The Fellowship Turns Green - by Gabe Kahn
As we all know, in the 1980s there was little if any doubt about the ability of Larry Bird et al to, at the very least, be a top contender for the NBA championship. Until some extremely unfortunate events at the backend of that powerhouse (such as the deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis), the franchise enjoyed 12 straight postseasons. Since then, the team has been mired in mediocrity or worse, the lowlight being the 15-win team of '96-'97 and the highlight being their 2002 run to the Eastern Conference finals. With the recent success of the Sox and the Patriots, it appears that the fans have shifted their low expectations toward the Green and White.
After a most promising draft last month and a third-place finish among the 16 teams participating in the Reebok Vegas Summer League, one might think that optimism would be flowing around Causeway Street, but that is not the case. Instead of focusing on a very good showing by the summer league squad, fans have chosen to put their attention squarely on Al Jefferson's lack of statistical productivity. Though Jefferson really didn't look so bad, Justin Reed showed himself to be a potential breakout player for the team in '05 and Ryan Gomes proved to everyone in Vegas that he is ready for the NBA, nobody else is taking this positive approach.
Since the C's finished up their summer tour out West, the overwhelming cry of the fans has had to do with the signing of former Net, Brian Scalabrine. Although it's not entirely clear if the Celtics have used part of their mid-level exemption (approximately $5.1 million) or if they're in the process of orchestrating a minor sign-and-trade agreement with the Nets, most agree that Scalabrine will be with the club for 5 years and a total of $15 million. Scalabrine, who averaged 6.3 points and 4.5 rebounds last season, is seen by the "experts" in the stands as soft and a lousy excuse for a power forward. In addition, they believe that this signing was a waste of the majority of the money the team could have used on one of the better free agents available.
Let's get one thing straight: Jefferson struggled only with his shot in Las Vegas, hitting at only 44.4%, taking only 45 shots in six games (Kobe Bryant took 47 shots in one game against the Celtics in 2002). This has a lot to do with his unimpressive scoring averages in Vegas ( 7.5 ppg). But even with the shots not falling, Jefferson still had his inventive and explosive post moves to go with a new, finely tuned body and gave no indication that he isn't ready for a starting job next year.
Given those positives, why are fans so incensed that Danny Ainge has made no attempt to sign forwards Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Udonis Haslem, Donyell Marshall or Kwame Brown, who were likely out of the Celtics' price range, anyway? If the Celtics are willing to give Jefferson the keys to the franchise, and by all indications they are and should be, why do they want someone from the above list, guys good enough to take minutes away from Big Al, but with a much lower ceiling? People who believed that getting their hands on Abdur-Rahim would somehow lead anywhere close to a title are fooling themselves. Even now, having drafted Green, the C's remain in the middle stages of their three-year plan, and won't be truly competitive until the full plan runs its course. Anything that takes them away from that plan, including the addition of a ready-made power forward, who is the active leader for players with the most regular season games and no postseason appearances, is a roadblock towards a championship.
The same goes for the possibility of signing of one of the better point guards around this summer, such as Sarunas Jasikevicius or Earl Watson. Although the Celtics wouldn't mind upgrading at the point, they're fairly confident that the only guards they can snatch off the open market will be either inferior to Delonte West or more expensive than is necessary for a team in a rebuilding mode like the Celtics. The ideal way to teach a young kid to play is generally believed to be by throwing him in the fire, not by watching what's going on from the bench. Ainge would gladly add one of the above (and maybe Brevin Knight) to their roster if they could come cheap, but short of that unlikely scenario, it just doesn't make much sense.
Celtic fans must come to the realization that while teams like New Jersey and Cleveland may have improved greatly (though I'm not completely sold on either of them), the Celtics are not particularly concerned with making the playoffs this coming season. If it happens, they won't complain, but making the postseason in a sub-standard East hasn't taken the Celtics to the Promised Land in the last four seasons and it won't this year, either. Keeping their eyes on the prize is all that matters to the Celtics and it should be the only thing important to the fans, too, however impatient and negative they may be inclined to be.