The State of the Boston Celtics (It’s Time to Let Go)

If anyone can understand the lunacy that leads the fanbase of the Boston Celtics to insist that, yes, the dilapidated shell of what was once the original “Big Three” still has a championship run left in them, it is a Detroit Pistons fan.  When my Pistons sent Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye to the Grizzlies (to acquire another stopgap player decidedly on the back end of his career — but I digress), they dealt away the last essential piece of the unit that was THE dominant team in the Eastern Conference during the first decade of the 21st century.  Prince is a Grizzly, Chauncey Billups is a Clipper, Rip Hamilton is a Bull, Rasheed Wallace is an ailing Knick, and Ben Wallace is retired… or unretired, or in denial, or some combination of the three.  It all happens so fast.  One day, you’re off to a 37-5 start; the next, probably four of your six best players are point guards and your future success is heavily contingent on a guy nicknamed “The Moose”.

That is why it is with pity that I report the telltale signs, Celtics fans.  Your General Manager, Danny Ainge, knows the end is nigh.  He toyed with the notion of trading your only appreciable asset, injured point guard Rajon Rondo.  He floated Paul Pierce’s name around in talks with the Grizzlies.  He nearly traded the face of the Big Three, Kevin Garnett, to the Clippers for Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan, and if it were purely a question of personnel, he probably should have.  Only, he was probably moved by KG’s “I bleed green… I die green” response to a question about his no-trade clause, and he probably couldn’t stomach the idea of parting with the guy who has been Boston’s linchpin since his arrival in 2007.  Hell, if the players really still talk about Kendrick Perkins’ departure as a semi-traumatic experience, one can imagine the backlash from a Garnett trade would be considerable.

For the sake of concision, let me speak in cliché:  all good things come to an end, especially when said good things are on the wrong side of 35.

There are two ways to go about this, Celtics.  The easy path is the one you are currently toeing.  If you so choose, you can cling to semi-relevance and take consolation in wild-card playoff spots and occasional flashes of former brilliance.  That path doesn’t numb the pain; it only draws it out, and mutes it enough that delusional fans can, for a time, keep conceptions of reality at bay.  Or, there’s the path less traveled:  you can blow it up.  You can trade proven for potential, bear the full brunt of the melancholy that inevitably comes from trading away a beloved player, and accept the fact that drunk old guys are always going to bitch about how your first-round draft pick is performing versus a 37-year-old Pierce.

It wouldn’t be easy, Celtics fans, but I assure you:  it’s preferable to the emptiness that Joe Dumars’ handling of the same dilemma has left me with.  That is why, for your sake, I looked up a list of the Signs It’s Time To Let Go.  In a weird way that might only make sense to me, I’m going to try to apply a few of them to you.

Boston, let go.  I implore you.  “Rebuild” is a dirty word… but come to terms with it.  The league is better for your success, I’m a fan of the franchise, and I worship Larry Bird as much as any fluffy-haired white guy who has ever shot a basketball.


Someone expects you to be something you’re not.

I am a big fan of Avery Bradley’s game.  He’s a great perimeter defender (the Celtics improved by 4.4 points per 100 possessions last year when he replaced Ray Allen in the starting lineup), he’s very athletic, and he’s one of the better little-guy finishers in the league at the rim.  But he’s not a point guard, just like Jason Terry isn’t, and just like Jordan Crawford sure as hell isn’t.  Avery Bradley is, by definition, a tweener:  he’s on the smaller side at 6’2″, but his skill set projects him as a 3 and D type of guy.  I feel like the term “tweener” has a negative connotation attached to it, but I don’t really mean it that way — ask Allen Iverson if there’s a place in this league for a combo guard with a unique abilities.  All I’m saying is, he’s prone to turnovers, he played shooting guard at Texas, and he has never averaged more than 1.5 assists over a full NBA season… he isn’t a viable replacement for Rajon Rondo.

A person’s actions don’t match their words.

In Late January after Rondo went down, Dealin’ Danny Ainge told the media that his “confidence in this team has not wavered”, and expressed optimism that the injury would “give other guys like Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa, and Courtney Lee an opportunity to play and show what they’re made of.”  He even vainly tried to convince anyone that would listen that he wasn’t worried about records or stats because he “[knew] what his guys are made of.”  Of course, by mid-February he had, at one point or another, dangled each of the team’s three best players as trade bait.  In my very best Chief Keef voice… this shit don’t make no sense.

You catch yourself forcing someone to love you.

The decline of the Boston Celtics is evident even on paper.  66 wins became 62, and 56, and 50, and 39 (in the shortened lockout season), and this season they’re hovering just above .500, at 29-26.  The league’s best defense in 2010-2011 was the second best the following year, and this year checks in at ninth.  Paul Pierce is barely shooting 40%.  Anyone with eyes or access to the Internet knows that the on-court product isn’t the same for the Celtics of late… but the Garden sells out every night anyway, because it’s Gah-nett and Pearce and Rahn-do… how can ya not love this team?!  Cue the annual Bill Simmons “the cause isn’t lost!” column.

(Sidebar:  I know the attendance figures thing is just good fans being good fans and is probably [definitely] a stretch.  I’m trying to compare the Celtics franchise to a broken relationship.  It’s going to be stretched.  Bear with me.)

An intimate relationship is based strictly on physical attraction.

This team does, or did, look damn good on paper.  Kevin Garnett is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he’s posting a PER just below 20 despite playing out of position.  Basketball Reference rates Paul Pierce as 98% likely to be inducted also.  Rajon Rondo, if a bit erratic, is the premiere point guard in the Eastern Conference (which is why I’m still not sure that the winning pattern in his absence is sustainable).  Boston is on the short list of teams that could ever challenge the Miami Heat in a seven-game series by virtue of the pure competitive spirit of the first two guys alone.  There’s a lot to like here, the product has just been pretty underwhelming.  (And, man, if Boston looks good on paper, then the Heat are smokin’.)

You catch yourself obsessing over, and living in, the past.

Yeah, that 2007-2008 championship was sweet.  The KG and Ray-Ray trades/robberies, the SI cover, first-to-worst, meeting LA in the Finals again (and being victorious)… it all smacked of a permanent return to glory.  You Celtics fans are used to dynasties that last decades.  I’m not even sure many of you knew that it’s possible to win a title without two or three more to follow.

I know your pain.  My Pistons were on the precipice of a couple more for years after we won our ring (also over LA).  I also know how this ends.  This isn’t a doomsday prophecy, it’s a classic case of history repeating itself.

Let go now, while you still can.


The State of the Brooklyn Nets

Even when their semi-desperate overtures to the Orlando Magic ended with Dwight Howard in a Laker uniform, the general consensus coming into the season was that the Nets would be big-time postseason players out east in their first year in Brooklyn.  With the money that might have been Howard’s, GM Billy King was able to deal Deshawn Stevenson, a lottery-protected Rockets’ first round pick, and the pu pu platter and take on Joe Johnson’s max deal before re-inking Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, and, after a week of ambiguity and flirtation with Mark Cuban, Deron Williams as well.  The result has been a bit of a mixed bag:  Brooklyn is fourth in a weak Eastern Conference, but when you get a respected coach axed by lackadaisical play, you’re the second best team in your city alone, and the point guard you invested your future in on a maxed out contract can’t make the All-Star team, your season hardly feels like a success story.  There’s some good, and there’s some bad.

The Nets have the capacity to be a really good defensive basketball team, mostly owing to the grit that a Crash Wallace-Reggie Evans frontline brings to complement Lopez, who is a more than capable shot-blocker at the rim.  They’re fifth in the league for the season allowing a very respectable 95.1 points per game, but in the 38 games since Reggie Evans has replaced Kris Humphries in the starting lineup that number is down to 93.0.  That figure projected across a full season would place them just outside the holy trinity of defensive basketball teams:  Chicago, Memphis, and of course Indiana.  The crazy thing is, they probably have the capacity to be even better than that defensively:  Joe Johnson is the definition of a two-way player and routinely guarded the opponent’s best player in Atlanta, and Deron Williams has a sturdy frame and doesn’t yield much in the way of penetration.

Meanwhile, Brook Lopez, the guy who was subject to an Avery Johnson “coach can’t be out there holding your hand the whole time” rant after failing to grab a single defensive rebound in a loss last year, turned into an All-Star.  It’s still baffling to me how a guy can fail to drag down ten rebounds per night at 7’0″ and 265 sans physically debilitating lack of coordination, but he’s putting up 19 a night for a team that’s still pretty perimeter-oriented, he’s pulling down a more-respectable 9.6 rebounds per 40 minutes, and he’s across the 2 block threshold for the first time in his career.  According to Hollinger’s PER rankings, he’s tied with Tim Duncan as the fifth-best player in the league this year, which is an illustration of how far he’s come only slightly less definitively than it is an illustration of how numbers can be misleading.  Like I said… there’s some good.

And then there’s some bad.  First and foremost, I am inclined to hate every team ever that does in its coach by failing to play hard.  Avery Johnson was the coach of the month for the first two months of the season, and then was fired the next when the Nets hit the doldrums.  As LeBron James pointed out, that’s like trading the player of the month (which would be himself) for next to nothing (affter fifteen minutes of brainstorming on who PJ Carlesimo’s player equivalent is, I’m going with Scot Pollard).  It speaks volumes about the team’s leadership that they would quit on a coach who as a player was the antithesis of the word “quit”.  The only good thing that came out of that story was Avery Johnson Jr.’s expletive-laden twitter bashing of Nets brass, combined with the fact that his father was apparently fine with it.

Back on the team’s leadership.  After three or so paragraphs of restraint, I have to do my blurb on Deron Williams.  After all, a few years back there was a contingent of (brainless) people that legitimately believed that he was the best point guard on the planet.  His last three full seasons in Utah, Williams put up 18.8 and 10.5, 19.4 and 10.7, and 18.7 and 10.5.  His shooting percentage over that stretch never fell below 47%, and during the first of those season he actually shot 50%+ from the field.  This year, he’s managed 16.8 points and 7.7 assists per night, he’s barely above 40% shooting, the Mendoza line of basketball, at 41.2%, and he failed to make the All-Star team for the first time in four years.  John Hollinger’s most recent scouting report on Williams noted that “he has the ability to defend well but effort has nosedived in recent years.”  What I’m trying to say with that mass of numbers is, the guy’s gone in the shitter.  He’s not playing like the second team All-Pro that he once was.  A team quarterbacked by Deron Williams is 27th in the league in assists.

As it stands now, the Nets’ playoff chances are pretty limited.  If the playoffs started today, the Nets would play the Bulls, and a semi-healthy Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau’s stifling defense would mean their end.  The same would happen if they were to slip onto the six or seven line and meet Indiana.  I wouldn’t even like their chances in a seven game series against the Knicks… and man oh man would that be a bitter end.

But never fear, Nets’ faithful, I have a solution — and he’s somewhere off in McLeansboro, Illinois riding a tractor.

When people discussed the Boozer to Chicago signing, a lot of people, myself included, opined that he was probably the beneficiary of an offense run by Deron Williams.  Perhaps we all approached it the wrong way:  perhaps he, and Deron Williams as well, were beneficiaries of being on a team coached by Jerry Sloan.  I mentioned that this Nets team is 27th in the league in assists.  In Deron Williams’ last three years in Utah, the Jazz finished first, first, and second to Phoenix (when Steve Nash was the most valuable player in the league) in the same category.  

Nets fans, beg management not to go with the guy Latrell Sprewell once choked as your long term head coach.  Beg your superstar to beg his old coach for forgiveness, even though he cost him a job (people forget that Avery Johnson wasn’t Deron Williams’ first victim).  Beg God that Jerry Sloan hasn’t gotten too comfortable in McLeansboro yet.  And, when you start a hashtag, link this article, so that maybe I’ll have some readers who aren’t related to me.

I’m not one for comparing athletes to singsongy R&B performers (those who know me well — please forgive the preceding lie), but I loved the comparison that DJ Dunson made:  what if Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams could have a Chris Brown/Rihanna moment?  Yeah, Williams screwed Sloan, and yeah, it probably isn’t a good idea for him, but as he said recently, “Even if it’s a mistake, it’s my mistake to make.”

Maybe that was Rihanna.  The point stands.


Seriously, I’d appreciate the hashtag thing.

The State of The Knicks (And Why I’m Doing This, Too)

Let my first thought on this blog be a clarification.  I am not a guru as the word pertains to basketball or anything else, by the word’s spiritual denotation or by any connotation that implies any sort of expertise.  I cannot guarantee you that what you read on this blog will enlighten you spiritually or otherwise.  I cannot even guarantee you that what you read here will necessarily capture your interest, unless you possess an extraordinary attention span or an appetite for all things semi-related to basketball.  I guess what I’m trying to communicate is, don’t make too much of the “guru” title.  It was a (vain?) attempt to be witty, and I decided at 3:15 in the morning that “guru” sounded less pretentious than “savant.”  There’s the one thing I can guarantee, I suppose:  vain attempts to be witty.

Let my second thought on this blog be an explanation.  When I went to produce a first piece for this blog, I decided that it seemed silly to write anything at all without first offering a preface, a collection of my opinions on every team and damn near every player in the league, so that you have a basis for deciding whether I’m a prattling jackass or someone whose opinions you might enjoy, y’know, from time to time.  This is the first installment.  Feel free to comment with a counterargument, or an insult, or, if you’re feeling oddly good-natured/feel like brightening someone’s day, a compliment.

Without any further ado… The New York Knickerbockers.


In my experience, there are three reasons that people root for or take special interest in the New York Knicks.  The first is that they are actually from New York; this one is the most excusable, if you can tolerate the superiority complex and highly inflated self-regard that typically accompanies those people.  The second is that they have family from New York, or a second cousin once-removed, or a fake second cousin; this group desperately wants in on the aforementioned superiority complex and highly-inflated self-regard.  The last group of people just like ‘Melo, who, like seemingly every player who has ever been a top-five player in the league at any time, is a pretty polarizing figure.  Since I don’t fall into any of these three categories (I’m probably closest to the second, quite honestly), I am not a Knicks fan.

Before I say anything negative about his game, let me acknowledge the patently obvious:  Carmelo Anthony is a top-five player in the NBA, top-three offensive player, and one of only six or seven guys in the league with the capability of willing a team to the playoffs singlehandedly.  He won a national title in college.  I’m sure the younger members of the Nigerian national team still have nightmares about the night he savaged them at the Olympics last summer.  There is a contingent of basketball personalities whose opinions are far more valid than my own that call him the best scorer on the planet today.  I just can’t get on board.

Maybe it’s that he left left Denver like a diva, as murmured trade requests through training camp became petty, public whining and a distraction for the team as the regular season began.  Maybe it’s that I LIKED the New York team that had been built around an Amare Stoudemire that average 26.1 points on 50+% shooting and 8.6 rebounds per game prior to the All-Star break, only to see those averages, and the team’s winning percentage, fall when Carmelo joined the fold.  Maybe it’s how much better the Nuggets team is, a top-five team in most power rankings as I write this, just two years post-‘Melo.

It might be any of those things, but the answer I offer is blunter and more concise:  he’s a Goddamned ball-hog.  The numbers confirm what can be easily deduced by the eye test.  Carmelo Anthony has the top usage rate in the league.  He’s also the only player in the top ten whose assist ratio is in single digits; only 8.8% of the possessions that he uses result in assists.  For the sake of comparison, Russell Westbrook and Monta Ellis, both “Goddamned ball-hogs” in their own right, have posted 24.1% and 19.8% ratios, respectively.  Michael Beasley is even a more willing passer than Carmelo Anthony.  In fact, only three players in the top fifty in usage rate posted worse assist ratios:  Brook Lopez, Marreese Speights, and Andray Blatche.  Not to slight any of those players, but that’s not splendid company, especially considering that he is a primary ball-handler, which isn’t true for any of the other three.

This ball-hoggery seems an especially heinous crime when you consider that the Knicks actually do have some pretty nice complementary pieces around ‘Melo.  Certainly, credit is due to Glen Grunwald and James Dolan; the Tyson Chandler deal, especially coming off of the Mavs’ title run in 2011, was a heist, Raymond Felton plays his best basketball in a Knicks uniform (though considerably better pre-Melo — this is a sort of trend), and an Amare Stoudemire whose skills have waned is still a better asset than most.  The number of competent shooters on this roster is also a little bit scary — Felton, JR Smith, Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer, Iman Shumpert, Chris Copeland, Rasheed Wallace, and especially Steve Novak can all knock it down, and do so at a clip of 30% or better.  Good shooters are a superstar’s best friend; or so they should be, assuming that said superstar isn’t the sort of guy who’d rather pass a kidney stone than the basketball.

Granted, the Knicks do make and take a league-high 10.9 and 29.0 three-pointers per game. But when you consider that Carmelo Anthony has turned into a guy who takes seven per game by himself (he only took 2.7 at highest in Denver) and that this team lacks a real traditional low-post presence, I would contend that those numbers ought to actually be higher.

My playoff forecast on the Knicks is predicated mostly on that lack of belief in Carmelo Anthony.  If the offense runs through ‘Melo too often in the regular season, it does more so in the postseason; during the first round series against Miami last year, Anthony’s usage rate was an astronomical 36.3%, up from a 31.3% regular season total that was pretty absurd in and of itself.  Anthony scored plenty against the Heat, he just didn’t do so efficiently.  Since this team is already 29th in the league at sharing the ball in the regular season, since the road to the Finals runs through Miami again, and since I can think of few people more well-equipped than LeBron James to be a bother to even a scorer as multitalented as ‘Melo, I don’t see a run in the cards any time soon.  With a little magic, a favorable draw, and a comically weak cast of characters on the Eastern Conference playoff scene, this team could be headed towards a Conference Finals appearance, but it would be highly surprising if the road doesn’t stop there.

I leave you with this image of Carmelo holding tight the very thing he so despises to pass away, and with a video of him trying to fight Kevin Garnett for saying that Lala Anthony’s vagina tasted like a certain popular breakfast cereal.

EXTRA NUGGET:  I saved my JR Smith spiel for the end, mostly because it’s completely hypocritical and kind of shameful.  I love the guy, low PER, abysmal sub-40 shooting percentage and all.  He’s a fantastic follow on Twitter, he’s got sweet tats, he apparently propositioned a high school girl via Direct Message tonight, and he’s an unabashed gunner.  Yes, that is just a significantly nicer synonym for what I repeatedly called Carmelo Anthony about two or three paragraphs above, but yes, he did at least manage a double-digit assist ratio.  Ziiiiiiing.