The Celtics have won more championships than any other franchise in NBA history. They’re coming off of an exhilarating six-year run in which they hoisted their 17th banner, fell a quarter short of another, and enjoyed a third, inspiring trip to the conference finals.
Now, months later, the C’s are 1-4 and barely a few feet from the starting line of what’s going to be a long and trying road to an 82-game finish.
Ironically, most fans would say the longer and bumpier the 2013-14 road, the better.
I can’t stand those fans.
Then again, depending on the time or day you catch me, I’m one of them.
That’s the miserable and conflicted existence of a Celtics supporter this season. I don’t need to tell you it’s not going to be fun. We knew that the moment those deals were made with the Clippers and Nets in June.
I understand the goal. Lose for the lottery. Sing songs in the halls for ping pong balls.
But, am I really supposed to attend a game and root in good conscious for turnovers, second-chance points by the opposition, and hard-fought defeats in the quest for a 1-81 season? They had to get one, right?
Can I truly embrace some silly slogan like, “Riggin’ for Wiggins,” “Safari for Jabari,” or whatever the latest T-shirt reads outside the Garden?
You want me to be happy that the team got off to its worst start since 1969, while singling out the competitive moral victories?
Hell, when news broke that Rajon Rondo has been cleared for some contact, my already clouded first instinct was, “Wait! No! He shouldn’t be cleared to walk around a crowded mall!”
While recognizing such a mindset is well-intentioned, stands for the greater good, has the organization’s best long-term interests in mind – blah, blah, blah – actively cheering for your favorite team to lose is impossible. It’s unnatural. The only way to achieve such negativity is through apathy. You’d have better luck pretending the Celts took the year off.
Sadly, though, they didn’t, and so the season will drag on with Tank Talk.
Celtics president of basketball operations, Danny Ainge, joined 98.5 The Sports Hub’s, “Toucher and Rich” program on Thursday morning and, of course, that subject was discussed.
“They’re not paying attention,” Ainge said of the fans who may believe the team is losing on purpose. “They’re not watching all the games. They’re not watching all the exhibition games and they’re not at practice. That certainly is not the case. Anybody that’s informed that sees what goes on day-to-day would not make those conclusions.”
Not for one moment do I believe the C’s are trying to lose games or putting in less than a complete effort so, for that, I agree with Ainge.
However, that doesn’t mean his team is not tanking.
What the Celts have done by allowing Doc Rivers to take charge of the Clippers, trading away the heart and soul of the organization in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, signing a promising but inexperienced head coach, and adding a bunch of players who won’t be in Boston when the team does hit its next window of being competitive, is build a club that isn’t good enough to win.
Sure, every once in a while, they’ll steal a game they shouldn’t but, more often than not, they won’t. It’s the road to…eh, 20 or so wins. Depends if Rondo attends the Derrick Rose School of ACL Recovery.
Either way, that, too, is tanking.
In the ultimate irony, the Celtics could be 5-0 right now, just as easily as they could sit winless.
They led the Raptors in the fourth quarter of their opener before falling by six. They were clobbering the Bucks by 22 in the second-half, and then got outscored by 19 points in the final stanza and lost by seven. The Pistons? Yup, led that one early in the fourth, as well, on the way to a 10-point defeat. Same story against the Grizzlies, though it still wound up a seven-point loss.
In a twist, their only triumph – a 10-point victory against the Jazz on Wednesday – came in a game they trailed by 13 early, and barely held on to win after gaining a 25-point advantage.
The C’s have been outscored in the fourth quarter of all five games this season, by an average of 11 points. It’s not intentional, despite what you may read or hear. They’ve battled ball-handling issues (19.8 turnovers per game, 3rd in NBA), inefficiency on the glass (39.2 rebounds per game, 28th), selfishness (15.8 assists per game, 30th), and they lack a true go-to guy offensively and stopper defensively.
There’s some individual talent but no cohesiveness, and roles remain a mystery.
The only area of in-game tanking that could be called into question would be some of coach Brad Stevens’ personnel decisions. Boston’s averaging 89.4 points a game – last in the league – and just might have a couple more wins with Humphries or others seeing additional time on the floor.
The problem for veteran guys like Humphries and Wallace, though, is that they aren’t part of the long-term plan. Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Jeff Green, Vitor Faverani, Brandon Bass, and perhaps Avery Bradley must be further developed so that they’re either ready to contribute when it matters most, or will provide other teams value in exchange for more assets.
Chips, pieces, and assets are just the quick way of saying Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Julius Randle.
We’ve been through this before, without the top prize.
But, what if the Celtics do land the big fish this time? No one knows with certainty what these kids will be at the next level. Will any of the three be franchise-altering difference-makers like Tim Duncan or Kevin Durant? Or, Greg Oden? Sure things don’t exist, and rebuilding through the lottery is an awfully dangerous way to do business.
Will all this tactical losing that lies ahead be worth it? Unfortunately, when you’re a team like Boston, there’s no other way to find out.
It’s nearly impossible to construct a contender from the middle of the pack. The Rockets have taken steps in that direction, courtesy of a trade for All-Star James Harden and the signing of embattled superstar Dwight Howard, but Houston’s the exception to the rule.
Unlike when the Celts made moves in 2007 to acquire both Garnett and Ray Allen, they no longer have the pieces to bring in game-changing future Hall of Famers, and this city will never be one to attract marquee free agents, at least on the hardwood.
So Ainge is left with no choice but to stockpile whatever resources he can find.
And we fans are forced to painfully root for next season this year. Right alongside the Jazz, Sixers, Suns, Magic, Bobcats, Kings, and any other franchise that thinks, to win, last is fast.
If only it didn’t feel so wrong.
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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