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Something has to change

By Gary Washburn
January 21, 2010

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - There seems to be panic setting in around the Celtics everywhere except where panic could result in changes: in the front office.

While fans, media, and even players speculate about the recent doldrums of the Celtics, who were supposed to make a run at 72 wins but would be lucky to get to 62, there is calm up top where it counts. And that’s a good thing.

The Celtics dropped their third straight game, losing to the Pistons last night, 92-86, and are 27-13, second in the Eastern Conference. They still are without Kevin Garnett, who will return tomorrow against the Trail Blazers, and are still a month away from having Marquis Daniels, who has missed six weeks because of a torn thumb ligament.

Celtics president Danny Ainge is operating on the premise that the team will make its most noise in May and June, when it counts, and that there are no elite Eastern Conference teams. Cleveland, Orlando, Boston, and Atlanta all have checks and balances against each other, and the Celtics are content to take the methodical road to success over, say, making a hasty trade.

As for the Nate Robinson speculation, the Globe reported a month ago that the Celtics were interested in him, but that was when Robinson was in the midst of a 14-game exile imposed by Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni. The Knicks looked ready to move Robinson but didn’t, and in his first game back, he dropped 41 points on Atlanta.

Since then, the Knicks have maneuvered themselves into playoff contention, and Robinson has been a part of that, increasing his trade value.

Because Robinson is a base-year-compensation player, the Knicks can only take back half his salary in trade - he is making $4 million - and they aren’t just going to give him to the Celtics as a favor. They would want a draft pick as well as an expiring contract in return.

So instead of pondering what it will take for Knicks president Donnie Walsh to part with Robinson, Ainge is focused on the 14 players in his locker room, and their propensity for letdowns, such as the third quarter Monday against the Mavericks.

“I really feel like we have good chemistry,’’ said Ainge. “I just feel like we have been experiencing some of the problems I worried about at the beginning of the season.

“We haven’t been healthy this year and I feel like we’re going to be. It just happens that we put it on cruise control a little bit too often. But I think that our team is very talented and we have a good mix of players.

“The [defensive] lapses do concern me because I know we’re capable of more. Sometimes I feel like our team thinks they can win without playing 100 percent at the defensive end for the entire game. I just think we need to bring more intensity, and we usually do that.’’

Ainge said he doesn’t get a lot of calls from other clubs because they realize how pleased he is with his roster. There are some weaknesses that a player such as Robinson could strengthen, but Ainge wants to see the effect of Garnett’s return before he makes any major decisions.

“We’re not going to make changes just to make changes,’’ he said.

The Celtics are talented enough to win an NBA title, but consistency has been their issue. Garnett’s absence left a large void defensively and psychologically for a team that doesn’t have many fiery leaders.

Not only does Garnett remain one of the game’s best interior defenders, he tells teammates where to be and confronts them when they falter. While Garnett can be abrasive at times, he serves as the team’s conscience and dictator, and the Celtics miss that just as much as his long reach and quick feet.

Ray Allen said something very interesting when asked about the team’s recent troubles; he called for the players to become more accountable to each other.

“We just have to do a better job now of holding each other accountable,’’ he said. “I think right now, what’s good, what’s bad, as a team we can’t be sensitive. You have to take the bad with the good.’’

After the loss to the Pistons, a game in which the Celtics scored 30 points, committed 10 turnovers, and shot 27 percent in the second half, Allen could be seen having a stern conversation with Rajon Rondo, who allowed Rodney Stuckey to score 14 points after intermission.

Meanwhile, forward Shelden Williams tweeted, “Its like everyone is looking for the staples easy button instead of just doing their job and just play.’’ It seems the Celtics are beginning to notice their complacency.

On too many occasions, teams blame injuries for their perils, and the Celtics have a legitimate gripe that ailments have marred their season. But they have to escape their comfort zone and become a better team - and perhaps the threat of changes will do that. Ainge won’t go as far as guaranteeing any trades, but his phone is always on.

“I feel like we’re capable of winning an NBA championship with the team we have,’’ he said. “I’m very comfortable with my team as it is now.

“We used to be able to play well and blow teams out and we haven’t been able to do that this year. But nobody in the East has been dominant, so it’s up to us to get it together before April, and I have confidence we will do that.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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