Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bob Ryan is a blowhard

Bob Ryan is now recanting some of his remarks that the Celtics will only be average with the addition of KG and Allen - because James Posey is so solid. Ryan is that out of touch, and I have been appreciating how more and more people seem to be realizing this. I think collectively we are all hoping that Marc Spears brings some fresh energy to the mainstream basketball journalism scene here in Boston, because the last few years have been nothing short of brutal. That's why we're all blogging, because we can't stand to read the shit in the papers.

And just because Danny Ainge is saying we are not bringing in another point guard, don't believe we are not bringing in another point guard. It's a long season, much will happen, and now that we are over the salary cap, don't expect us to get conservative. So fear no reaper - Ray Allen will be the backup point of your dreams for now. I guess....

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

NBA Preview: The Knickerbocker Chronicles, Part 1 - Remembrance of Knicks Past

A confession: Among all pro sports franchises that I don't have a genuine rooting interest in (i.e., all but three), I find the New York Knicks the most ceaselessly fascinating. In part this stems from their inimitable and spectacular dysfunction, which might honestly be unmatched in all of professional sports over the past five years. The Knicks have spent more money in this period than any team in NBA history (in fact, the relative payroll disparity between the Knicks and the rest of the League
is one of the highest in all of sports), yet have put teams on the court that are profoundly, embarrasingly worthless; as far as I know, this is unprecedented.

This fascination also stems from the fact that I lived in New York for seven years and witnessed firsthand the team's descent into disgrace. And "disgrace" is not too strong a word, as I've honestly never seen a team so universally reviled by the local sports media (and by extension the fans) as the Knicks have become in New York. They hate Marbury; they hate Isaiah; but most of all they hate Jim Dolan, the batshit-craziest owner in all of sports. Watching the tabloids' day-to-day vitriolic war on all things Knicks is a truly awesome experience.

Lastly--and this stands as a second confession--this fascination stems from the fact that for a good deal of my childhood, I actually did root for the Knicks, at least when they weren't playing the Celtics. When I first became a true, die-hard basketball fan, sometime around middle school, the Celtics were uninspiring at best, suffering the death of Reggie Lewis, wheezing through the Dino Radja years, drafting Jon Barry over Latrell Sprewell, Acie Earl over Sam Cassell, Eric Montross over Eddie Jones. All this was pre-Pitino, mind you; that dark chapter hadn't even begun. I was drawn to the Knicks partly because I had relatives in New York and they were the second-most accessible team to me, but also because let's face it, those Knicks teams were crazy in the best possible ways. John Starks would shoot 1-for-19 one night, then drop 45 points the next, and still find time to fragrantly break Kenny Anderson's wrist in between. Anthony Mason and Charles Oakley blurred the line between pro ballers and WWF villains. Their point guard was none other than Glenn Rivers himself, before the fall. Riley was the coach, and seemed absolutely hell-bent on giving the finger to all those who'd slighted his Laker teams as finesse-driven and carried by superstars no matter the coach. And Patrick Ewing... ah, Ewing was something else in those days. The one member of the Knicks who seemed like a relatively stable, likeable guy; quiet, self-effacing, and possessing possibly the sweetest mid-range jump shot ever seen on a 7-footer. Before he became the subject of an overused and asinine "Theory" courtesy of Bill Simmons, Patrick Ewing was a force through and through. He also once changed the tire on my friend's mom's car, which didn't hurt in my eyes.

After a trip to the Finals in 1994--memorably interrupted by OJ Simpson's white Bronco chase--the Knicks continued to make noise in the East for the rest of the decade, even returning to the Finals in the 1998-99 lockout year as an improbable eight-seed in the East, a fun run until they were resoundingly trounced by the Duncan-Robinson Spurs. And then it all started coming apart. It's hard to tell exactly when the wheels started coming off, though many point to the laughable max contract they handed out to the supremely one-dimensional Allan Houston in 2001, a move in which they successfully outbid only themselves and ruined the team's financial situation for years to come. However, I prefer to think the downfall began in 2000, when in an act of supreme callousness the team traded Ewing to Seattle for a bunch of chump change rather than sign him to a short-term deal and let him retire a Knick like he should have. The front office seemed greedy, thoughtless and hopelessly out of touch, which is more or less a perfect transition to the Knicks of the present day.

The past few seasons the Knicks have vacillated between outrageously incompetent and laughably insane. It seems like almost every recent member of the team has been pounded in the media at some point, if not consistently: Eddy Curry for making too much money, Quentin Richardson for being a walking injury report, Nate Robinson for throwing punches and generally being a terrible basketball player, Steve Francis for quitting on life, Jerome James for simply being Jerome James. Of course, nobody gets it worse than Marbury, who is so widely hated that last week, when he stupidly defended Michael Vick, the media response was practically gleeful... check out Mitch Lawrence's typically idiotic and bizarrely mean-spirited response, in which Mitch goes so far as to belittle Marbury for his Starbury sneaker line, one of the few genuinely socially meaningful acts we've seen from an NBA star in recent years. Steph, it seems, truly can't win, whether on the court or off.

The widespread hatred of the players has been predictably (and for the most part rightfully) projected upon team president (and now coach) Isaiah Thomas, who in all fairness has done an exquisitely terrible job in his position. In fact, perhaps the most shocking Knicks-related move that's occurred during Thomas' tenure was the contract extension signed by Thomas himself last spring during a brief hot streak, an extension that merely confirmed the short-sighted lunacy of owner Dolan. Over the course of his presidency, Thomas has squandered a bottomless well of financial resources while assembling a team completely devoid of chemistry, running the team like an ADD-afflicted 12-year-old playing NBA Live in "Dynasty" mode. Much like the until-recent Danny Ainge, the only area in which Thomas has been successful is the draft, where he's snatched up talents such as Channing Frye, David Lee and even Renaldo Balkman, for whom Thomas was ridiculed on draft day last year but who now appears to be a keeper. In fact, it was Thomas' draft prowess that allowed him to make the Eastern Conference's most significant non-Garnett-related move, the acquisition of Zach Randolph from Portland, giving the Knicks one of the most offensively-talented frontcourts in the NBA.

So where do the Knicks go from here? Does the addition of Randolph plus the maturation of Lee, Curry, Balkman and the rest finally start paying dividends for New York? Or has Thomas merely repeated what's been a frustrating pattern in his time as an executive, the acquisition of talented but problematic players at exorbitant costs who are unwilling to co-exist with one another? Today we have discussed the recent past of the Knicks; in the second part of the Knickerbocker Chronicles, we will discuss their various potential futures. Stay tuned.

NBA Preview: In Praise Of Dwyane Wade

Watching the US in FIBA competition has lent itself to the argument once again of "Who's the best player in the world?" The answer is supposed to be either Kobe or LeBron, with Kobe getting a lot of attention for his maniacal defensive intensity during the tournament. Honestly it's hard to gauge anything in these FIBA things, the US team is hardly a team in the real sense of the word. They're more of a conglomeration of superstars forced to play off as a "team" for a few weeks in the summer. Let's just say, as it has been for the past few years, that chemistry seems to be lacking. That's no one's fault, just the nature of things given the circumstances.

Kobe has looked awesome, but honestly LeBron is so fucking talented and so big it is just insane. He threw one in from halfcourt the other night and I expected it. The sky's the limit for that guy; he's all of 22. Legitimately he could win like six championships - hell, he probably should win six championships.

But LeBron is the future, and we are probably only at the fledgling stages, which is scary and awe-inspiring. Kobe meanwhile, as phenomenal as he is, is not Jordan. I can't believe people still make this comparison in arguing his merits. Kobe is a scoring freak, with great willpower and tenacity, and a historically unique player. But he is not the best player in basketball, and he never has been. To those who strongly disagree with me - all I can say is that great individual exploits do not make you the world's best player, and I laugh if you tell me the Lakers would be worse off with Tim Duncan instead of Kobe.

It is Duncan who probably deserves the claim as the world's best player more than anyone; his continual dominance has been as calm and obscure as possible considering his accomplishments. He is a veritably great player, one of the ten best ever, and coming off another championship. But personally I think he might be slipping ever so slightly, and he is now on the other side of thirty. Anyway, I personally say there is someone better, but that could be a strech on my part.

The only player that can presently be compared to Duncan is Dwyane Wade. To many this seems to be heresy, but it is obvious to me, and might be obvious to you once next season plays itself out. Wade is everything you could ever want a basketball player to be - super athletic, incredibly unselfish, tough as fuck, and an indisputable winner. Like any great player stats don't do him justice, but he led the league in PER the last two years; the stat I value probably more than any other.

But Wade cannot be explained by stats. What sets him apart is his total understanding of the game, and his uncanny ability to fully execute it. No player can get from one spot on the court to another with such effectiveness. When Dwyane Wade moves, his whole team is forced to move with him. No one has done this since Jordan.

Great big men make players move around them. They are glorious pillars that everyone must react to. They are the centers of the game in a very literal sense, as everything is fundamentally fed into them, both offensively and defensively. Great guards and wing players do not have this luxury. They have no place in the middle, they are by nature peripheral figures. To be great, then, means to attack with utmost skill. And by attacking the core of the action shifts to them, momentarily make them the center, and all off a sudden gives them a distinct advantage. I cannot stress how hard this is to do on a consistently high level. Nash does it in an obvious way, but frankly he does not have the supernova talent to truly take over a game in such a fashion.

But Wade does have that rarefied talent, and the proof is in the pudding. No one else in the league could have done what he did in the 2006 Finals, when he heaved almost the entire burden on his shoulders and proceeded to destroy the Mavericks. This performance has been gigantically undervalued, because it was so explicitly miraculous that simple praise does it no justice. There is a reason he was Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year - he deserved it. To be as dominant as Wade was that series, and indeed as he has been in total the last two years, takes much more than just talent. It requires a mental understanding equal to one's physical domination. Dwyane Wade does not make himself better, he makes the entire Miami Heat better.

And that said, the Heat without Wade pretty much suck. Shaq is way past his prime; in the '06 Finals the Heat would have been better served to have someone like Emeka Okafor as their center. Seriously. Part of the reason Wade is still under the radar is fans believe Shaq is one of the top ten players in the game. I don't even know if he is in the top forty. The Miami Heat have been Wade's team the last two years, and he is brilliant enough to know it is best to deflect this truism when it is brought up. But at this point, he is as close to a one man band as there is in the NBA. Because he has reached such a high mark he can make it look like the Heat are better than they are, but this team needs some major revamping. I have to think Pat Riley is intelligent enough to realize this.

Back in early 2006 Pierce was on a rampage for the Celtics. I was telling people he was playing better than anyone. Then the C's played the Heat and Wade had like 34-8-8, but that didn't matter as much as the fact that it seemed like he was directly involved every time the Heat scored. I was watching the game with a friend and asked him if Wade was having one of his best games ever. My friend said, "No, he pretty much always plays like this." It was then I realized that Paul Pierce's best month ever was just normality for Dwyane Wade.

Wade may not play "maniacal defense" like FIBA Kobe, and he obviously does not have the ridiculous inherent talent of LeBron. But Wade is 25 and gets it in a way that both those guys might never attain. When you watch Dwyane Wade play, you are watching an artist who leaves it all on the court. He's coming back from both knee and shoulder surgery, playing on an adequate team, and still does not get as much hype as Carmelo. But if the East is as shitty as it looks, just wait till playoff time. Miami might have all it needs.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More Extremely Auspicious Events...

First Shira Springer gets reassigned. Now Rajon Rondo has a blog! This is great, and the best part is that he is directly responding to comments. Of course, that's probably because he's bored and at home in Kentucky, but this is amazing. Sometimes the internet blows my mind.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Luxurious Pose

The James Posey signing surprised me for a few reasons, but the main one has nothing to do with Posey. First off, let it be known that Posey hasn't really been that good the last few years. His PER was all of 12.75 last year, which was up from his 9.90 PER in '05-'06. So that's nothing to be singing praises of. I agree with Posey's agent that the Heat certainly did not utilize him well on the offensive end, but his problems seemed to be more than just systematic. Nonetheless, the main thing Posey brings is strong defense, and that is something the C's most definitely can use.

It needs to be mentioned that in '03-'04 Hubie Brown lit a fire under Posey and he was arguably the best player on a 50 win team. He had a great year, and filled the box scores night after night. That year his PER was 18.88. If the C's get that Posey, crack the champagne. In all likelihood that season was a mass aberration; and of course Glenn will never be confused for Hubie Brown.

All that said, what surprised me about the signing was that the C's shelled out about $3.5 million for Posey. I though we would be dealing strictly with veteran minimum contracts at this stage, like what was given to House and Pollard. That is because the C's were already in luxury tax land at about a $70 million dollar payroll, and now with Posey they go well above it. So, welcome to the big leagues, Wyc and fellow owners. Right now it looks like the payroll will be around $75 million, about seven or eight million dollars above the tax. Only the Knicks, Mavericks and Nuggets have higher payrolls.

So, in reality, Wyc and Co. decided that it was worth spending $7 million on James Posey for this upcoming year, because his salary is going to be matched dollar for dollar in luxury tax. This is pretty stunning. No one was saying we needed to get Posey, he is indeed a luxury, and one that will have to be paid for.

So yesterday's signing is not about Posey, it is about Wyc. Apparently he is trying to channel some Mark Cuban, someone he has always professed to admire. Personally, I feel a little crummy; I am a believer in the salary cap, the socialist in me can't turn a blind eye on such things. I heard Simmons speaking with Kerr just the other day on how much he hated the cap, and how parity in the league just meant less exceptional basketball, but I still find some virtue in it. With how much I rail on the Eastern Conference maybe I shouldn't. But the cap seems necessary to me, and the Celtics newfound extravagance might have deeper, darker meanings down the line. Insane free spending ruined baseball for me. This is a different situation all together, but one thing is certain - the Celtics are now big players in the game.

That Makes Eleven

As many of you are already probably aware, the Celtics recently signed 6-8 swingman James Posey to a two-year contract, giving them a solid eleven bodies under contract in anticipation of the upcoming professional basketball season. All they need is one more in order to be allowed to play, so let's hope things go smoothly in the Glen Davis/Gabe Pruitt department. Posey actually strikes me as a truly outstanding signing for the Green, a perfect example of a guy that they'd never have been able to land on the cheap before RayRay and KG came to town. Posey's a lights-out defender who can score a bit when he needs to, though he may struggle at first to fulfill the all-world defensive legacy of Gerald Green on the wing. Ahem. And for those wondering, yes, that is indeed James Posey's mugshot, stemming from a recent DUI charge in Miami. Hey, dude likes to party.

Speaking of mugshots... I'm not sure if anyone happened to notice this potentially amazing tidbit in Mark Murphy's Herald C's column the other day:

"Ruben Patterson, the free agent forward who played for the Milwaukee Bucks last season, has lobbied for a job with the Celtics."

Ruben Patterson!!! As in, registered sex offender/all-around psychopath Ruben Patterson, the man who once got his eye-socket punched in by Zach Randolph after Patterson allegedly threw a basketball at him for laughs. Let's just think about this for a second... Ruben Patterson in Boston instantly becomes the most polarizing local athlete in recent memory. Randy Moss is Troy Brown by comparison; Carl Everett is Trot Nixon. Peter May is readying a racist denouncement as we speak, replete with nonsensical references to the And1 Mixtape Tour. The signing of Posey seems to greatly diminish the chances of Patterson ending up in green, which were probably never very high in the first place, and all of this is probably for the best. A boy can dream though. As a postscript, Patterson actually had a surprisingly strong year last year (14.7ppg for Milwaukee, a career high) and will probably have no trouble catching on somewhere.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

NBA Preview: Indy Spirit

My last post might make it seem like I am a little too anti-defense. What I said is I prefer good offense over good defense five times out of seven, unless we are speaking of exceptional defense. But two times out of seven - well, two times out of seven I like to see solid D. With this in mind, let's talk about the Pacers. They fired an excellent coach in Rick Carlisle. Luckily, they also hired an excellent coach in Jim O'Brien. Under the circumstances, this was a pretty exceptional option for Bird. Obie is a winner, period. All this talk surrounding Jermaine O'Neal and "rebuilding" is going to seem pretty fluky once the season starts, because Indy should be in the thick of things. And for this we have to praise Obie.

Jim O'Brien was truly one of the best things to happen to the Celtics in the last 15 years. His style and demeanor of play was as successful as one could ever hope for with the moderate talent he was given. His last great feat with the C's came during a five game win streak preceding the Ricky Davis trade in 2003. A unit of Pierce, Jiri Welsh, Blount, Mike James and Vin Baker, with Eric Williams coming off the bench, was kicking ass. It was O'Brien's parting gift - a strange mixture of players executing a cohesive free-flowing halfcourt offense along with the usual stout defense of any O'Brien team. I mean he had Jiri Welsch looking really good. Then Danny traded Williams for Ricky, destroying the chemistry and the chances of Obie staying in Boston for much longer. He resigned the next month.

What that little story means is that Obie can basically make any NBA team half decent. I've long held the belief that there is enough talent on any NBA team for a good coach to coax almost a .500 mark out of it. It takes good coaching and no devastating injuries, but we have examples every year. For instance, last season Sam Mitchell almost willed his team to the Atlantic Division title despite being roundly predicted to finish last at the beginning of the season. Two years ago Byron Scott almost got the Hornets into the playoffs when I thought it would be difficult for them to win twenty games. Fratello had the Grizz at almost 50 wins for two straight years by playing a methodical system and hard defense. Sloan led the Jazz to a successful season after Stockton and Malone left, using the meager talent remaining. The list goes on, and each year there is an upstart team that surprises a lot of people by being perfectly adequate when people expect them to be just plain shitty.

But I don't even know if the Pacers fall into that category, because this team won consistently up to last year, and there still is considerable capability there. Basically Carlisle had to go, he was the fall guy for the massive chemistry issues that inevitably occur when fights, strip clubs, Stephen Jackson, and Ron Artest are all used in the same sentence. Larry Legend once famously said that no coach should be with a team for more than three years, and unfortunately Carlisle's time was up.

I really don't know how Obie is going to use the players he has, except to say that if O'Neal is still on the roster opening night he is sure to see big minutes. The other pieces seems weird: Marquis Daniels, Travis Diener, Ike Diogu, Mike Dunleavy, Jeff Foster, Danny Granger, David Harrison, Troy Murphy, Kareem Rush and Jamaal Tinsley. But what O'Brien does so well is maximize the worth of the players he has. No one has ever made Eric Williams, Walter McCarty or Jiri Welsch look so valuable, not to mention the J.R. Bremers of the world. And many of the players on the Pacers roster are much more talented than those particular Celtics.

Obie will have Indy play good defense, that much is for certain. What will be interesting is how much of an offensive identity he will be able to give them except for the inevitable (and intelligent) love of the long ball. With Philly he started to stress pushing the tempo, and it will be intriguing if he actually succeeds in doing that at all here. But maybe it won't matter that much. Indy will be a tough out most nights, and if O'Brien can develop chemistry on and off the court, many people are going to be shocked. Remember what Obie did with the C's in 2002. History could repeat itself, stranger things have happened.

Shira is on the Outs!

Great, great news today, as supposedly Shira Springer is being reassigned in the Globe's sports department. I know next to nothing about Marc Spears, but I am sure that he will be significantly better than Shira, because she is terrible. I'm giddy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

NBA Preview: Rollin' Down The River

Headband is starting up its season preview, which will follow no particular order or reference point. Enjoy...

In the Southwest Division there are maybe the three best teams in basketball, excluding the Suns for a moment. S.A., Dallas and Houston make up an imposing Texas brethren, and will get a hell of a lot of attention this year. But I've got a soft spot for the two forgettable teams in the division, Memphis and New Orleans, and have a feeling that I will enjoy watching them immensely.

This is because, like most fans, I am a proponent of offense, and believe that offensive excellence is the true thread of basketball, and the recent uprising of defense cannot dissuade me from this core belief. I enjoy watching great defensive teams, I get no willies when I watch San Antonio rock it defensively, but the problem for me is that there is such a bullshit emphasis placed on D. Most teams are not that entertaining when they focus most of their energy on barricading the fortress - because they can only be good, and not great defensively. And watching good defense and lousy offense gets boring five times out of seven.

This is why almost anyone would rather regularly watch Golden State than Chicago over the course of a long season. And it is why I yawn when I see Cleveland play - because Mike Brown is so obsessed with defense that he overtly throws his offense under the bus. It's stunning and aesthetically torturous, and the truth is that despite Brown's obsession, he has of yet not made Cleveland a fantastic defensive squad. So much of the NBA is this neutering of your offensive identity to just focus on defense...let me tell you - you better be real good at fucking defense to sacrifice your offensive game so fully.

Back in 2004 when Indiana and Detroit slugged it out in the Eastern Finals it was a brutal series - but it was enjoyable, because the defense was so outstanding, you had the slight inclination that these teams could kick the crap out of anybody on the court. This belief was surprisingly actualized when Detroit beat L.A. in the Finals, and then the next year when Indy was the best team in the league till l'affair Artest. If you really are something on D, I will extol you, but to just be good at it and forfeit offense breeds adequacy, and the result is basically much of this year's Eastern Conference.

Which brings us back to my riverboat teams, which thankfully both have healthy appetites for transition basketball and scoring in general. Memphis particularly should be wonderful this year. Marc Iavaroni promises to bring the burn to the Delta, and I am rearing to see it in action. The whole thing with Phoenix the last few years is that there has been the "Only Nash could pull this off" argument. I always thought this was silly; of course no one could pull off such a system as well as Nash, but that hardly means it only works with him. Now we finally get to see another team truly copy Phoenix, and not bastardize the system like Denver does.

To expect the moon from such a young team as the Grizzlies would be foolish, but who is not going to like watching Conley racing down the court with Mike Miller, Rudy Gay, Gasol and Darko? Plus they got Warrick, Lowry, Kinsey, Swift, and Gasol's best bud Juan Carlos Navarro. In short, that's fucking awesome. We are going to get to see some serious uptempo basketball, with a great mixture of athletes and shooters, and while the results might not be spectacular, it should be a hell of a spectacle. I dare say maybe the most entertaining team in the league. And it could very well translate into a playoff spot. Somewhere Furry Lewis is smiling.
New Orleans is another team that likes to push the tempo, although not in the overall manner or anarchic structure that Memphis promises to provide. Their core is more polished, a team with solid young veterans (West and Chandler) mixed with world class shooters (Peja and Mo Pete)- and all revolving around Chris Paul. The Hornets are very athletic and small up front, almost necessitating a running game. The key that makes it work is Paul. He's great. When I saw him live a few years ago I was shocked at all the little veteran tricks he knew - as a rookie. He would stutter step in the lane to create subtle angles or slyly grab the opposing guard's jersey to slow him down. Now all of twenty two, I'm not sure if there is a better point guard in the league except for Nash. CP3 alone is reason to watch New Orleans. Throw in the big potential of Julian Wright and Hilton Armstrong and this should be an appealing team.

So kudos to the riverboat squads for keeping it real and playing with some giddy-up in an absolutely loaded division. Here's hoping they both make the playoffs as a reward for their ingratiating style.

R.I.P. Eddie Griffin

We don't often stray outside of directly Celtics-related matters here at the Headband, but at the very least a post seems appropriate in order to observe the shocking and tragic death of former NBA forward Eddie Griffin. Griffin actually passed away last week in a horrific collision with a moving train; it wasn't until yesterday that dental records actually established his identity, and rumors are already circulating that it may have been a suicide.

Griffin was last seen in action for the Wolves, who released him in March of this year, but it wasn't long ago that Griffin represented one of the more electrifying talents of the (thoroughly disastrous) 2001 NBA Draft Class. If it weren't for the personal problems that apparently dogged him his entire short life, Eddie Griffin might have been a top-3 pick in 2001 (he went to the Nets at #7, who traded him to the Rockets for Brandon Armstrong, Jason Collins and Richard Jefferson). He was coming off a freshman year at Seton Hall where he'd averaged almost 18 points and 11 rebounds a game, making headlines for punching a teammate in the process. He withdrew from school after the season ended and declared for the draft, which was almost certainly a mistake considering he clearly lacked the maturity to handle even the NCAA Division I athlete existence, let alone the insanities of the NBA life. Griffin often showed potential but struggled with drug and alcohol problems, got suspended a bunch of times, involved himself in an embarrassing car wreck that feels inappropriate to get into here, and now is dead at 25. Just looking over his player profile from years back gives a bitter sense of what might have been.

A thousand and one (white) sportswriters will fall over themselves to frame this story as that of a troubled kid who left school too early, who was given too much too soon, who was an AAU brat since pre-adolescence and was destroyed by outlandish expectations, both his own and those around him. Interesting how this narrative and all its attendant hand-wringing is never employed in the case of, say, Corey Lidle, who recklessly flew a plane into a high-rise last year and killed himself, his co-pilot and injured 21 others. Somehow I doubt there will be nice old ladies holding signs saying "Our Prayers Go Out To Eddie Griffin's Family" when the season opens next year. Lidle's death is just an awful tragedy; Eddie Griffin's is the culmination of the out-of-control-black-athlete narrative that mainstream media never seems to tire of (anyone else sick of Michael Vick coverage?).

I'm not trying to argue that Eddie Griffin wasn't a severely messed up dude, and I'm certainly not trying to argue that his death is somehow more tragic than Corey Lidle's. What I do find fairly reprehensible is the way in which the sports world is all too content to solemnly shake their heads over the evils of the "system" every time something horrible happens to a kid like Eddie Griffin, yet otherwise do absolutely nothing to change it. We wait until some talented kid dies or ends up in jail to bemoan--post facto--the outrageous poverty they were raised in or the way they've been pimped out by adults with dollar signs in their eyes since their first growth spurt. Lidle's death gets the shocked sympathy and prayers of millions because we didn't see it coming; Eddie Griffin's death gets self-righteous "I-told-you-so's" because, let's face it, everyone saw it coming. Come to think of it, maybe in that sense it is more tragic.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Modest Proposal

As those who read this site are likely already aware, we at the Shamrock Headband have a pronounced aversion to the coaching methods of one Glenn "Doc" Rivers. Doc is a glad-handing company man who frequently appears uninterested in the intricacies and discipline that it takes to win basketball games and is consequently overmatched by 80-90% of the men he coaches against. These are not baseless accusations, and have been demonstrated in reality again and again; in fact, as I write this I'm pretty sure that Tim is compiling an exhaustive Freakonomics-style treatise on the all-pervasive incompetence of Doc Rivers.

We constantly hear that the players and media love the man, which is perfectly understandable: by all accounts he is an outstanding person, intelligent, engaging and accommodating. He is also a terrible basketball coach who is still inexplicably living off his 1999-2000 Coach of the Year award, questionably earned for taking a horrendous Orlando Magic team to a 41-41 record and not making the playoffs. Doc Rivers having more COY trophies than Jerry Sloan is sort of like Kevin Costner having more Best Director Oscars than Alfred Hitchcock. Now Doc Rivers has been handed what is easily the best team of his coaching career (the only possible exception being the 2000-2001 Magic team before Grant Hill got hurt, but even we won't blame Doc for that), and it's hard to believe that ownership won't be looking for the slightest excuse to kick him to the curb. Doc Rivers simply has no business coaching a team that genuinely aspires to compete for a title; everyone knows this, probably including Doc himself. Did anyone else notice the "oh SHIT" expression that occasionally passed over his face during the Pierce-KG-Ray Allen press conference?

With all of this in mind, I'd like to introduce a motion that we at the Shamrock Headband stop referring to Doc Rivers by his preferred nickname ("Doc") and instead use only his hopelessly geeky and emasculating "Christian" name: Glenn. So going forward, until Doc--I'm sorry, Glenn--is fired after this team's first two-game losing streak, I for one will be writing sentences such as "Does Glenn really think it's a good idea to use KG as an eighth man off the bench?" or "I wonder when Glenn will realize that Ray Allen should be starting at the 2 over Jackie Manuel?" Things like that. Who's with me?

And for those who think this "Doc" moratorium represents nothing but insane summer boredom, you're correct. But there's still over two months until opening night and someone's gotta come up with ways to pass the time. Who's with me??????

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Our Bench Is Fat With Talent

Listen, if Doc wasn't going to butcher the bench like he always does, I'd feel pretty good about it. House is solid, he can put up points and can bring the ball up. The Pollard signing could be a nice addition on both ends, and in the very least he's a funny guy. If Pollard is healthy, he should be able to contribute. Same goes for Tony Allen, although I think his health should hardly be counted on. Powe is workman-like enough to not really hurt you out there. Scal brings hustle that can help you if it is in limited amounts. That's five guys right there and I'm not including Big Baby Davis, who very well could be the sixth man by the end of the year.

I don't know why I have so much faith in Big Baby, and I freely admit that I could be way off on this, but I think he's gonna be really good. He'll be able to play both power forward and center, and should be able to be effective immediately. I can only hope he gets minutes to get to show his meddle, because he brings a unique flair onto the floor. Offensively his combination of quickness and size should make him a valuable weapon, and an interesting complement to KG. He and Rondo are the two gambits that could pay off huge for the C's. Rondo I feel very assured in, Big Baby could be more of a strech, like any rookie. But if those two guys do as well as I think they can - depth becomes no problem at all.

So this whole bench thing is not stressing me, I'd rather have three All Stars than Nocioni coming off the pine. It's a league of stars, not supporting parts. And it is not injuries to the bench that concern me as much as injuries to the star triumvirate - obviously. It's more vital to have the guys playing 35 minutes a night healthy than someone who is just playing 15.

When you got firepower you mold around it. Hopefully a little more molding will occur in the form of a veteran point, but that could be down the road once the season is half over. We'll have plenty of other stuff to worry about before that juncture.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Doc Needs To Be Fired Now

So much has been written about Doc Rivers’ inability to coach, and for me there is always a reason to write more. I am obsessed with Doc because he is such a profoundly bad coach that he almost automatically becomes the story when I watch C’s games. In a league dominated by players, and where often even the best coaches can do little in way of effecting their teams significantly, it is hard to believe what Doc has done. He has carved a niche of ineptitude that even Dunleavy and Saunders must be jealous of. With the acquisition of KG, it is time more than ever to scrutinize Doc, and to realize that with him as a coach you cannot succeed.

There are two sides of belief concerning the current Celtics roster. One is that this team is loaded and should be heading to the finals unless injuries befall it. The other is that while this team has three legitimate stars, it has no depth and will fail to reach the 50 win plateau or the conference finals. I agree wholeheartedly with the first school of thought - if Doc is fired and an adequate coach replaces him. And I agree just as strongly with the negative results of the second opinion - if Doc remains coach. Does he make that big a difference? Of course he does, and that is what so many fans seem to still not realize.

I’ve heard again and again since the KG trade, “even Doc can’t screw this up.” To this I ask – have you watched this man coach? How can he not screw it up? This situation was made for Doc Rivers. The Celtics are loaded in a conference where nobody else is. Few coaches would be able to mask this. But Doc will come up with eloquent excuses, point fingers unfairly, and get sympathetic treatment from the Boston media – all while digging this team into the ground.

Still, there is the notion held by a sizable minority (i.e. Bob Ryan) that the Celtics won’t be that good, and that it will have nothing to do with Doc. Those, ahem, idiots will start spewing invective at the star triumvirate when shit hits the fan. We will have the good ol' it's the players who have to make the plays b.s. tossed at us. And what could be a magical season in all likelihood will end in disaster.

So Doc has to be fired. Now. There is zero chance this is going to happen, but I have to say it. To blow this year is gonna be a brutal thing, and hopefully it can be rectified. The window is small; how small we don’t know, but the triumvirate is not getting any younger, and to waste this year would be a shame. The joy of watching KG, Pierce and Allen rocking it with Rondo is going to sour quickly when we lose with astounding regularity.

And have no doubt it will happen with Doc at the helm. Despite having to give huge minutes to the big three, the rest of the rotation will surely be mangled, because as we all know by now: Doc doesn’t have a rotation. If the Celtics do sign a somewhat capable backup at point, you know Rondo will be fucked. Perkins, Big Baby, Pollard and Powe will all have their strong moments – which unfortunately will have no bearing on how much Doc plays them. Actually if one of those guys is playing well, we can bet he will be back on the bench in the very near future, and if that player is going through a bad spell – well, he’ll be starting. Scalabrine will play too much, it’s almost guaranteed, and his hustle will be misused when he is out there. Doc will make sure Tony Allen stays in when he commits silly turnovers, particularly if he is not healthy and shouldn’t be playing at all.

But the key with Doc's use of supporting players is how he inserts and takes them out at the most inopportune times. Get ready for Eddie House taking over for Tony Allen when we’re already up by twenty. Scal to come in when we need scoring. Perk to come out when we need interior defense. And Gabe Pruitt to come in for crunch time. Ah, it’s funny cause it’s true. With Doc anything is possible.

Plus, we’ll play shitty defense. Or we’ll play it well for two games and then have it forgotten about for the next ten games. But, hey, it’s the players’ fault, right? Also, Doc is going to overplay and burn out KG, Pierce and Ray by giving them too many minutes during the regular season. This’ll make sure they’re tired for the playoffs, and also hopefully will cause nagging injuries, and maybe even a debilitating one.

God, it’s going to be a good year. I’ve talked myself into it. Doc can coach this team! Can’t wait to see what Bob Ryan has for us in February.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Knights and Prophets

Just picking over the pieces of what's happened in the last day or two. First off, it appears Brevin Knight signed a two year $4 million deal with the Clips. This strikes me as cheap. I guess the Celtics were indeed worried about chemistry with Knight, because otherwise there was no reason not to sign him at such a low price. A negative Doc thinker like myself is also horrified that bringing in too quality a point guard will destroy Rondo's inevitable domination next year. That is why, in a backward and lousy way, Eddie House is the perfect substitute for Rondo: he is a totally different type of player and is guaranteed not to steal too many minutes from Rondo. This perverse thinking is solely based on my fear of Doc's madness. Surely it's not healthy to think in such a manner.

I still believe we need another playmaker besides Rondo. Right now the closest thing to a second point guard is Ray Allen, who does have excellent playmaking abilities. Regardless, Rondo still is a prophet- just wait and see, all you naysayers...

Talking about perverse thinking, it might be time to go after Andray Blatche. Blatche, who was shot a few years back, was just arrested for trying to pay for sex. In of itself, this would hardly be groundbreaking news, but Andray was on the eve of signing a reported 5 year $12.5 million deal with Washington. Now the deal is up in the air. Could the C's get him at a bargain rate? This is similar to my Ersan Ilyasova argument a few weeks back - pay little for the potential of big gain. You have to wonder about Andray, but everyone says he has mad skills, and he is a legit 6-10.

Finally, with Elton Brand rupturing his achilles, it's time for people to start cooling off on the Western Conference. Seattle and Minnesota should both be terrible, and struggle to win even 25 games. The Clippers now do not look much better. Portland and Sacramento both will probably be crappy. Memphis is exciting but should not approach .500; and the Lakers, Hornets and Nuggets instill little fear into anyone. So while the East may be more truly mediocre, the West has several worse teams. The difference is the West still has big guns. The East just has...the Celtics! Fuck yeah, it feels nice writing that.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Reversal of Fortune

Mind blowing. Look at that photo...this quite possibly has been the most exhilarating week I can remember as a Celtics fan. We got KG. It's just unbelievable. I mean, how did this happen? When you rationalize it, of course it makes sense: the Celtics had the pieces to make a trade, no one else could come up with a comparable offer, there was no time for a youth moment, etc. But less than two months ago the Celtics were promoting Tony Allen's rehab as a calling card for coming out to games. Now? Now they don't have to promote anything.

The stunning reversal is so astounding because it hardly ever seems to happen in the NBA. This was not us getting lucky in the lottery, the usual route for a team's huge upswing. Nor was it simply a case of us intelligently throwing around a ton of money at free agents (which rarely occurs.) This was actually two blockbuster deals happening within 33 days of each other. That is hugely impressive. Considering that blockbusters hardly ever happen, for one team to have two in such a short span is a milestone for the modern NBA. So big fucking kudos to Danny Ainge. You have the fortitude that Danny Ferry, John Paxon and Rod Thorn so severely lack.

And as a Celtics fan you just have to be - well, I don't know the word. There are so many poor metaphors that could be used. The whole "bum on the street finding out he has a million dollar inheritance" thing. To have such an unexpected turn of events has not made me necessarily appreciate the deal more, it has just made me more flabbergasted by the whole thing. We all were so set on this Oden/Durant dream, and no other option but that or perpetual mediocrity seemed to be on the table all spring. Even the intellectual appreciation of what the Ray Allen deal could mean never seemed to actually be a reality for me until I saw KG shaking intensely at the press conference. And then - it was motherfucking on.

So count your blessings Celtics fans, because this kind of audaciousness has not been so brazenly put forward by a team this decade. Malone and GP signed for a celestial pittance in LA, and they saw the light at the end of the tunnel. This, on the other hand, is a gamble in excellence that must make other teams jealous. It's a hell of a star merger, and while I will return to my normal angry brooding soon, for the moment I just want to bask in the glory of the spectacle.

It is going to be such a treat to watch KG. I assume the people who are reserved about the trade have simply not watched this guy enough. It's gonna be a pleasure, and a unique one at that, because there is no one like KG in the league, and KG himself has never played with a cast close to this. So enjoy the souffle.

The Eddie House Era Begins

Alright, well, maybe not. But as some of you may have heard, the C's wasted no time in scrambling to re-stock their laughably depleted bench, signing Eddie House and Jackie Manuel to one-year contracts yesterday. Celtics fans are undoubtedly familiar with House, who started his career with the Heat and spent last year with the Nets. The C's will be his eighth team (damn). Jackie Manuel hasn't played in the NBA before, but college hoops fans will remember him as a key role player on the 2005 North Carolina title team. Both signings seem pretty decent: House is basically a professional shooter, and it's always good to have one of those on the bench, and Manuel's apparently a hard worker and a tough defender at the guard position (hey, that makes one of them).

Bob Ryan's got an irritatingly bitchy column in the Globe today in which he plays a hackneyed devil's advocate and rips the C's for essentially giving up too much in the KG trade and arguing that with the supporting cast as currently constructed the C's won't win shit. He closes the column with the snarky one-liner, "They might even make the playoffs." Take that, hopeful Boston sports fans!

First of all, let me say that I don't hate Bob Ryan. He is a once-great sportswriter who's still capable of excellent moments but who has clearly been lulled into a sort of vain laziness by a glut of meaningless television appearances. Now he's got this crappy "Globe 10.0" show on NESN, which like all NESN original programming (anyone catch "Sox Appeal" last night?), is mind-numbingly retarded. Today's Ryan column seems born out of a knee-jerk tendency towards idiotic "point-counterpoint" situations that proliferates sports media today; sometimes it's enjoyable ("PTI" with Kornheiser and Wilbon), but mostly it's flatly idiotic. Ryan's column seems to only exist because yesterday Jackie MacMullan wrote a typically lucid and insightful column praising the C's for the Ainge trade, and God knows we don't want any positivity going unchecked, right? Whatever, this is turning into a general sports-media rant that's probably best saved for another time. What I want to say is that the only way the Celtics "might even make the playoffs" next year is if two of their big stars suffer serious injuries. Then they're fucked. Otherwise, have you seen the Eastern Conference? Besides possibly the Knicks and Magic, it's difficult to argue that anyone's even improved at all from last year.

They still need more players, obviously. There's talk of Brevin Knight and Dale Davis, both of whom would fit well, Davis because he's big and cheap (and unfathomably old at this point), Knight because he's a good, smart point guard who can have lots of conversations with Rondo about how much they hate making open jumpers. It's widely thought that we won't be able to afford Knight, but I feel like you have to at least try and offer him a one-year deal to play a key role on a team that looks to go deep into the playoffs... then hopefully at the end of next year, Rondo will be ready to take over the whole thing and Knight can sign a bigger and better deal elsewhere based on the success. Just a thought.

Or you figure out a way for McHale to take over the Lakers, then trade him Glen Davis, Gabe Pruitt, Tony Allen and a conditional second-rounder for Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom. Either way.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Here Comes The Sun...

First, allow me to fully and unabashedly echo Tim's sentiment: what a trade. Take a long look at the photo to the left: when was the last time you saw Paul Pierce smile like that? 2002? My word.

What a trade, indeed. After the initial shock of hearing that the Celtics were trading nearly have their roster for one of the most exciting--and, I'll say it, downright best--players in NBA history, I felt honestly ecstatic. As of this morning, the Celtics are 5-1 odds to win the NBA title. The teams with shorter odds? Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio. That's it. Our closest rival in the East in the eyes of Vegas is Detroit, who's 11-1. Granted, using a sports book as a divining rod is foolish, but Jesus Christ: we're back.

There are so many things that make this trade great it's hard list them all, but it's worth examining a few. First of all, when you really think about it, we didn't give up that much. Granted, letting go of Big Al hurts, but as we've noted before in this space, Celtics fans might have jumped the gun a bit by deciding that half a season of 20-10s for arguably the worst team in basketball makes a guy Karl Malone Redux. Big Al is a very good player with the potential to become an excellent one, but we'll see how he fares against [insert dominant Western Conference big man] four times a year. It's almost certain that Big Al will never be Kevin Garnett, even Kevin Garnett at 31. Now, consider that aside from now, we didn't relinquish a single player who's even a legitimate NBA starter. Ryan Gomes is a capable backup. Gerald Green is still a frustrating project, and rumors abound that management had come to believe that his work ethic and attitude might stand in the way of his ever coming close to his full potential. Sebastian Telfair is an unqualified disaster who will most likely be out of the league sooner rather than later. Theo Ratliff is an accounting tool. It's been proven time and again that in the NBA (as opposed to MLB or the NFL), trading quality for quantity doesn't work, yet that's exactly what the Wolves just did: trade an all-time great who is still a dominant player, for one very good player and a bunch of who-knows-what-else. Before the draft the rumor was Big Al, the number 5 and some other stuff for KG, and now, a month later, Ainge has managed Big Al, the number 5 and some other stuff for KG and Ray Allen. Stunning.

Another aspect of the deal that warrants reflection--one which Simmons addresses in his predictably gleeful take on this swindle--is the apparent genius of putting these three together. The Ray Allen trade on its own was confusing; it certainly moved the Celtics out of the cellar but certainly didn't make them a force. Now the Allen trade makes perfect sense, as Ray Allen represents the perfect complement to Kevin Garnett that McHale & Co. were never able to acquire. Garnett with Pierce is enticing enough, but Garnett with Pierce and Allen is a frightening thought, particularly when one takes into account Garnett's thoroughly underrated skills as a passer. The Celtics now boast a first-rate inside scorer, a first-rate slasher/mid-range scorer, and a first-rate perimeter scorer: a nightmare scenario for any opponent. Moreover, all three are thoroughly stand-up characters with an unquestioned desire to win at all costs, and it's difficult to imagine any of these guys sulking over a lack of touches or a decrease in stats provided the C's are winning, which they almost certainly will be.

I can't remember the last time I was this excited about the Celtics. I can't wait till November.

Fuck it: I can't wait till May.