LONGSHOTS: The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
by Dave Long
I realize only a handful of folks out there actually care about this, but next Thursday is a big day for your Boston Celtics. At least they used to be your Boston Celtics. Now Iím not so sure, since you are more likely to hear even real basketball people say something like ďI canít watch the NBA anymoreĒ than you are to hear them ask, ďDid you see the game last night?Ē
It didnít used to be that way. Once upon a time the Celtics were very big in these parts. From the days of Bill Russell through the end of the Larry Bird era, they were to the NBA what the Patriots are now to the NFL. The gold standard, tough, smart and they always won. They were so beloved they sold out 400 straight games from early in Birdís rookie year right through the end of his career. Thatís 100 more than the amazing streak the Red Sox are working on now and they have twice as many home dates per season.
Part of the problem is because of what David Stern and his micro-managing coaches have done to the product, but I think more of it has to do with fact that the Celtics just are not a factor. And if they ever start winning again, I believe people would return, which brings us back to next Thursday.
It is a big day, because unless I miss my guess, it is do-or-die time for general manager Danny Ainge. Itís been five years since he blew up a team that went to the playoffs two years in a row and itís been straight downhill from there. Ditto for Doc Rivers, because while they were decimated by injuries last year that played a big part in why they had the second-worst record in the league, the natives are restless.
Itís the same for me, who believes a nucleus of nice young players is in place to complement a star the caliber of what Greg Oden will be, if one ever arrives. The problem is, much to the chagrin of the fans who are left, Oden is headed to Portland and Boston has the number-five pick, which they HAVE to leverage into a player or mix of new players that can get them into the playoffs on an upward slope. Otherwise itís probably curtains for Danny and definitely Doc.
So given that situation, hereís a look at the options and what I might do if I were in charge of things starting today:
A Little History: For those who just want to trade everyone, an understanding of recent moves might be helpful in gaining a grip. Here are some recent players who left town because the Cs didnít know what they had, or because they didnít want to wait for them to develop: Chauncey Billups, Bruce Bowen, Ben Wallace, Joe Johnson, Antoine Walker. And they could have had Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, Ron Artest (I know heís crazy) or Andre Kirilenko if Rick Pitino had a shred of patience instead of lurching to get Vitaly Potapenko with the eight pick in 2002. Thatís a pretty good nucleus, donít you think? The moral is, if youíre going to move somebody youíd better be careful what you give up. I say Delonte West and Gerald Green fall into this category.
What They Need Most: Someone who can help NOW. A banger who rebounds, plays physical defense, blocks shots and is a leader. Someone like, oh, Greg Oden ó so you can see how the lottery this year broke my heart. I wanted that guy. Be that as it may, they still need a guy who can do those types of things.
What They Donít Need: Another disastrous move like last year when Danny gave up the sixth pick overall that turned out to be Rookie Of The Year Brandon Roy when he stretched to get point guard Sebastian Telfair. All Danny can say for that one is thank god for the Bruins trading Joe Thornton in the MIDDLE of an MVP year or that would have been the worst local trade this century. And thatís saying something with all the diddling Theoís done at shortstop the last few year.
What They Have to Give Up: For the right deal I would trade anyone including Paul Pierce and Al Jefferson óbut, but, but it would have to be for something really good. But more likely, is the number-five pick, the expiring contract of Theo Ratliff, and Tony Allen, assuming his knee is OK. Then thereís also West and if you can find the right fit and Wally Szczberbiak although with a huge contract and two consecutive injury-filled seasons that wonít be easy.
The Nucleus: For my money the guys to build around are Pierce, Jefferson, Rajon Rondo, West and Green ó who Iím telling you is going to be a big-time scorer, possibly this year and definitely in two.
The Number-Five Pick: Here are some names of players who went in the fifth slot in recent years: Kevin Garnett, Dwayne Wade, Ray Allen, Vince Carter, Jonathan Bender, Tony Battie, Mike Miller and Nikoloz Tskitishvili. As you can see in the right year you can be very healthy here or if itís the wrong one, maybe not.
Rumor Mill: The two most persistent names I hear are Shawn Marion and Seattleís Rashard Lewis ó who is a 6í10Ē athletic three man, who scored 22 a game last year. Each would cost the fifth pick, plus Ratliffís contract, with West going to Phoenix and Green going to Seattle. Swap Allen for West and Green and I do either deal today. The Seattle deal might also include seven-foot bust (to date) Robert Swift, who Ainge reportedly likes, but if they insist on Green forget it.
Names Iíd Like to See in the Mix: Along with Marion and Lewis are Jermaine OíNeal, Emeka Okafor and Antonio McDyess (though not for the fifth pick).
If They Use the Pick: Assuming Oden and Kevin Durrant donít slip, Iíd take Joakim Noah. Heís slipped from a year ago because heís not a polished offensive player, but he blocks shots, rebounds and I love his quickness as well as his ability to get up and down the floor.
Who Will Danny Take? Iím betting if this happens, he takes 20-year-old Chinese seven-footer Yi Jianlian.
The Bonner Factor: I know this makes me a homer, but one last thing. What about bringing in Matt Bonner? The big fella is a free agent, can shoot, is smart and has a great attitude. They could do worse.
We wonít know what will happen for about a week. But I do believe the fate of Ainge and Rivers lies in what happens this off-season ó which means if Danny takes another guy whoíll need time to develop like Jianlian on Thursday, heís got more guts than me.
Dave Long is host of Home Team Saturday with Dave Long and Company, 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on WGAM (1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua).