, his picks are still lesser talents who seem like "steals" because they get playing time and do not completely embarrass themselves.

These guys are role players searching for a team that needs their specific talents. They are not blue-chip impact players to build a team around, nor are they valued enough in the league to make alluring trade bait. They are mostly average to better-than-average, and are of greatest value to team ownership because they are cheap and easy to pimp to the fanbase as "the future." This spin is eagerly consumed by frustrated fans, and those of us who say otherwise are branded as sour and negative.

An internet commentator recently stated that the Celtics have "the finest collection of young talent in the NBA." Sour or not, I need to disagree. While they may have the MOST young talent, it's certainly not the best, or "finest." The best/finest talent belongs to the Orlando Magic who have two cornerstone players (Nelson and Howard) ready to have a team built around them. Or the Bulls who have players around the same age of the Celtics youngsters, only they have an Olympian (Heinrich) a 6th man of the year (Gordon) and a future all-star (Deng). Even woefully mismanaged Atlanta has potential all-stars in the two Josh's and Marvin Williams.

The Celtics young players are either average NBA role players or unformed question marks. They are not the lottery talents needed to build a winner.

Delonte West – a best case scenario pick at #24, he is the kind of guy who would make a solid 7th man on a good playoff team. His hustle and attitude are a joy, but his lack of size hurts him at the two, and he has shown that he lacks the playmaking ability to be a legit point guard. He enters this season looking at losing his starting job to Telfair or, eventually, to Rondo.

Kendrick Perkins – Ainge's only unqualified steal in the draft, Perk still has too many question marks surrounding his ability to fit in team offensive and defensive schemes to pencil him as our starting center of the future. He'd probably be farther along were it not for Coc's mishandling, but he's still inconsistent and seems a borderline starter at best. That Ainge, Wyc and co are dicking around with his contract extension only enforces this perception.

Tony Allen – Inmate #42 is Coc's golden boy, but he vacillates so wildly between "energetic defensive presence" and "spastic disaster" that it really seems unlikely that he'll ever mature into a reliable starting player. He can't shoot, he can't play the point, and he makes far too many mistakes for a 4-year college guy. His legal problems and spotty play have reduced his trade value to zero.

Ryan Gomes – like Delonte, another terrific, all-around good guy who happens to be too small to play his natural position. Ryan has great instincts and high basketball IQ, but in all likelihood he will never start regularly as a power forward for the Celtics. Being that he is one of those guys who gets his numbers in the natural flow of the game, his stats are likely to plummet if he returns to the bench this season. Poor Ryan needs a right situation (a la Bruce Bowen), and the Celtics are not it.

Sebastian Telfair – who knows, really. He might be our starting PG, he might be traded for Iverson, he might sit on the bench behind Delonte and Rondo. I don't think all that highly of Sassy, but he looked decent enough during the summer leagues to win some converts. One thing everyone can agree upon, he needs to make a quantum leap this season to become a regular starting NBA point guard.

Al Jefferson – similar, he could start, get traded, or fester on the bench. One could argue that he couldn't have a worse year than last, but summer league observers are reportedly preparing themselves for Al's implosion to reach singularity this season. My guess is that Ainge is shopping him big-time. Even at best, however, Al more and more looks like he'll be a destitute man's Elton Brand, and not the 20/10 guy some thought he'd develop into.

Gerald Green – the enigma. Gerald could become an all-star or be out of the league in five years and neither would shock me. Unfortunately, with the grotesque Pierce extension and a team full of shooting guards, Gerald will have to prove himself immediately invaluable or he's likely to be trade bait. Being that he's still young and seems a bit soft, mentally, he'll probably need time and patience to develop into a great player, and that is time and patience which the Celtics will not provide him.

Allen Ray – hahhahahaha. Yeah, whatever.

Leon Powe – you can root for a guy, you can wish him the best, you can hold your hands up to the sky and demand the universe to explain why a fuckhead like Drew Gooden makes millions of dollars a year while a good guy like Leon Powe ruptures his ACL twice. Unfortunately, none of this will make Leon an NBA player.

Rondo – Ainge's pet pick. Another one who could be starting on the big team or in the NBDL and neither would be surprising.

Dwayne Jones – seeya.

The point is, by failing to commit to a true rebuilding project through the lottery, the Celtics are left in a position where mediocrity breeds more mediocrity. With the Pierce signing, they now have to jettison the few promising players they have (Gerald, DW, Gomes) in order to get some immediate help, only the kind of immediate help they are reportedly seeking (Iverson, Gooden) is unlikely to make them a winner. The rest of the roster, meanwhile, is populated by embarrassing late 1st round or 2nd round "finds" that get contrived 3 year semi-guaranteed deals that do nothing more than fulfill the ache of Ainge's scouting jones.

A comprehensive rebuilding project that would have added lottery talent to the mix of role players described above would have put this team in a position to compete within five years. By failing to either shit or get off the pot, Ainge and Wyc have ensured that these upcoming five years are likely to be as frustrating as the last 20.

Friday, July 14, 2006


The Price is Never Right

And so we reach the beginning of the very end.

The Celtics have locked up Paul Pierce to a mammoth contract extension, a move based on little more than Wyc Grousbeck's stubborn belief that a franchise is better served by a recognizable face putting asses in seats than it is by an honest rebuilding effort. Pierce will play the next five years in green, consuming around a third of the team's projected payroll, and will likely wind up as the only Celtic to have his number retired without ever being part of a championship team (or dying young).

Meanwhile, news of the re-signing indicates that Allen Iverson must be on the way, and if this trade goes down it will serve as the ruinous culmination of the worst off-season the Celtics franchise has had since it hired Rick Pitino in 1997, and he promptly eviscerated a team of serviceable Bird-era remnants in favor of bottom-of-the-barrel UK loyalists like Walter McCarty and Ron Mercer. Pitino's years as GM cut a swath of death and decay on the franchise's fortunes that lingers to this day, but the Ainge/Wyc summer of 06 will likely destroy the Celtics' hopes for a championship well into the next decade.

Part I – Allen Iverson

One of the fascinatingly naïve assertions we find Celtics fans making regarding an Iverson deal, is that an AI trade would be okay "if the price is right." As in, if we don't trade too much of our young "talent," the chance to acquire a first-ballot HOF'er is too great to pass up. This line of thinking is classic fantasy basketball stuff, the same kind of masturbatory myopia liars like Wyc Grousbeck depend on when they decide that a big splash in the offseason will appease fans who have to suffer through interminable 33 win seasons buffeted with cheap lies and spin from the front office.

It is this constant illusion of progress mixed with a palliative of Heinsohn/FSN bullshit that they offer every year, and sadly we see far too many fans eat it up for fear of facing the fact that maybe they were wrong to trust these snake oil salesmen in the first place. Of course, the results on the court are all that matters, and an AI trade will result in a an overt debacle with the only positive repercussion being that it will likely drive these lying fucks out of town.

It's not that Iverson is a bad player or that the "talent" the Celtics would need to move is all that valuable. Iverson, of course, is a future HOF'er and one of the most remarkable individual performers to ever play the game. He and Bill Russell are probably the two greatest examples of players who most maximized their natural ability over the course of their NBA careers to create an impact far beyond their more naturally gifted peers. Unfortunately, while Russell's legacy was that of the ultimate team player and (because of that) champion, Iverson's career has been spent devouring the identity of the "team" that surrounds him and producing a freakishly impressive resume of individual dominance that contrasts directly with his inability to play well with others.

An Iverson/Pierce combo would be a debacle the likes of which the Celtics have never experienced. From a purely basketball standpoint, the development of our young players would cease immediately, and instead we would have an offense centered on two of the league's biggest ballhogs trying to score thirty plus points a night because their "supporting cast" clearly cannot be trusted. There would be epic amounts of lip service paid between the two stars about shared captaincy and the Celtics being "their team," but in reality Allen Iverson's ego would consume the team concept and Paul Pierce would have to either chose between being his bitch or entering an endless war of attrition. In either case, the team would have an immediate ceiling of around 45 wins, and no real hope of ever improving.

To wit: Iverson has never played on a winning team where he shared the floor with another player who scored over 16 points a game. The 2001 team that made it to the Finals was basically a collection of rebounders and one-dimensional defensive specialists (Eric Snow, Mutombo, George Lynch, Tyrone Hill, Derek McKee) dominated by Iverson's monolithic offense.

Iverson has only played with a 20 point scorer twice his career, most recently last season with Chris Webber, on a team that finished out of the playoffs. The other time was in Iverson's rookie year when he played with a high scoring swingman with a game similar to Paul Pierce, Jerry Stackhouse, and the team finished 22-60.

People seem to forget that the Sixers acquired Chris Webber with a similar idea about pairing up all-star talents, and Webber, one of the most accomplished passing big-men in the game, went fucking nuts trying to "fit in" with AI. Pierce, on the other hand, has a skill set that is much more similar to AI, and thus, would never be able to make his game mesh. Add to the mix an incompetent coach like Doc Rivers, and… well, you get the idea.

That's why there is simply no room to improve. What kind of "top free agent" would be attracted to this situation, assuming we could even pay them after forking over $40 million a year for Pierce and AI? What kind of development of the youth can occur in this case? Are we hoping Big Al turns into Danny Fortson or somehow Ryan Gomes becomes Bruce Bowen? Is this what Ainge's "vision" was all about?

Part Two – Less is More

I have a much different vision of what this summer could have been, and it breaks my heart that it now can never come to pass. Imagine this: we keep our pick and draft Brandon Roy, and instead of drafting Rondo we pick up Marcus Williams. We trade Pierce to the Bulls for Chris Duhon and the Bulls 2007 (the switcheroo one with the Knicks). We field a team this year of Duhon/West/Perk/Wally/Gomes, with a bench of AJ/GG/Marcus Williams/Brandon Roy/Raef/Inmate42. This team is one of the worst teams in the league, but so are the Knicks, and so we go to Secaucus with 2 lottery picks and the best chance to land #1 and a shot at Greg Oden. But even if we don't get Oden, we have shitloads of "assets." Two lottery picks in the deepest draft in memory and a bunch of promising younger players. We can then cull the ones we want/need to keep and use the others to trade for the impact/superstar du jour who's on the block. Or we keep these guys and let them play together for three or four years, adding talent through the draft every year, and eventually having a decent homegrown team a la the Bulls.

We would keep moving forward, albeit slowly, but purposefully. In three years we would know if Gerald Green is going to be a star, or if Brandon Roy is the guy to put our money on, and move the one we have less faith in accordingly. We would find out how high Marcus Williams' ceiling is while still having a safety net of a solid PG like Chris Duhon. We could determine whether or not AJ is ever going to pan out, comforted that one of the big men we draft in 07 has legitimate promise in case he doesn't.

It would be slow but it would be continual forward progress, and it would present a more organic and realistic path to building a championship team than does gifting a shooting guard with $60 million and promising him to acquire a fellow all-star to oversee the impending train wreck.

In this scenario, we would do what smart teams do: assemble talent so you are ready when the opportunity arises to acquire impact players from teams looking to raze their foundation and start over. We would rebuild ourselves with legit lottery talent, not these late round/2nd round "gee they're not bad for where we got them" types. Most importantly, it would be an honest effort that fans could get behind, and if luck finally returned to this cursed franchise, it would eventually result in banner #17, but even if not, it would be a process we could understand and respect.

Many people will disagree with this notion and say all sorts of shitty things about how stupid I am (probably pointing out a misspelling to "prove" their point), but I ask them one thing - which team would you rather have in three years, a Pierce/Iverson quagmire, or the one I have described?

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