The Boston Celtics are in town tonight to play the Wolves in front of another packed house. There are many questions surrounding the Celtics, both this year and in regards to the team's future, so I reached out to the good folks at Celtics Blog for their perspective.
Bill Sy provided some terrific answers below. This is really fantastic stuff if you want to learn about tonight's opponent.
Much thanks goes to Bill and the rest of the people at Celtics Blog for their input.
1. Opinions of Rajon Rondo have quite a range around the NBA. I’ve heard some say he’s a top-5 point guard. I’ve heard others say he’s tremendously overrated. What is your take? How good is Rajon Rondo?
I always think of Rondo as that guy that shows up at the park with short shorts and spends a good five minutes stretching. He seemingly has never played basketball in his entire life but inexplicably drops seven buckets in a game to 13. When he's supposed to go left, he goes right. Scoop shots and fall away jumpers that shouldn't go in, go in. Everything seems so unorthodox and on accident. That's Rondo.
He's a basketball savant. People who have played basketball at any level know that it's a choreographed dance; when you give someone a pick, you can either roll, slip, or fade; when someone cuts to the basket, both offense and defense shift to correct the spacing on the court. Like a chess master, Rondo knows all this and knows everybody's tendencies, offense and defense, and does what you least expect. Watch him on a fast break: instead of trying to throw a fake and jab stepping in the opposite direction, he drives it right into the defender's chest because that's the least likely option. Actually, it's not even an option to begin with but Rondo makes it so. He's not trying to draw a foul (yes, I'll give you that he's a poor free throw shooter). He's just trying to play outside of the box.
People can argue that Paul, Westbrook, Rose, and Williams are better and they'll qualify it by saying that Rondo is a "pure point guard" but I hate that comparison because that's just a nice way of saying that Rondo can't shoot and he makes up for it because he's just really good at passing. That's hogwash. Compared to those guys, what makes Rondo a great player--and puts him in a class unto himself--is that he actually makes his teammates better by amplifying what they're already good at. I think with those other players, they make the game, for lack of a better word, easier for their team. Kevin Durant doesn't have to score as much on his own because Westbrook will pick up the slack. Blake Griffin and Carlos Boozer will have a little more room to operate because Paul and Rose attract so much defensive attention.
But with Rondo, he works in spite of those conventions: he doesn't score a lot of points and he rarely commands a double team. Doc calls him the smartest player he's ever coached and I believe him. What Rondo does is manipulate the entire court so that his teammates can excel at what they're best at. Sometimes it's as subtle as shifting his shoulders so that the defense thinks he's going in one direction or as deliberate as cupping the ball with his giant hands and faking out his defender, the help defender, and the guy selling hot dogs in the third row. Watch him tonight, especially in transition. He's got a very distinct voice and you can hear him orchestrate every play on both sides of the ball. He may not be a franchise player, but I think he's definitely a guy that franchise players want to play with.
2. Did Danny Ainge luck out from two big trades or is he actually a talented GM? What is your take on his performance thus far?
I wouldn't call Danny "lucky," but it does help to have GM's that are willing to trade with you. For example, I'm in a fantasy basketball league with my brothers. We all do pretty well, but I have to attribute a lot of our collective success to our willingness to trade with each other versus trading with our stingy friends. Now, I'd slit their throats if it came down to first and second place, but there's a brotherly understanding that if we can help each other out, we'll do it. If you look at Danny's trading record, his biggest moves have been with Sam Presti and his ex-teammate, your ex-GM Kevin McHale. I'm not discounting his ability to assess the NBA landscape and collective bargaining agreement, but I don't know if those trades get done if he's dealing with Isiah Thomas.
At the top of Ainge's resume should be the hiring of Doc Rivers, the yin to his yang. It's ironic really because they're polar opposites. I always thought that if Danny wasn't an NBA general manager, he'd make a great doctor. He is without sentiment and only cares about the health of the team. He famously (or infamously, depending on where you stand) said that Red should have traded Bird and McHale for Chuck Person/Herb Williams and Detlef Schrempf/Sam Perkins respectively. Sometimes I wonder if that's just bitterness born out of being shipped out to Sacramento for Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney, but nonetheless, Danny's proven to be ruthless when it comes to player loyalty. Winning the championship in 2008 bought him some leeway when he traded Perk, but he'll be tested over the next two years when rival GM's inquire about Paul Pierce.
With Ainge's reputation as this unsentimental general manager, his style seems to work directly in contrast with his head coach's. Where as Danny would trade a young prospect for firewood and lawn chairs, Doc is a players' coach that stresses teamwork and accountability. It's such a careful balance but they've made it work; Danny has been very good in finding high character guys in the draft to fit Doc's philosophy. He's discovered gems outside of the lottery in Rondo, Perkins, Al Jefferson, Baby Davis, Tony Allen, and Avery Bradley. Those guys haven't only been good Celtics, but some of them have moved on to take leadership roles on other teams.
3. With the "Big Three" window coming to a close in Boston, what do you see as the future of the Celtics in the next couple of years? Are your young players (Bradley/Johnson) good enough to help the team compete moving forward with Rondo?
There is no surprise what Danny's plan has been for this summer. With the cap space created by the expiring contracts of Garnett and Allen, he was going to go after Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, or some combination of the two. With Paul and Howard locked in for one more season in LA and Orlando and Deron either staying in New Jersey or potentially landing in Dallas, the free agent class of 2012 is not as star-studded as he expected, but the rebuilding process doesn't seem that daunting either. Danny had planned on the championship window being closed this summer, but time and time again, this team has shown resiliency.
If this season has proven anything so far, it's that 1) the Big Three can still play and 2) Doc is a great coach. The Celtics are tied for the Atlantic Division title despite the shortened schedule and season-ending injuries to three main rotation players in Jeff Green, Jermaine O'Neal, and Chris Wilcox. Their defense still ranks at the top of the NBA with major contributions coming from second-year Avery Bradley and undrafted rookie Greg Stiemsma. Doc is doing all this with basically duct tape and spare parts. Next season, with a full complement of players, a pre-season, and practice, Celtic faithful have to believe that they can make another run in 2013.
Moving forward, I like the young guys we have (Rondo, Bradley, Johnson, Moore), but we definitely have to find players this summer. In order of priority, this is ideally what Danny needs to do:
1. RE-SIGN GARNETT AND ALLEN TO REASONABLE TWO-YEAR DEALS. Honestly, I don't think either of them are going anywhere. If they're playing anywhere, it's going to be in Boston. It's just a matter of how much and if those guys want another chip, they know they'll have to sacrifice a little money to bring in reinforcements. Give them player options in the second year so if they both choose to retire with Pierce, the three of them can go out together.
2. RE-SIGN GREEN AND BASS. I lump these two guys together is because I see them as Celtics long term, at least 3-4 years.
3. RE-SIGN PIETRUS AND STIEMSMA. One's a vet and the other is a rookie but they've been so vital to this year's run that I think they deserve two-year deals above the minimum. They've shown a commitment to defense and that always scores in Doc's book.
4. FREE AGENTS. This is where it gets tricky. Danny has said that they won't spend cap money just for the sake of spending. He has to be really careful because if he intends to make another run next year, he'll have to again preserve flexibility for 2013. There isn't a max contract guy out there, so I see him going after quality role players that will help the team immediately and make them more attractive to free agents in the future. Reaching for top shelf players like Hibbert and Gordon would be pie in the sky, but more reasonable targets will be Mayo and Batum.
WILDCARD: THE DRAFT. Danny has never been charged with finding a potential superstar in the draft, but things could change this year. Outside of hitting with Al Jefferson at #15 and missing with Gerald Green at #18, he's never really had a chance at looking for that one guy that can turn a franchise around, but with two picks in what is considered a very deep draft, Danny could either decide to package them and move up for a lottery pick or find someone in the late teens and early twenties. Danny has traditionally drafted role players to complement the veterans. Conventional wisdom says that the Celtics are hurting for size and guys like Zeller and Plumlee should be available late in the first round. But what if a dynamic shooting guard falls out of the lottery? And what if that dynamic shooting guard just happens to be the son of your head coach? These are certainly transitional times for Boston and with an opportunity to hit a home run, I'll bet Danny takes a risk and swings for the fences.
4. What is your opinion of Ryan Hollins thus far?
He's exactly what I expected: an active body with a good motor in limited minutes. All I had to hear were the ringing endorsements from Pierce and KG (who worked out with Hollins during the lockout) and I was sold. But even before that, I always liked him. In his time in Minnesota and more recently, Cleveland, I always thought that he played with some fire and a chip on his shoulder. He's never been that skilled offensively, but I think he can get close to maybe a Tyson Chandler ceiling. He's obviously got a ways to go, but if he gets invited back next summer, there's some potential there. In the few games that he's played, he's been a favorite target of Rondo's alley-oop passes and he's done a decent job on the defensive rotations.
5. Did you win the Brandon Bass-Big Baby trade?
No question, yes. If I'm Danny, I actually feel a little guilty about this. That trade was tantamount to buying a $3 painting at a yard sale and finding out it's worth fifty grand on The Antique Roadshow. I know that Dwight Howard cited Big Baby as one of the players that he wanted in Orlando and Otis Smith had to appease him, but we absolutely got a steal in Bass considering that Baby could have signed there out right without a trade. Doc has called him our best on-ball defender in the post and he finishes STRONG at the rim. I loved Baby's hustle and charges, but it was so frustrating to see him miss bunnies in the paint. Also, with Baby, you got a sense that Boston just wasn't his scene. He's more Wilt than Russell. Bass, on the other hand, is a completely different story. His blue collar attitude is the epitome of what the Celtics are all about. Frankly, I see a lot of Kendrick Perkins in him. He's already a fan favorite but he signs another contract to stay in Celtic green, he can retire a fan favorite, too. This doesn't seem like such a big deal, but I don't even think he has a Twitter account. That speaks volumes.
6. Can the Celtics compete for a title this year?
Remember in the 1998 Three Point Contest when Bird walked into the locker room, asked everybody who was going to come in second place, and then raised his finger in victory even before the winning moneyball went through the net?