November 16, 2006

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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


11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low

11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Hero’s death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat