LONGSHOTS: Green-around-the-gills Celtics looking to earn some respect
by Dave Long
After the season’s first weekend already I was sick of the stories being written about the Celtics. Even Jackie MacMullen, the media’s most reasonable voice, wrote that it was basically over after two measly games. And if I hear Glenn Ordway say one more time, “you can’t win with a young NBA team,” I think I’m going to stick needles in my eyes.
While that’s generally right, there’s another side to that coin. A number of young teams have started badly and then hit their stride. Like, oh, say, the 2006 Minnesota Twins. They blew by veteran-laden Boston, then defending world champion Chicago and finally equally young Detroit to get in the playoffs, as baseball’s second highest payroll went home. And there are the 2001 Patriots, who started 0-2, were at .500 after 12 games, then reeled off seven straight behind a near-rookie quarterback to win the Super Bowl. See, it happens.
I’m not here to say the Celtics are going to win an NBA title. I know they have issues. But don’t you think it’s a little early to throw in the towel after six games?
There are a couple of forces at work here that won‘t let people enjoy anything but winning. First, the recent success of Boston’s baseball and football teams. Three Super Bowls in five years and the first world title in 86 years get people used to the joy of winning. And there’s Celtic history where during the glory days everyone thought title when all but three or four seasons began. It’s hard to forget how great those days were. But here’s a news flash: they’re gone. So, if you’re a basketball fan, for the time being you’re going to have to find a different way to enjoy the Celtics. Or it’ll be a long winter watching Theo trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. So being the kind of guy I am, here’s a guide to help one and all enjoy the local NBA season ahead, even if it doesn’t end up with title number 17.
Expectation: Thinks Patriots when Bill Belichick arrived, not Red’s Celtics. That’s one reason the first Super Bowl was so enjoyable – it was so unexpected. If you expect deep in the playoffs, you’ll be frustrated. My starting point is that they won 34 last year. I think they’re better now. If they don’t win more, I’ll be disappointed.
Serenity Now: Keep this Seinfeldian phrase handy. You’re going to need it, both for the mistakes young players make and for indecisive Doc Rivers. Exhibit A: starting Paul Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak in a size-challenged front court opening night, then switching to a new lineup in just the second game. Serenity NOW!!!
Pick Out A Favorite: It gives you somebody to keep a closer eye on as the team struggles. For me it’s Delonte West and Gerald Green. West reminds me of Dennis Johnson because he does everything well. He should still be the starting point guard. Green has hope and is a 20-point scorer in the making. He’s not there yet, but if he gets 20 minutes a game he’ll open your eyes sooner than later.
The High School Players: Kobe Bryant averaged seven points and 15 minutes as a rookie and Jermaine O’Neal didn’t get off the bench for four years in Portland. The point is, it takes time. So while now appendicitis- sidelined Al Jefferson had a maddening, frustrating second year, expectations were too high because some nitwit in marketing put him on the cover of the media guide. He‘s a kid and a work in progress with promise.
Patience: The Pistons hit rock bottom after winning titles in 1989 and 1990. Yet they’re back while the Celtics still stumble along. How? It started when Joe Dumars flipped free agent Grant Hill to Orlando for defensive backbone Ben Wallace and concluded by signing Chauncey Billups to play point. Chauncy, you may recall, was dumped here because Rick Pitino wouldn’t wait for him to grow up. The same things that were said about Billups then are being said now about West. Trust me – you can learn something from history.
The Big Trade. My still-licking-his-wounds right-wing friend Mike Moffett says no one is interested in a trade that happened 35 years ago. I say get a history book or read the glossary, because one trade made in 1968 offers a lesson. New York was an improving team with more good young players than available playing slots. It sent a couple to Detroit for Dave Debusschere and a year later they won the NBA title. Call me crazy, but with a similar inventory of young bodies and extra draft picks the Cs are in the same position to get a star big guy from a team whose window has closed. My choice is Kevin Garnett, who’d make them a contender – probably today. Definitely next year.
Pray For A Minor Miracle: Mine is Doc doesn’t make it through the year. I’m not one to dog coaches. But there are horses for different courses. He’s suited to veterans. Four Celtics never played in college. They need a teacher. Even if he is crazy and it’d end badly, they’d be better off spending the next two years with Bobby Knight. We know that won’t happen, so how about nitpicking Larry Brown? That’s why Red hired Bill Fitch. He taught young Larry and company how to play in the NBA. Look how that worked out.
Bottom Line: A caller on my radio program said it best last week. After predicting they’d win 43, I asked, “so 43 would make you happy?” “Not happy,” he responded, “but I’d be satisfied with the progress.” I’ll buy that. They are a work in progress, from whom progress should be expected. If they do that, that’ll do it for me.
Dave Long can be heard on Sports Night with Dave Long nightly from 6 to 7 p.m. on 610 WGIR-AM