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.