Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hollinger Can Be Easy And Love

Hollinger's draft ratings for everybody this year so far, including freshman, just came out. I recommend anybody with interest in the draft reading the whole article immediately. There are a couple of initial things that are shocking about it. But let's get the non-shocker out of the way - Michael Beasley appears to be the best prospect in the draft, despite his rather amazing journeys en route to Manhattan, Kansas. Given the season Beasley is having this should hardly come as a surprise. But mostly everything else about the Hollinger list is unexpected.

First of all Derrick Rose, OJ Mayo, Eric Gordon, Donte Green and DeAndre Jordan all failed to crack the top 20. GM's - don't let anybody say you weren't warned. All those guys might end up being good players in the NBA - but if you're looking for perennial All-Stars you might want to look elsewhere. In a way I'm not surprised. There has been much talk as of late that this draft is deep but not laden with superstars. The downgrading of these freshman sensations makes sense in such a context (this theory is abetted by these players often not looking as good as advertised when you actually watch them.)

Then we get to the next surprise - #2 and #3 on the list are Blake Griffin and Kevin Love. Griffin I have hardly seen (he looks alright), but Love I had already written off as just being Scalabrine with superior passing skills. Well, I guess I was wrong - a score around 700 is far too high for Scalabrine territory. So welcome back into the lottery, Kevin Love. Meanwhile talk of Jerryd Bayless being actually better than the more highly publicized freshman guards is being backed up by Hollinger's data.

So although Hollinger's list is rather unfinished given that only part of the season has taken place, some rather definitive conclusions can already be taken from it. And while many might find the article misleading, I don't feel that way. It very well might be gospel.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Celtics Out of Stoudamire Picture?

Chris Sheridan at ESPN is reporting that the C's have all but fallen out of the running for Damon Stoudamire. Apparently Stoudamire is leaning towards signing with either the Spurs or the Suns, turned off by Danny Ainge's lack of enthusiasm for his services. According to Sheridan, "Ainge has expressed misgivings about tinkering with his team's chemistry."

Hmm. This is a curious one. I hate to second-guess (nah, I don't), but if these misgivings are true I'm more than a little concerned. Chemistry is obviously important, but so is having a legitimate point guard with more than two years of NBA experience. If "chemistry" entails betting the farm on Rajon Rondo and table scraps then chemistry can go fuck itself. Turning down the chance to sign Stoudamire could turn out to be downright hubristic. Of course, on the flip side, Danny Ainge has been proven time and again to be an inveterate liar in situations such as these--and we mean that in the nicest possible way--so this could easily be some sort of smokescreen. You have to wonder if the C's sudden lack of interest in Stoudamire is connected to some sort of behind-the-scenes maneuvering on the Sam Cassell front, and the Cassell-to-Boston rumors haven't seemed to be going away as of late. Cassell's both a better player and a better chemistry guy than Stoudamire, so the optimist in me is keeping my fingers crossed.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Sweet Nothing We All Like

Wow. In many ways, that was one of the more entertaining games of the year. For those of you who missed it, the C's beat the Heat by 30, and it was not close from the end of the first quarter onward. KG and Ray were both absent, so it was a very gratifying win to watch - although it means little, saying that the C's are going nowhere without Allen and Garnett, and the Heat are absolutely terrible. I can't over-emphasize this enough - the Heat are probably the most disappointing team in recent memory. So as much as this evening should belong to Powe, Rondo, TA et al., it equally belongs to Miami's wretchedness.

Leon (25 and 11 tonight) has played so well as of late it is a wonder that he hardly played at all earlier in the season. One can't complain because the C's did better than fine without his presence, but we absolutely can complain now when Scalabrine steals his minutes and the C's lose a close game. Scal played 17 minutes tonight, and the only reason that is okay is because the game was extended garbage time for all of the second half. Scal has lost almost all confidence in his shot. Meanwhile Baby returned after a DNP-CD on Sunday to have 23 productive minutes. Basically everybody played well tonight. This was a nice treat, because given the injuries I could easily have seen the C's walking away with a loss - at least until I actually watched the Heat play for a quarter. Jesus...

Where Deferring Happens

CelticsBlog today is accepting KG's "flaw of unselfishness" that Britt Robson elucidated upon after the T-Wolves game. I'm gonna disagree with Jeff at CB and say that KG's constant offensive deferring could well be the Celtics' demise come the playoffs. As Robson pointed out, KG is all too happy to let his teammates shoot away - even when Garnett should be the one taking control offensively. Like I have said time and time again, I am thrilled with KG, and his defensive brilliance this year has almost always made up for any offensive passiveness. But all the same, we all would like KG to take the lead more with the ball in his hands. It is one thing if he is just so gassed from his defense that he can't do it on the other end - but usually that doesn't seem to be the case. Instead it is just that KG's unselfishness is so ingrained that he is perfectly willing to let inferior teammates take over. Ultimately this can be costly.

The criticism of KG's excessive modesty has been constant throughout his career, and indeed is why many regard him as maybe the ideal #2 guy of all time. Obviously KG has always been the main piece - but it is so easy to see him as "the world's greatest complementary player" because of how he plays. KG's lack of forcefulness is often amazingly positive - but its faults can appear in the worst possible times. You surely cannot tell me that Tim Duncan would have only gotten past the first round of the playoffs once if he had been in Garnett's shoes. So while KG is perfectly willing to step up, the fact that he is just as willing to defer makes him atypical from most great players we can compare him to. Here's hoping he enforces more personal control on the offense when he gets fully healthy - but we shouldn't necessarily be expecting it.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Huggy Bear, Chin Nuts?

I gotta say, a few minutes after posting my vitriolic quasi-suicide note of a recap post for today, I stumbled upon this at the Big Lead. Apparently some jokesters managed to find their way into the Big East coaches' media conference call this week, and the results are just incredible. The first comedian asks Bob Huggins--Bob Huggins!--if he's ever placed his balls on a player's chin, and it just gets better from there.

Seriously, it's phenomenal.

No Longer Cute

The Celtics dropped an absolute heartbreaker in Orlando today, losing 96-93 on a buzzer-beating (and fairly preposterous) Hedo Turkoglu 3-pointer. The Celtics were without Kevin Garnett, out with that pesky abdominal injury from the other night, and the loss knocked them down to just .500 over their last ten games. I still maintain that there's nothing wrong with this team--again, a few breaks go there way and they win this game--but this losing is starting to suck. Paul Pierce played well, as did Rondo and Posey, but not having KG out there against Dwight Howard stung quite a bit (Howard went for 18 and 16), and Turkoglu--who's sort of inexplicably having the kind of year everyone thought he was capable of when he came into the league fifteen fucking years ago or whatever--stole the show with 27 to go with his madcap heroics.

Garnett's absence meant the unwelcome re-introduction of Brian Scalabrine to meaningful minutes, and he gathered a robust 1 rebound and 1 point in 22 minutes of action. On the bright side, he didn't pick up any fouls or turnovers, but considering he didn't pick up any steals or assists either he can go fuck himself. Leon Powe picked up 9 points and 9 boards in 27 minutes once it became clear for roughly the 200th time in his Celtics career that Scalabrine has no business being in a professional basketball game. I have nothing against him as a man, but as a basketball player I hate Brian Scalabrine: I hate the way nothing goes right when he's on the floor; I hate the way he camps out at the 3-point line even though he's 6-9 and shoots 30% from the arc; I hate the way he expends a needless amount of energy to play terribly and it gets called "hustle;" I hate the way fans in Boston love him for no apparent reason aside from pathetically casual racism. Sorry, maybe I'm still angry from this kick-to-the-genitals loss, but if I see this asshole starting next game I'm switching from beer to whiskey and keeping the pint glass. He's officially crossed the line from "ineffective" to "detrimental."

I don't know what else to say about this one. The team stays in Florida for Tuesday's game against the Heat, then plays Dallas in a biggie on Thursday. Time to yank this shit back on track.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Point-less Speculation

Marc Stein is reporting that Memphis and Damon Stoudamire have reached an agreement on a buyout, clearing the way for the Celtics to make a play for the 33-year-old point guard/marijuana enthusiast. According to Stein, the C's are considered the leaders in the chase, with the Suns also in the picture and the Toronto Raptors a darkhorse. Hey, dude likes to get lit.

As the few Rondo-less games have proven without a shadow of a doubt, the Celtics are in desperate need of point guard depth, and Stoudamire is definitely a real point guard who can also score in bunches (recall his rather shocking 54-point outburst in Portland a few years back). He could definitely help this team, and although he's got some pesky "character" baggage I doubt he'll pull any bullshit around KG, Pierce and Ray. I would wholeheartedly support the acquisition, provided that Sam Cassell remains unavailable or gets traded before the deadline. The situation with the Clippers is a fucking mess these days, with Donald Sterling and Mike Dunleavy taking shots at each other through the media, so who really knows what's going to happen there. If Cassell were to become available through a buyout, you'd have to figure the C's as prohibitive front-runners due to Sam-I-Am's close friendship with KG. And while Stoudamire would be nice, Cassell would be an absolute godsend and would make the Celtics an infinitely more serious contender to win the whole thing. Stay tuned... things could get interesting.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Paul Pierce shot 4-15 and turned the ball over six times. Ray Allen shot 4-18 and turned the ball over five times. Rajon Rondo got schooled by Sebastian "I'm really excited to be a Boston Celtic" Telfair. Eddie House can't find a groove. Tony Allen played like a bonehead. James Posey is still out. Kevin Garnett got hurt. The Celtics won by one.

In a game where the C's matched up against a load of ex-teammates, nobody seemed to care until the fourth quarter. Thankfully Perk came to beast tonight, and KG played through that strained abdominal to pull out a clutch steal and celebrate with the old jersey pop.

What an embarassment it would have been to drop this game. The scene was eerily similar to the Mark Blount/Marcus Banks/Ricky Davis Twin Cities Happy Hour a couple of years ago after the Szczerbiak trade - when the aforementioned clowns skipped around like a dress rehearsal for "Singin' in the Rain." Telfair was grinning tonight. Antoine was teeing it up gloriously from downtown. Gerald Green was apparently feeling it - which is great because other than the dunk contest he's not gonna feel much. But even with everything getting crazy, the C's managed to pull it out. Thank God.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

And Sometimes, The Worm Gets You

The C's lost a tough one at home last night to the Purple Dinosaurs (actually, I guess now the dinosaur is red), 114-112. I'll go out on a limb and declare that we Boston sports fans tend to be fairly self-centered-- even when we lose, in our minds it tends to be all about us, even down to inventing curses and the like. Well, that all changes here (at least for today), because last night it was truly all about them. The Raptors played absolutely sickening, lights-out basketball for four full quarters, shooting 58% from the field, a mind-boggling 71% from beyond the arc, and a what-more-can-I-say 100% from the free throw line. All this against a justifiably-vaunted Celtics defense that hadn't allowed 100 points in 22 straight games. Thankfully, Dinosaurs do not play like this every night (even necrophiliac ones like this dude pictured), and nor does any other NBA team, lest the Celtics might have a few more than seven losses. The star of the game was unquestionably Toronto point guard Jose Calderon, who continued to show why folks are remarkably high on him: the esteemed/occasionally insane John Hollinger insists that Calderon is the third-best guard in the Eastern Conference, behind only Dwyane Wade and Chauncey Billups. I'm not so sure about that, but he certainly looked great last night--pumping in 24 points to go with 13 assists, and winning the game with a crushing three-point play--and his emergence might once again push the injured T.J. Ford to the trading block in the near future. I absolutely love Ford's game, but the spinal thing is truly frightening; I hope he can come back and have a long and productive career, but even more so I just hope he can live a long and healthy life and that he's got folks helping him to keep his priorities in order.

For their part, the C's played very well last night: Garnett had a robust 26-7-5, and Ray and Pierce went for 19 a piece. In the undercard, Tony Allen actually ripped off 14 straight points for the C's in the second quarter (sometimes he'll do shit like that; I can't explain it), and Rondo chipped in 14 for the game as well. Truthfully, with the way Toronto played, perhaps the most impressive aspect for the Celtics was that in the end they were only a (badly) missed Eddie House three-pointer away from winning this one. A disappointing loss, but in all honesty, probably every team in the League is losing to the Dinosaurs on a night like last.

Looking ahead to Friday, the upstart Timberwolves stunned the mighty Suns last night in Minneapolis, 117-107. Break 'em up! The Puppies cruised to their 7th win in 41 games behind Big Al Jefferson's 39 and 15 (and they say Amare Stoudamire can't play defense). I've got to admit that Big Al's been better than I expected this year: I thought the move to the West would set back his development a bit, but he keeps coming on. I still don't think he's the second coming of Karl Malone, but he's got some All-Star games in him, for sure, provided the Wolves can put a fucking team around him. That's a historically massive "if," by the way, as a certain friend of ours can attest to. Still, it'll be nice to see the old gang Friday night: last night Gerald Green registered a DNP-CD, which really just brings it all back.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fighting the Midwinter Malaise

Man, I realize I shouldn't be one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but this schedule is starting to kill me. God bless the Magic matinee on Sunday, and praise Jeebus Himself for next Thursday's showdown with the Mavs at the Garden. There's only so many Knicks, Sixers and Raptors games a man can take, after all. Tonight the dinosaurs come to town, and Friday we've got the triumphant return of Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green and about twelve other dudes who used to play here. Speaking of Gomes, did anyone happen to notice that he dropped 35 and 11 in a win over the Warriors on Monday night? On the road, no less. Big Al is averaging a robust 20 and 12 for the Puppies, and Tonz-o-Gunz Telfair is even getting close to 33 minutes of run a night, which might partially explain the team's robust win total.

In other news (and mostly because I don't feel like ending this post quite yet), Charlotte's Gerald Wallace has managed to develop into something that shockingly resembles a star NBA player. Wallace's point averages have gone up by at least 3ppg each of the past four seasons, and I swear, every time I turn on Sportscenter this chief is doing something ridiculous... the only problem is that his high-flying/scoring shenanigans tend to be offset by the Bobcats' general ineffectiveness at winning basketball games. This is normally the part where in years past one would say something like, "but the future is bright in Charlotte," but come on, how many times can you convincingly say that shit. I suppose they've been unlucky that they've been without both Sean May and Adam Morrison for the whole year, and maybe getting those guys back will be the proverbial "shot in the arm that this team needs," but to believe that you'd have to ignore the fact that Sean May basically hasn't been healthy since middle school and that John Hollinger has gone on record declaring Morrison's potential "to go down as one of the great draft busts in history." Strong words, these.

You know what, why the hell am I even writing about these guys? Celts-Raps tonight at 7:30. It's where amazing happens.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Be Sturdy

If you needed to see a game to reinforce your positive feelings about the Celtics this was it. In the first half the C's allowed 57 points, and looked creaky. But outscoring the Sixers 62-32 in the second half put a tremendous calm over me. Leon Powe came out of the woodwork, and the offense was clicking better than it had in quite a while. See, not all is shambles without Rondo! We have to remember that San Antonio has been flirting with .500 the last twenty games, and that Phoenix overtook L.A. in the standings only last night. A very good team does not disappear overnight and go away. But sometimes it sleeps a little. Everything was vibing in the second half tonight, but what might be the most uplifting is the constant; the second half D made up for the lousy D of the first half. 89 points when it looked like they were gonna give up at least 100 is a tremendous improvement. At any rate, it was nice to see dominance again.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Scary One

John Canzano today goes where few writers have trod in praising KG for being a horrifying maniac on the court this season. Why more pieces have not been written about the psychological warfare Garnett lays on teams night after night is a headscratcher. Really KG's fiery, scary antics are what the Celtics are all about. This is the obvious reason why he would win MVP, not his statistics. It also is the reason the Celtics have the best record in the league. And it is the non-quantifiable element about the Celtics that makes them fascinating. KG's intensity is what makes everything congeal on the court.

Canzano makes some good points in essentially saying that the Blazers were just scared shitless of KG; although I disagree in John's sniffly assessment that the Blazers would beat Boston if they simply were not scared. Canzano's implications about fear strike a deeper tone, though, as one cannot help thinking of teams like the Pistons or Spurs. The best squads are not going to be scared of KG. One reason the Celtics pelt opponents is because most teams just don't know how to handle the bristling intensity. Particularly young ones. Yet with hardened veteran groups you are talking about a whole other breed of competition. This is not to say that the Celtics' intensity won't work - it is just pointing out that the players on the other side will probably be able to match that level of emotional output. At least in the playoffs, when it really counts. Till then it should be easy to watch KG and his pal Posey bully weaker clubs with unfailing regularity.

An Unexpected Fusillade

This blog was started last Spring mainly because there seemed to be so few decent reading options when it came to the Celtics. Of course the impending draft lottery had to do with the blog's creation, but Headband's inception mainly revolved around our utter contempt of Celtics coverage (or lack thereof). And now basically everything has changed. There are many cool things about this, but also plenty of shitty things. The best part obviously is that the Celtics are fantastic, I mean wildly fantastic, and they have Kevin Garnett. The present setting seemed inconceivable back in May, and the turn of events is still so amazing that at times I am left speechless. When a team is as good as the Celtics, it is natural for it to be laden with attention. But unfortunately the dramatic turn of events and the inevitable coverage saturation has hardly increased critical awareness of the team in most fans' eyes, as far as I can tell. Perhaps I should be resigned to this, and actually I probably already am, but this dramatic shift leaves me wondering nonetheless, and I am more jaded than when the blog began.

Make no mistake, you can find good stuff written about the Celtics, we try to link to it when we can, and the couplings to the right often provide excellent in-depth observations about the C's and the NBA as a whole. It's just that the whole blogging game has completely changed. Many of the best NBA bloggers have begun to get paid, which is great. But unfortunately it seems to mean that their material is starting to get watered down. Meanwhile a half dozen new NBA blogs start up a day; there used to be like 5 Celtic blogs, there now are probably 900. And most all of them suck, as you would expect. In the same way that the Globe, Herald, Spears, Bulpett, May etc. usually suck. There is little true insight, plenty of slighted emotional homerism, and just a general pall of idiocy.

I don't intend to sound elitist about this, I'm a dumb homeristic fuck too - but what I mean to say is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The exponential increase in material written about the Celtics cannot help but provide many more pieces of gold - you just gotta sift through a lot of shit to find it. In the old days you didn't have to sift at all.

The internet and blogging community is clearly where it's at if you want to read about the NBA - if you just read the Globe in the morning you're gonna have no idea how much else is going on. But the thing is there is always more going on, and you can never come close to knowing everything. And there's no point in trying. It is better to focus on what you enjoy than to be a know-it-all. This should be apparent to all, although it hardly is. Yet with this as a modicum of our behavior, I think we would all benefit. We are just saturated with Celtics stuff, most of it trash, and the more we understand this, the better off we will be. And, yes, I am aware that I sound like the most kingly of douche bags, your reproaches will be taken in kind.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"A Wider Version of Garnett"

Apparently aiming to surpass his own standard of hyperbolic homerism, Tommy uttered those magnificent words last night to describe the charming and talented Glen Davis. Don't get me wrong, we love the Oversized Infant in these parts (thanks Fox), and it was oddly comforting to hear the side of Tommy that used to favorably compare Gerald Green to Tracy McGrady make an appearance again. Still, let's try and keep things in perspective for the kid. In any event, the C's broke out of their recent funk with a 100-90 win over the Blazers, who render the phrase "better than expected" a comical understatement. Seriously, what the fuck is with these guys? Watching Brandon Roy--even on an off-night tonight--stings the recesses of my soul, and the thought of this team with Oden next year is utterly terrifying, as it completely relieves him of the pressures of the "savior" role that some thought might be a stumbling block.

But enough about Portland. The C's played well enough to win, but this one was definitely closer than the score indicates, and the offense still looked woefully sluggish at points. On the bright side, Ray Allen had a breakout night (35 pts) and Garnett went for 26. All in all I'd say it was a solid win against a very good team, and having only Philly and the Knicks over the next week should help erase the memories of the hated 2-game losing streak. I mean, last year's team would have never lost two games in a row. Let's never speak of it again.

Duck, Duck, Goose!

According to an Inside Track article, James Posey, Paul Pierce, and The Oversized Infant joined children at a Mattapan elementary school yesterday to read "Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type." Former Celtic second-round draft choice Kris Clack (55th pick, 1999) was not in attendance. According to the article, Pierce portrayed a cow, The Infant was a duck, and Posey was a chicken. You can tell this team has a lot of fun together, and these are three of the more likable personalities.

However, when you're talking about a team that has fun together, you have to look at the upstart Portland Trailblazers. I've watched a lot of this team's games on the dish this year and they are young, talented, driven, and deep. Brandon Roy is more efficient and more clutch (read: better) than Carmelo Anthony and Tracy McGrady - and both of those clowns are getting voted onto the Western Conference All-Star Team. LaMarcus Aldridge has a smooth hybrid game for a 6-11 guy. The two-headed point guard of Jack and Blake is effective, and the contributions of guys like Outlaw and Webster have fueled their recent run into the playoff picture.

If the Celts don't wake up, it'll be three in a row.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Looking For A Ray Of Light

I don't want to come down too hard on Ray Allen less than halfway through the season, especially when he has played some of the best defense of his career. But before people start blaming Pierce for current offensive problems, they should look at Allen. Fox brought up some good points about Allen's current issues, and honestly Ray has hardly been a dominant presence this year, while KG and Pierce consistently have been. Ray's PER the last six years:

'02-03: 21.4
'03-04: 21.8
'04-05: 21.0
'05-06: 22.3
'06-07: 21.7
'07-08: 16.0

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a drop off. And it's worsened in recent weeks. I have been able to convince myself that Ray's offensive decline was okay because of his veteran leadership and defense. But now I am worried, as you would expect from what I recently wrote about big salaried non-All Star players. Ray has to step it up for the C's to play at a pinnacle level. If that means more rest, fine. Most of us find it silly that he is closer to 40 minutes a game as opposed to 30. And it is okay if he needs a couple weeks off to regain his form. But the key is to get Ray back to near an All Star level, where he has been for most of the last decade.

Without Ray being brought in there would be no KG, so we have no choice but to live with the consequences of his possible decline. But the popular theory that shooting guards have precipitous falloffs might again be proving itself correct. If that is the case, things could get dicey. Hopefully I am just jumping the gun on this, and being overly emotional about the last few games. But prior to calling out Pierce or KG, I think it is important we take Allen to task.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Snow Daze

When the Celtics lost to Washington Saturday night, much of it was attributed to the absence of Rajon Rondo. Does it bother you that Rondo’s return on Monday night did little to improve the flow of the Celtics’ offense?

The Celtics roster includes three current or former All-Stars - guys who are supposedly able to play the game of basketball at the highest possible level. Does it bother you that, even with all three of these guys on the floor, the Celtics offense still looks like something out of a pickup game?

Does it bother you that, as Tim noted, Ray Allen is lost in the shuffle? He was brought in here as an outside presence, and has been reduced to only that. Tommy had a great observation in the second half – Ray doesn’t get any points in the paint; his entire game is 18 feet and out and it’s tough to hit shots when there’s a guy hanging all over you, knowing your lone role in the offense is to camp out at the 3-point line and launch. The Celts’ coaching staff needs to open it up for Ray – pick and pop, let him take weaker defenders off the dribble; have him move to the rim. He can do it – he’s always been capable. He’s Ray Allen for God’s sake.

Does it bother you that team captain Paul Pierce has “Antoine Walker syndrome?” Defined: trying to take over the game when lacking the skill set to consistently do so. Also known as “getting a big dick about oneself.” Pierce is obviously a better player than Antoine at this stage in his career, but he learned the “climb on my back, guys” routine from one of the all-time great gunners. Evidenced in the first half tonight – he was obviously pumped up to exact revenge on Caron Butler – and after hitting a couple remarkable shots, he started to launch. And clank. The result: wasted possessions – the same wasted possessions we’ve seen from less-talented Celtics teams in the past. Last 5 games, Pierce has chucked up 25 threes and hit six of them. He’s averaging 4.2 turnovers.

Does it bother you that the offense looks this bad?

Does it bother you that the league is figuring out the Celtics?

Does it bother you that the Green have lost 3 of 4?

Into The Web

Chris Webber is saying he will be back playing in a few weeks, and he has narrowed his choices down to three teams. Given the Celtics record, and C-Webb's previous remarks about desperately yearning for a ring, it seems very possible that Webber could end up here. I've been hoping for big man help the last few weeks, and this could be just what the doctor ordered. There are several things worth thinking about here.

First off, and maybe most importantly, Webber is not good defensively. His knee injuries have slowed him down and he's never been great anyway. Make no mistake - he probably would hurt the Celtics defense. And saying the main reason I would like to see the C's pick up another big is for defensive purposes, acquiring Webber might be daft. Perk is only an average center when all is said and done, and behind him you have a great defensive player who is really not a center (KG), and a washed up big man (Pollard). So on first appearance Webber hardly seems to fit the bill for the C's. That said, he still intrigues the hell out of me, and the reason is a little more far reaching.

Webber is an exceptional veteran offensive player. To this day he can do some things on the court that few others can, particularly when it comes to passing. Pairing him with KG could be a major shake up on the offensive side of the ball - and is why perhaps Webber is worth signing. Chris could be exactly what the Celtics need to ignite their offense, and rise above the stagnation they have experienced on that side of the ball. With him on the court ball movement could become significantly crisper, and the offense as a whole might finally be able to form an identity.

The Celtics right now still lack this offensive identity. Like I said yesterday, I'm fine with this, but Webber could be the key that unlocks the door. His addition might be a situation where he makes everybody around him much better offensively, which would mitigate his defensive liability. Honestly a comparison to Walton in '86 is not completely insane, just a stretch of the imagination. And yes, I know Walton could still defend...

So Webber is intriguing. He's not a real center and is pretty lousy defensively, but lordy lord - can he ever pass the ball. For the minimum I imagine I would be pleased to have him; he'd be ten times better an addition than Gary Payton. But then again, I might be overly optimistic - and the best thing might be to wait for another attractive big to come along. It certainly is worth considering, though.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Still 86% Success Rate

I suppose there are reasons to be upset about last night's loss to the Wiz, but frankly they are hardly substantial enough for me to give a shit. The C's offense looked paltry again, as 78 points would attest. Against a middle of the road D like Washington's that's hardly cutting the cake. Yesterday's woes can partially be attributed to the lack of Rondo, but it seems rather apparent that there is more of an issue than just Rajon's absence. According to Hollinger the Celtics are currently eighth in the league in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions.) This is hardly bad. It is just there are nights like last where you see the whole team struggle offensively for long stretches and you wonder why the Triumvirate can't squeeze out more buckets. Like Ziller recently mentioned, to the non-homer the Celtics are pretty boring. They are a torrid defensive team, and their offense seems to suffer from this intensive focus on the other end of the floor.

And I am absolutely fine with this, and you'd be crazy to disagree as a C's fan. Yes, I wish Tony Allen wasn't the "backup point guard", and I hope we get someone at that position who can create for others. Yes, the whole team still commits way too many silly turnovers, even though we are 40 games in with exhibitions and there are few excuses for being sloppy. Yes, Ray Allen often gets lost in the offense and is having a weak year by his standards. And yes, we probably need another center. But fuck it. The Celtics are 30-5. They allow 87 points a game. The defense has been there the entire season, including last night. So while I yearn for more offensive dynamics, it's hard to be begging for anything with a .857 winning percentage.

Friday, January 11, 2008

And Quietly Into The Night...

Last year at this time San Antonio had their longest losing streak of the season - three games. And it looked like the C's were in danger of dropping back to back contests for the first time this year tonight. This is often the period of the season where even the best inevitably draggg. Offensively the Celtics lagged through much of the game, similar to the other night, and there seemed every reason to think that we might finally witness a losing streak. But maybe I should have known better. The C's smothered the Nets in the fourth, outscoring them 23-9, and that was that. It was a scene we are used to - and a sure sign of a dominate team. Just your regular 86-77 win. Stifling defense when it matters most. The best teams don't usually have many losing streaks, and almost never long ones. Eventually the Celtics will probably lose two in a row. But tonight wasn't the night. The dreams of seventy live for another day.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Well, That's Just Great

So let's get it out of the way: the Celtics lost at home tonight, 95-83, to the decidedly shitty Charlotte Bobcats. Some of you might recall a rather tossed-off moment in my last post when I brazenly declared, "honestly, the C's could go out and lose to Charlotte tomorrow and I'd still feel the same way about them." Well, as Malcolm X would say, the chickens have come home to roost, and while I stand by my original sentiment that I feel exactly the same way about this team as I did on Tuesday, I must admit that I felt an initial karmic sting when I wrote those words and now it's a visible bruise.

Anyways, win a few, lose a few, right? In the Celtics' case, we've been winning a whole hell of a lot and losing an almost obscenely few, but come on, there's a few of these every year, even for bona fide great teams. In fact, let the record show that on Sunday, March 24, 1996, the legendary 72-10-to-be Chicago Bulls lost to the expansion Toronto Raptors , who would go on to amass a hearty 21 wins that season. As they say in the NFL, blah blah blah blah blah any given Sunday.

All that said, not a great night for basketball in Da Bean. Both Ray Allen and the increasingly indispensable Big Baby were in street clothes (Allen's suit looked phenomenal, by the way), and the Celtics were never able to get anything going, unlike Jason Richardson, who threw up 34 to go with 9 boards and looked mildly unstoppable for most of the night. Garnett added 24 and 8 and seemed genuinely outraged at losing this game. The late, sometimes-great Norman Mailer once wrote of Muhammad Ali that he "worked apparently on the premise that there was something obscene about being hit," and honestly, that quote comes to mind when watching Garnett this season: losing is nothing short than an affront to this man.

A genuinely meaty B-story to this one was the atrocious officiating, which brought out some vintage Heinsohn, culminating in a voluble call for Ken Mauer's resignation and/or firing towards the end of the fourth. It was classic theater on Tommy's part, and he certainly had a point: the refs seemed intent on handing this one to Charlotte for most of the night, for whatever reason. I could go on all night about the various oversights, but my vote for most-crushing was the blatant hold on Garnett towards the end of the game when Rondo was trying to get him the ball underneath on the break, an unforgivable non-call that resulted in a Boston turnover.

But hey, what's done is done. Lord knows the Celtics have enjoyed too much good fortune this year for me to start paranoiacally bitching about officiating. Friday night, New Jersey Nets, in the Swamp. See you there (metaphorically speaking).

Wading Through Shit

The Miami Heat are the most disappointing team in the league, and honestly it's not even close. The fact that the Heat are this bad (8-27, second worst record in the NBA) really does shock me. I was goofy enough to have the Heat heading to the Finals this year. Please excuse my momentary insanity - I thought the East was going to be very weak and Dwyane Wade was going to be healthy - my prediction was more of an indictment of the East as opposed to an exaltation of Miami. Nonetheless, I could never conceive of Miami winning less than 35 games, even with Wade damaged. But here we are - and beside the Timberrrrwolves we might be looking at the worst team in the league. And Minnesota presently is better than them judging from last night.

To me the whole Heat situation at this point is even more fascinating than the Knicks saga, which has gotten too absurd to even comprehend anymore. What makes the Heat's follies so interesting is that their recent championship basically pardons all involved. This is fair and unfair all at the same time. Imagine if Wade and crew did not have as many calls go their way against Dallas, and ended up losing the series. Miami right now would be a disaster, Shaq and Riley would be public enemies #1 and #2. But because of the 2006 championship everybody is accepting of this failure, which is understandable.

The problem with the Heat is that there is absolutely no way they should be this bad. No championship glint can disguise this malaise. The onus of the blame has to rest on Riley. His personnel moves have been erratic for quite a while, but the present problem is that his coaching this year has been downright terrible. It appears as if everybody has just had it with him. It's not hard to see why - Riley has always been know as a hardass, and with veterans that tactic can only work for so long, even if Riley has lightened it up considerably. You look at the roster and realize that while it is not good, it hardly is bad - Wade, Shaq, Ricky, Haslem, Williams, Cook, Quinn, even Blount - the team should be capable of something. And Riley has extracted nothing from it. Last year the Heat had enough guts to battle back and at least make the playoffs (with a big hat tip to Ron Rothstein.) After thirty games this year we knew such a feat was impossible.

And Riley is to blame - he has been unable to devise anything that works. He stupidly accepted Blount's contract along with Davis and then never even gave him a chance out on the court. He repeatedly questioned his team's focus when the gameplans he drew up were nothing short of lousy. And all the while he has had most of his players underachieving. The irony is that Riley might actually be aware that he is the problem - but is probably too prideful to walk away. It makes for a fascinating scenario.

So Miami bears watching - and you'll get a chance, because they are on national TV another 15 times or so, which is a complete obscenity. There are several subtextual things to be aware of, but the main one is probably Dwyane Wade's physical and mental state. This past summer I claimed a healthy Wade was the best player in the game, and I will shakily stand behind that statement despite LeBron's improvements and Duncan's perpetual greatness. The question is will Wade ever be healthy again. I think the longterm answer is yes, but the short term answer is no. It came out yesterday that Wade's shoulder was hurt much more than originally revealed, and that Dwyane's compensation for that injury proceeded to give him further injuries. Whoa. Riley said that it was "painful" watching Wade recently and that Dwyane "was barely able to move" after many games. Jesus Christ, Pat. As stupid as Riley's on-court moves have been this year, having Wade play while seriously hurt has to be ten times stupider. Wade is the entire fucking franchise. All of us have been harping about how important having a superstar is, and how it makes up for nearly everything else. Having Dwyane risk injury while playing for a team going nowhere is grossly irresponsible. If Wade is not risking further injury it is one thing, but Riley is implying that Wade is putting himself at risk every night. Sit him fucking down. My God.

If I'm Wade I'm not exactly happy about things right now. He's busting his balls playing hurt, and the team is just dreadful. So perhaps Wade is more likely to leave his team than LeBron. But perhaps not - it will be interesting to see how Dwyane handles the rest of the season. I would sit him down immediately and not let him on the court till properly mended. You know that Riley really has lost it if he makes a panic trade and gets Bibby or Andre Miller, and continues to ride Wade hard. But reason should win out - the season is lost, and now you can go about planning for the future, which should be fine with a healthy Wade.

In spite of Shaq and Blount's contracts, Miami will be under the cap this summer, and should be able to bring in a quality player or two, perhaps even a fringe All Star. They will have Wade, hopefully healthy, and they also will have a top 5 pick in all likelihood. So this foray into squalor should be brief. But it will continue for longer than it should if the vibe of the team does not change. The easiest solution is probably to get a new coach. Saying that this is unlikely to happen (UPDATE: IT MIGHT HAPPEN - HALLELUJAH), Riley will have to reinvent himself again. He's done this in the past, but I have no idea if he can do it now. But he has to - otherwise he risks alienating Wade, and losing his credibility faster than any of us would have thought possible given the Summer of 2006.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Shape of Things To Come...

After thirty-two games, we seem to have reached a sort of breathing point in the season. The Celtics have had a luxurious four-day layoff between their hugely (some would say overly) satisfying win over the Pistons in Auburn Hills and their upcoming Wednesday barnstorming contest against the Bobcats. The past week or so has seen a flurry of interest in the Celtics from local media, even if much of it is weirdly takes the form of columns about the Celtics in which said columnists castigates him/herself for not writing more columns about the Celtics. The team stood as a bit of an afterthought in that irritating rash of "Boston's sports teams just can't lose!" stories that flooded out around New Year's, which is pretty reasonable since both the Sox and Pats have proven themselves as championship-caliber organizations and the Celtics haven't done so in about twenty years. Make no mistake, once the Pats have 19-0 in the bank (or however that whole thing ends), the Celtics will become the talk of the town in Boston, and it'll be interesting to see how they respond.

I've spent this entire season grappling with the question of whether or not this team is for real, and at this point I'm set to emerge with a cautious "yes" (or maybe a "yes?" with an upward, questioning inflection). I think Tim's correct in his assertion that it's increasingly worthless to talk about barometer games: the season is 82 games long, we're more than a third of the way through it, and honestly, the C's could go out and lose to Charlotte tomorrow and I'd still feel the same way about them. Great teams sometimes lose to bad teams, that's just how things go, and while a second loss to the Pistons would have been disheartening and the win was proportionally thrilling, in the end all a loss in Detroit would have meant was 28-4 as opposed to 29-3, and the C's would still be off to one of the best starts in the history of basketball; this way it just feels more real to us (and apparently to James Posey, who might want to dial it down just a bit).

It's honestly dizzying to think about what it all means. We've already got five more wins than we compiled all last season, and I still don't think challenging those 72-win Bulls is a possibility but the fact that it's not an impossibility is nothing short of stunning. If this team gets to 55-60 wins and goes deep into the playoffs--and it certainly can do both of those things--Ainge's already-legendary offseason shifts from being simply brilliant to potentially revolutionary. Leaving aside the perverse good fortune of managing to tank both the season AND the lottery (honestly, you have to wonder if any of this happens even if the C's landed the third pick last year--we were hearing they loved Horford), Ainge made a historically unprecedented roster gamble, blowing up his team to an extent no one would have thought possible, and now he's ended up with one of the biggest single-season turnarounds in the history of basketball, if not all of sports. Seriously, what if Kobe's on the block again this summer? Shit, what if LeBron seems even remotely attainable at any point in the foreseeable future? You don't think some team is going to look at what the Celtics did and trade the farm for one of those guys, and maybe snatch up a Pau Gasol with the leftover change? Basketball is different than football or baseball in that there's only ever five guys on the court at a time, meaning that individual players can truly make tremendous differences. Sure, depth is important, but it's not that important: with occasional exceptions, basketball is a game of stars, and right now the Celtics have three.

It's going to be fascinating to see how the rest of it plays out, especially since the truly hard parts are yet to come. These guys definitely believe in themselves, though, and little by little we're all starting to believe in them, too, and you'd best believe that the rest of the League takes the Boston Celtics deadly seriously at this point. I'm excited just to watch Big Baby develop, who may never be Al Jefferson but he's sure as hell Ryan Gomes and then some. What a year it's been so far.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Fox Climbs on the Bandwagon

I thought it would be easy. Last year, when the Celtics sold the farm for Jesus Shuttlesworth and KG, just about everybody in this city climbed back on the bandwagon. Let’s face it - Boston (and the Boston sports media) has been decidedly Pats/Sox for the last 10 years – and at the time, it seemed ridiculous to me that anyone could move from complete apathy to sincere fandom. My goal was to stay focused on the reality of the situation and not get too wrapped up in the early success.

With that said, it’s time to throw in the towel as the Debbie Downer of Shamrock Headband. In my recent posts and on my radio show, I rambled about who the Celtics had “yet to face,” but after road wins in Detroit, Utah, and Los Angeles (in my opinion, three of the 10 best teams in the NBA) – I can no longer use that argument. This team is 29-3, riding its superstars at the appropriate times, getting positive contributions from the bench, and finding ways to win. Who cares if they don’t have a great starting center (or even a serviceable one)? As long as Garnett (gasp! a power forward!) has the reigns, this team will challenge for the title.

When it comes to winning championships in the NBA, one can’t be categorical. The key to success is simple: a lethal combination of talent with a killer instinct, playing at the height of their capabilities. This holds true for all great teams: listen to Walton wax about the ’77 Blazers – look at the greatness and depth of the ’83 Sixers – check out what Oscar Robertson added to the ’71 Bucks, or what Magic added to the ’80 Lakers – the Bad Boy Pistons were like a wrecking crew – Shaq and Kobe oozed greatness. Categories have nothing to do with it.

If you want to categorize, check out these great power forwards who have played for title teams since 1980 - does Hall of Famer Kevin McHale ring a bell? Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo is lauded in Magic Johnson’s autobiography as a difference-maker on the ’85 Lakers. Dennis Rodman was an All-Star for the ’90 Pistons and the league’s best statistical rebounder during his days in Chicago. Tim Duncan played the 4 for the 1999 and 2003 Spurs and was Finals MVP both times. Rasheed Wallace, a 3-time All-Star, was a huge trade deadline acquisition of the ’04 Pistons. The great Bobby Jones was a 5-time All-Star and defensive stalwart for the ’83 Sixers.

Now let’s talk great centers without a title: Patrick Ewing. Bob Lanier. Nate Thurmond. Hall of Famers – each of them. You can argue that David Robinson wouldn’t have won without Duncan. Moses couldn’t do it with the Rockets, so he teamed up with Dr. J in Philly. Kareem had three NBA MVP years where he didn’t win titles – he needed The Big O and Magic for each of his six championship rings. Likewise – Shaq needed Kobe and Wade.

Tim’s argument for power forward futility only really extends to Barkley and Malone – and they were both denied by the Jordan-era Bulls. Kemp made the Finals on a one-shot Sonics team and Webber never sniffed the championship round. None of these guys, Hall-of-Famers or otherwise, had the horses around them to bust up the truly great Chicago and L.A. squads. In 2008 - it appears the KG not only has the horses, but he could do it against what seem to be flawed teams in Detroit, Phoenix, and San Antonio.

What am I saying? One: I'm on the wagon. Two: a dominant power forward (Kevin Garnett) can win a title. My only concern happens to be his teammate, Paul Pierce. I've never been comfortable with Pierce. He seems like a nice guy, sure, but his penchant for being a glory hog has always bothered me and continues to bother me this year. Like Spiderman's Uncle Ben says, "with great power comes great responsibility," and I think Pierce has too much of a bump on himself to handle team leadership with steady maturity - observe his track record and watch him dance around like it's Hammertime after the Detroit win. That's why KG has to step up as the biggest of the big dogs.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Turns Out The C's Aren't Bad

Yup. We can all go home now. It's been decided - the Celtics are the best team ever. This January 5th game was treated by some in the media like it was June 5th, which is nothing short of non-professional. But we're used to it, so let's move on. This was obviously a good win for the C's tonight, winning in Detroit against a team that had won eleven straight ain't easy. This will probably shut up the doubters once and for all, but for those still skeptical of the C's talent - I hate to break it to you, but you don't have a margin of victory of 13 without being elite.

So let's move on quickly. There will be alot of melodramatic statements about how much of a barometer game this was for the Celtics, but don't believe it. When you're 29-3 in January you don't have barometer games. You are measured by the playoffs. In the regular season we try to gauge how you will perform when the serious season gets underway. And judging by the season so far, it looks pretty good for the C's. Winning or losing a close game to the Pistons this early in the year hardly means that the same result will occur in May or June. Every player in both locker rooms is aware of that.

What we can tell about these squads is that they play similarly - which is slightly surprising given the different personnel. For both teams efficiency is of utmost value, as opposed to quantity. The Pistons are probably more concerned about offensive efficiency, while the C's more intent on the defensive aspect of it. What is very hard to discern at this point is if one team is clearly superior; it surely does not seem that way by judging their seasons so far. Yet one has to remember, as Tommy implied on the broadcast tonight, that this Pistons team has self-destructed in the playoffs the last two years. And not as much as it appears has really changed with Detroit. One has to figure this bodes well for the Celtics.

To touch upon tonight's game we must obviously bring up Baby's performance. Hopefully it means we have seen the last of his DNP-CD days. Everything Perk does wrong with the ball in the post Baby does right. Unfortunately Baby is about three inches shorter. Offensively that's okay, but defensively we have to be wary. You see how nicely Baby handled Rasheed tonight. But Sheed is not Dwight Howard.

Neither KG or Ray played particularly well, and one can only credit Detroit's defense so much. Just slightly off games for both of them. Meanwhile on TV they were saying how tonight was one of Pierce's best games this year; I disagreed, I just thought it was one of his smartest. His passing was marvelous. Oh, and I would be remiss to forget - DO NOT LET TONY ALLEN BRING THE BALL UP THE COURT IN THE LAST TWO MINUTES OF A CLOSE GAME. Thanks, had to say it.

As you see, I seem more relieved and snotty than excited by the win. That's because if they lost it would have been alright - I already knew the C's were damn good. Now we don't have to worry about another "Game of The Century" till Dallas rolls into town on January 31st. In the meantime we can try to seriously understand where this 29-3 team is heading, if such an endeavor is at all possible.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Bears And Allens

The C's beat the Grizz tonight 100-96; the game wasn't as close as that, though. There was talk in the locker room afterwards that perhaps the C's were looking ahead to Detroit, but no matter. It was game 31 of an epic season, and a win is a win in this situation. You can't complain about much when you're 28-3. A few things jumped out about the game. Tony Allen: Resurrection continued, as TA poured in 15 in the second quarter, befitting his status as one of the most erratic players the league. We should probably plan on him having another catastrophic injury sometime soon to counteract this week's spectacular pace. All good spells in Tony's career have turned bad, and vice versa. Maybe more mystifying tonight, however, was Ray Allen's complete no show offensively. He had two free throws in the final minute, and that was all. Tony, House and Posey more than made up for Ray's ineptitude, but it was slightly disarming. Slightly, nothing more. If I was Detroit I would be worried that Ray is gonna bounce back in a big way.

Another interesting sidenote of the game was Garnett and Posey really beating up on Rudy Gay, I mean they gave him some tough love there, I felt bad for the kid. Pose and KG have to be not only physically draining, but mentally tiring to play against. Near the end of the game KG swatted away Gay's shot well after the whistle had been blown, and Rudy looked at KG with a petulant glare. I'm just glad the Grizz aren't good, because KG didn't make a positive impression on them tonight. If KG messes with the Pistons like that there will be an ejection. Ah, it should be lovely in Auburn Hills tomorrow night...

And we have to talk about the Grizzlies before we go, because they are a darkhorse contender for "most disappointing team that wasn't supposed to be good anyway." Not many of us had Memphis in the playoffs, but most were at least hoping for some highly entertaining aesthetics on the court. Instead we see a team that really isn't up-tempo, looks completely out of sync with their coach, and is getting ready to maybe trade their best player for far less than his value. So where to start the criticism? It might be unfair to lay into Iavaroni less than half way through his first season, but what the hell. His team does not appear to have an identity, and his antics on the sideline seem to only be worsening the situation. A wise fellow sitting next to me at the game asked why Iavaroni did not stop incessantly giving directions to his players, instead of just letting them play. I had no answer. Certainly Iavaroni has alienated Gasol; if not personally, at least on the court. Pau looked to be completely out of sorts - and remember this is a guy was a top 15 player when he was healthy last year. Iavaroni managed to find 18 minutes for Casey Jacobsen, and none for Hakim Warrick. No wonder Damon Stoudemire is mad - there in not much rhyme and reason for who is on the court currently with the Grizz. That said, Conley looks excellent, and Gasol and Gay are big time talents. I'm hoping this situation can be rectified before it gets more ugly.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Middling Exception

When Kyle Korver was traded for Gordon Giricek's expiring contract and a future first rounder last week, it was viewed by many as being a fair trade for both sides. Utah got the long range shooter they were seeking, and Philly got more cap space plus an added goody in the form of the future pick. Personally, however, I saw this as the Sixers fleecing the Jazz.

In years past getting a guy like Korver, who is on the books for about $5 million a year till 2010-11, would be a good pickup. Korver characterizes the type of player who has gotten midlevel or close to midlevel exception money the last five years: a solid player with one particularly strong skill. Players like this certainly help most teams, but the problem is that in this day and age, they are greatly overpaid. There are several reasons for this, but the big one is that presently almost every team in the NBA is close to the luxury tax brink, and owners are no longer willing to open their pockets and be penalized with the tax.

The new fiscal self-regulation of most teams has made it so the midlevel exception is taking on a new face. The players who in years past were considered midlevel guys are now overpaid. Jason Kapono, Morris Peterson and Desmond Mason immediately come to mind as lucky ducks from last summer. There is no way any of those three deserve to make five or six million a year in this day and age. Micky Arison said as much when he admitted that Toronto gave Kapono a contract that Miami would be crazy to match.

Chad Ford recently summed up the fiscal landscape and how it will negatively affect this year's free agents (Insider only, I think, sorry.) Here's a few lines worth repeating from the column:

A whopping 22 teams were either over the (luxury tax) threshold or within $4 million of paying it this year. Owners have become so tax averse, they're putting the brakes on NBA GMs' free-spending ways. This especially hurt players looking for midlevel exception deals. Only a couple of teams used their full midlevel exceptions this past summer. Even fewer are projected to do so next year.

Ford goes on to explain how tough this is for the potentially excellent crop of free agents that will be available in July - and how good it will be for teams looking for a bargain. In brief, $6 million annually is gonna get you a hell of alot more than just Jason Kapono. In a league where insane salaries having gotten increasingly crazier, the pendulum may finally be swinging the other way.

If we look at the dominant teams in the league we inevitably notice that they usually spend their money much more productively than bad teams (duh). The idea that if you are going to spend big bucks it should be on an All-Star player is of the utmost logic, but it is so often ignored that perhaps we need an overly simplistic "moneyball"-type analysis to see things in a more conspicuous light. I immediately recall what Elrod Enchilada always harps about over at RealGM - and how right he is. Eldrod's columns always boil down to the fact that you need a superstar and usually two other All Star-type players to win a championship. The most obvious present example is the Spurs. The Celtics clearly are following this model, and likewise it seems to be what the Suns have in mind. What makes all these teams stand out is that they pay their stars a heck of alot of money - and then try not to overpay anybody else. There are departures from this (Phoenix is kicking itself for giving Diaw a big extension), but a solid groundwork has been laid - pay the very best in the league, and be prudent when it comes to your supporting cast.

Such a financial scheme works so well in basketball because it truly is a stars' league, and for every "starless" team like the '04 Pistons that wins it all, there are ten teams like the '07 Spurs. So to overpay guys who are not close to All Star players is a good way to shoot yourself in the foot - while to overpay players who are perennial All Stars might be just fine. The Celtics have $56 million going to only KG, Pierce and Allen this year - and I don't hear anyone complaining. San Antonio, miraculously, has only $40 million going toward Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. Phoenix has about $42 million allotted to Nash, Stoudemire and Marion. In all three of these situations you see success being bred by paying top dollar for the best. All three of these teams have tried to find "cheap" complimentary pieces to go along with their big guns. This seems the best way to go - or if you can't do this well, at least don't give $15 million a year to guys who hardly ever make the All Star game (Ben Wallace, Peja and Jason Richardson pop into mind without prompting.) There is no more certain way to kill your championship chances than this.

Simmons' column this week talks about similar issues to what we are now addressing, but it relates to how important chemistry is in the league. I agree wholeheartedly that good "chemistry guys" are nice to have, but the key is having stars. Portland might be able to win 13 straight aided by chemistry, but it won't matter come May. Yet Simmons makes a sentient point in the value of having roll guys who know what their role is. But you shouldn't pay these players much money. And the thing is, they can usually be had on the cheap. House and Posey cost the Celtics about $5 million for this year - and they are going to mean much more to the C's than Korver will ever mean to the Jazz.

Continuing on this "moneyball" theme, let me toss out some ideas for salary structure that I suggest teams try to follow, at least somewhat. This is a generalized list, but the point should be clear:

-If a player makes more than $18 million a year he best be a star of stars, a definitive top 10 talent. You can have two damn good players for the price of this one salary, so it better be a transcendental cosmo you're paying. Guys like KG, Kobe and Duncan fall into this category - they leave a definitive imprint on your team. And guys like Michael Finley and Jermaine O'Neal never should have been lucky enough to receive such salary obscenity. Yet they are hardly the only current culprits. Boiling it down to PER (just to make people argue), I'd say you better be in the 25 PER range year in and year out to make this kind of fliff.

-The $12 to $18 million range should only be for those who are All Star-caliber every season. The Rashard Lewises of the world have no place here, and even giving excellent players like Mike Bibby or Kirilenko this much money can have sad results. Your PER should be over 20 for this kind of salary. So step it up, Ray Allen. Just kidding, you're doing fine...

-The $7 to $12 million range is for those excellent players who occasionally make All Star games and can be an awesome third wheel for any team in the league. David West is a good example of this, and we have many potential free agents this summer who could fit into this category (Josh Smith, Iguoldala, Luol Deng etc.) It will be interesting to see who gets more money than they should - and who won't. Statistically speaking these type of players should have PERs of at least 18 - unless they are really good defensively or chemistry marvels.

-The $4 to $7 million range should fetch you a heck of a player. This is the new midlevel money we're talking about here, and you ought to be able to get players like Jamison or Artest with this kind of fliff come summertime. If they get more, it's probably overpaying. Like we said earlier, this subgroup of players are going to be most affected by the new cap constraints that most teams are now suffering from. A player like Ricky Davis is going to be hard pressed to come away with the full midlevel in such a heady market; while in the past he could probably expect such money. But in this market players like Ben Gordon, Artest, Monta Ellis and Corey Maggete could all supersede him. In general for this salary range expect to fetch a very solid player with a PER of at least 16.

-The $1 to $4 million zone can net you a very quality player, you can even pay quality starters this type of money given the financial climate. The point is you don't blow $3 million on someone like Scalabrine - you get someone like Posey instead. Try avoiding PERs below 12, but get greedy and try to get higher - bargains abound to the knowledgeable shopper.

So it will be intriguing to see what trades and "salary dumps" we see before the February deadline. GMs seem much smarter these days, and the main reason is that owners are finally tying GMs' hands behind their back. I think this is a good thing for the NBA, and finally we get to have something like a hard cap.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Rocket Fuel

Well, that was interesting. What appeared to be another ho-hum stroll down victory lane for the Celtics turned into a momentous battle against Houston tonight, and again the good guys managed to win. This hopefully was one of the more foretelling evenings of the season, as we got to see KG play at his most fabled. Tonight he put in one of those performances on which his myth has been made.

The whole thing, unsurprisingly, revolved around Yao. Perk was in foul trouble the whole game, which allowed for the dusting off of Pollard just when we though he was calcified for sure. Scot played admirably tonight, thankfully, because Perk continued his recent morass with another clunky showing. With eight minutes left both had fouled out. The Rockets had climbed out of a large hole and were now up by one. Glenn, still being Glenn deep down, had sat Garnett with the C's up by seven and refused to put him back in till six minutes later when the score was tied. The momentum had changed dramatically; Garnett's absence seemed palpable.

And yet when KG did finally reenter the game, and went against Yao down the stretch, we saw why there is so much excitement about this season. Forced to play center against this mountain of a man the last six minutes of the game, Garnett willed his way to victory. It was David defeating Goliath, like Russell had done to Wilt so many moons ago. Tonight KG showed how effectively he can play defense like a center, and the optimism this released in us rose up all the way to the rafters. KG's performance against an All Star center when it counted most was gritty and artful - and most importantly, it lets us dream of events that could happen when the weather has turned warm, well into June...

No Time For Change

I’ve always thought people make way too much of a big deal about New Year’s – particularly making the famous “New Year’s Resolution.” My view has always been this: if you want to change something about yourself – you can do it any day of the year. With that said, the Boston Celtics apparently don’t need to make any changes in '08.

Throughout this 26-3 start, I’ve continually allowed things to bug me: Kendrick Perkins’ maddening habits, Tony Allen’s complete inability to play under control, Paul Pierce’s hero complex, the lack of a backup point guard. But you know what? None of these things have mattered through 29 games. They certainly didn’t matter over the recent four game west coast swing, where the C’s played sloppy at times but dispatched the competition with relative ease. As many weaknesses as I may notice, the other teams appear to have more, and like the Al Davis Raiders, the Celtics “Just Win, Baby.”

I figured the road trip would serve as a reality check, with the Celtics coming home 2-2. Instead, they beat the Lakers on short-shorts night to wind up 4-0 and I’m eating my words right now. So much for reality. Happy New Year.