Is it too late for New Year's resolutions for the Celtics? Nah. This Atlantic Division race reminds me of the spring of 2004, when the Celtics went on a four-game road trip, ended up losing all four, and returned home to discover they had clinched the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Doc Rivers has been saying for weeks that some team is going to go on a run. We all thought it would be New Jersey, and it still might be. It hasn't been the Celtics, and without Paul Pierce, it won't be the Celtics.
Instead, we'll enter 2007 with the Toronto Raptors holding down the fort and the Knicks showing some verve at home, where previously there had been none. The Sixers need to be careful not to finish out of the lottery -- it shouldn't be hard -- and then there are the Celtics.
So far this season, Danny Ainge has made one trade: Dwayne Jones for Luke Jackson. He had some interest in Allen Iverson until he was told what the price would be. Now he's overseeing a reeling, depleted team, and it's hard to get an accurate assessment of a club when it is in such a spiral.
But that's what we're here for.
To Rivers: Last year, we advised Doc to ready any and all books with the words "Defense" and "Communication" in the title. This year, he needs a copy of "Who Moved My Cheese?" Injuries are part of the game, and the Celtics aren't the only team hobbled. And, let's face it, John Wooden couldn't win with what Doc has available to him these days. Eventually, it is assumed, most of the injured will heal (still not sure about Theo Ratliff) and, at that point, Doc will have a full deck. Then it's on him. This is his third season here, and while some individuals may have developed, the team has not found a way to win. This was a losing team in a bad conference with a cushy early-season schedule before Pierce went down.
To Pierce: Let's get him healthy, first. He's been viewed as near-indestructible since he came here, so this foot injury qualifies as a shocker. Then, try to get him some better players. It doesn't do any good to boast about your so-called chips if you don't play them. We might have even suggested moving Pierce, but, with his contract extension, that is easier said than done. And aging superstars never bring equal value.
To Wally Szczerbiak: Another team, although he's a tough sell for a number of reasons, not the least of which is his contract. He'll probably end up sticking around as Pierce's second. There are worse things in life.
To Sebastian Telfair: The chance to run the team he thought he was going to be able to run. Remember when the trade was made and Telfair was going to thrive and prosper in a Celtics running game? Anyone seen that team?
To Ryan Gomes: The return of Pierce. For some reason, Gomes has morphed into Brett Szabo since Pierce went down. To wit: When Pierce is playing, Gomes averages 11.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and shoots 51.8 percent. In the four games without Pierce, Gomes averaged 9 points, 4.8 rebounds, and shot 32 percent.
To Tony Allen: Another team (and not the one fielded by the Illinois Department of Corrections). His recent play makes him an ideal candidate to be moved because, as we well know, general managers go by what they've seen lately, rather than incorporating an entire body of work. (Although I can and never will understand what led the Nuggets to give Nene $60 million.) Then again, that's assuming there's any interest out there at all.
To Delonte West: The same thing as last year. He is not Rodney Harrison, so don't play like him.
To Kendrick Perkins: First of all, no more plantar fasciitis. Second, play like Ben Wallace, but without the free throw shooting. Here's hoping the new ball will help.
To Al Jefferson: A Chris Kaman voodoo doll. Hey, at least Big Al kept at it, swat after swat after swat. You have to like that.
To Gerald Green: He can cross "Not Going Back to the NBDL" off his to-do list for 2006-07. You just wonder what is going to happen to his minutes when Paul and Wally are back, because this kid is fun to watch.
To Rajon Rondo: He should watch hours of tape of Tony Parker, because Parker was a lot like him when he came into the league. (Of course, Parker also had Tim Duncan and David Robinson to bail him out, which Rondo most definitely does not have.)
To Brian Scalabrine: He needs to keep that sense of perspective and stiff upper lip. Good teams need guys like Scal.
To Leon Powe, Ratliff, Michael Olowokandi and Allan Ray: They need to get some playing time or, in the case of Ratliff, a new home in February along with the insurance benefit that covers his contract.
A grisly ending for Fratello
It's an article of faith in the NBA coaching fraternity that it's never a good idea to have the head man in the final year of his contract. The term "lame duck" becomes part of the daily discourse, and the players know there is going to be a change or else ownership would have extended the guy. Last year's designated lame duck was Rick Adelman. Next year's might be Doc Rivers. This year's was Mike Fratello.
When the Grizzlies did not extend Fratello, the writing was on the proverbial wall. Now, if you're a coach and you know you're not coming back, then you go down your way, which is exactly what Fratello did before getting whacked last Thursday. He had been advised to play an up-tempo style and go with the kids. He preferred veterans and a slower pace, which may explain why Memphis was 22d in scoring, last in rebounding, and 26th in field goal percentage.
The injuries certainly didn't help, most noticeably the absence of Pau Gasol for the first 22 games. But the team had lost 11 of 12 and was 2-13 in December ( one of those wins was in Boston). The Grizzlies were an NBA-worst 6-24 and were coming off a reeking home loss to Milwaukee that was preceded by a game against the Wizards in which Memphis trailed by 27 at the end of the first period. "It's past frustration; it's embarrassing. Something has to change," Gasol told reporters after the Bucks loss. A day later, it did.
Fratello ended up coaching 178 games for Memphis and he left with 95 victories, making him the franchise's winningest coach. (Hubie Brown is next with 83.) But Fratello not only couldn't get Memphis out of the first round, he couldn't produce the franchise's first playoff win.
The book on Fratello is not unlike that on Marty Schottenheimer: success in the regular season, flop city in the postseason. Twenty-five coaches in NBA history have won 500 regular-season games, and Fratello is in that group with 667. But his playoff résumé has only three series victories, none since 1988, and all in best-of-five first-rounders.
In his last six playoff appearances since 1988 -- the year of the pulsating Atlanta-Boston series -- Fratello's postseason record is 2-20.
A point-counterpoint approach to revisionist history
Anyone else out there wonder where things would be today if the Celtics had (a) drafted Randy Foye or Brandon Roy; (b) not traded their 2007 first-rounder to Phoenix for, in essence, Rajon Rondo; and (c) simply exercised the option for 2006-07 for Orien Greene and gone with a Delonte West/Dan Dickau/Greene point guard situation?
We have no idea, of course, but here's what the Celtics would have had: the first true lottery pick of the Danny Ainge era, two picks in the first round of the 2007 draft (their own plus Cleveland's), and West as the likely starting point guard. (Yes, they would still have Raef LaFrentz as well.)
The Celtics felt, correctly, that the point guard position needed to be upgraded. But they were down on Dickau from the start because of his alleged defensive inefficiency. (Hello? That was not a trade secret.) Now, Doc Rivers is down on Sebastian Telfair for the same thing. (Hello? That was not a trade secret, either.) Now, they're back to West as a starter, which is where they were last year.
Rondo may turn out to be a fine player, but he can't get any meaningful playing time and he still can't shoot. As of now, he qualifies as one of those Summer League flashes who gets ownership all excited (as did Marcus Banks) until, as Rivers noted recently, "he has to go against the real guys."
Could the Celtics have pulled off the Allen Iverson trade with that extra first-rounder to dangle? Would they have? I wasn't a fan of an Iverson deal last summer, but after watching the Eastern Conference so far, you can't help but wonder how an Iverson-to-Boston deal might have changed things.
We'll have to wait for Billy King's memoirs (or maybe Larry Brown's) to see how close the Sixers came to sending Iverson north to a division rival.
Iverson, by the way, went for 44 points and 10 assists two nights after he helped the crypto-Nuggets beat the crypto-Celtics. The Elias Sports Bureau reports that Iverson has had 11 40-10 games. Only three men have had more: Oscar Robertson (a stunning 46), Tiny Archibald (23), and Jerry West (14).
Peter May's e-mail address is P_May@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.