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.

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