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Gritty wins don't make rebuilding any easier for the Celtics

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff  February 26, 2013 02:24 PM

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Each time he squares up to take another late, big shot, Paul Pierce puts a little more polish on his star. Pierce made all three shots he took in overtime in Monday night's win over Utah, a reminder of how good he continues to be on the biggest stages despite his advanced age. No matter how much Pierce's light flickers through tough January first quarters or 4-for-12 shooting nights vs. the Bobcats, he's almost always there in the clutch.

There are only a handful of players in sports who have the gene Pierce has, to be unafraid of the moment. Yesterday, another of those players was given a three-year, $27 million contract extension by the New England Patriots. Tom Brady's new deal keeps the Patriots' Super Bowl window open until 2017. But what exactly do Pierce's continued heroics do for the Celtics?

It's clear the Celtics can't easily replace what Pierce and Kevin Garnett give them, just as the Patriots can't replace Brady. And yet there was Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck Tuesday, during an interview with WEEI's "Mut and Lou" show, making it clear that the Celtics tried their hardest to trade both Pierce and Garnett before last week's NBA trade deadline.

"For the last two or three days before the deadline, their names came up more than anybody else," Grousbeck said. "They were the topic of conversation with the calls coming into us, because people thought maybe we weren't going to keep it together this spring."

On why the Celtics didn't pull the trigger, Grousbeck said, "I know what the offers were. You wouldn't have taken them."

That sentiment from upper management should make it clear that the Celtics aren't happy with where they currently stand, but the team's recent inspired play has muddled that up somewhat for fans, who call talk radio stations in droves to handicap their team's chance at a title as if Rajon Rondo were walking through that door tomorrow.

From Pierce's heroics to Avery Bradley's intensity to Jeff Green's emergence, people like watching this team. Grousbeck said he was grinding his teeth during overtime Monday night as the Celtics and Jazz battled back and forth. Personally, I'll never get tired of watching Pierce, all jabs and crooked angles, going to work on an overmatched defender with the game on the line.

It's more fun rooting for a competitive team, which is why 67 percent of more than 1,700 Boston.com readers voted that they were happy the team didn't make a big deal at the deadline.

But there's a big difference between the Patriots extending their window by reupping Brady and the Celtics squeezing a couple of February wins out of Pierce And The Gang. Doc Rivers called Monday's win the best of the season, but should we really be so excited about a win that lifts the Celtics to a 30-27 record? Is seventh place in the Eastern Conference and a potential first-round date with Indiana worth sacrificing the future of the franchise?

Not that the Celtics didn't try. According to the owner, there was a four-team deal on the table that would have significantly shaken things up but it fell through when two of the other teams back out. If you take Grousbeck and Danny Ainge at face value, the Celtics have been trying to build for the future, which should make it all the more disappointing that it hasn't happened.

The natural question is, "Why can't we have both?" Why can't the Celtics make a run in this year's playoffs, see what happens, and build toward the future? It's a valid if hopeful line of thinking. Grousbeck sees value in letting things play out, even if he had hoped to make a deal last week.

"We think we've got a chance this year to do something important, to show these younger players what it means to be a Celtics team fighting hard in the playoffs," said Grousbeck. "With KG and Paul, and Bradley behind them and Jeff Green behind them, I'm excited about this team. I'm not saying we'll win the thing."

That last part is the fundamental difference between where the Celtics and Patriots stand now. Keeping Brady around until he is 40 just so he retired a Patriot wouldn't be such an attractive proposition if the Patriots didn't have a true chance to "win the thing." Not even the most ardent fan can give the Celtics more than a minor chance of hanging banner No. 18 this year without Rondo and Jared Sullinger. The Celtics may be fun to watch, but they're a long shot to beat the Heat, Pacers, Bulls, Knicks, and whoever comes out of the West.

The middle is the worst place for an NBA franchise to be, no closer to a title than a top draft pick. Being a fun team to root for doesn't get the Celtics any closer to the top. Grousbeck said Tuesday that it might be easier to pull off a major move in July. Pierce and Garnett won't be easily replaced, but the Celtics will be better off the sooner that happens.

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