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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