It's been a while since I've responded to any e-mails -- I blame the holidays -- but I figured now is as good a time as any to break out the mailbag. As a New Yearís Resolution that's 10 days late, I pledge to try and get more of these up more often. Without further ado ...
Tony Allen is a bad basketball player. Just like Antoine Walker is a bad basketball player. They both do some things well, and they're both exciting to watch at times. But neither is a good BASKETBALL player. It's a hard point to argue, because most people have completely forgotten what a good basketball player is. Bird, Magic, Isaiah, etc. These guys have been replaced by Kobe, LeBron, et al. And while Kobe and LeBron are certainly dominant in today's league, I'm not sure either would know what to do if transported back in time to a team of real basketball players.
In my opinion, the current Celtics have two legitimate basketball players -- Pierce and Gomes. Every other player has one or a couple things he's good at. So when you look at the surface of things, all the different ingredients, in varying measurements, seem to be going into the pot. Points and rebounds from Jefferson. More points and some defense from Tony Allen. Hustle from Delonte West. Shooting from Wally and Gerald. On paper, it all looks good. But the results don't lie. The majority of guys on this team don't know how to play GOOD basketball -- just how to shoot, pass, dribble, etc.
That could be blamed on Doc. Maybe he doesn't do a good job of coaching these guys, making them better basketball players. Or it could be that the team is so young. I personally wouldn't choose either of these as a resting place for blame. I would blame the fans of the NBA. Over the years, we're the ones that became more impressed by a nice dunk than a nice pass. We're the ones that would rather see one player score 80 points than one team hold another to only 40 points. We, the fans of the NBA, have caused this Celtics team to be what it is: A bunch of lost high school kids trying to play streetball on an NBA court. -- Chad
Solid e-mail. Let me address a few points.
First of all, I don't think LeBron James or Kobe Bryant would have much trouble thriving in the style of play in the Ď80s. You don't think that if LeBron had more teammates who were better versed in the overall team dynamics of basketball that he wouldn't be an even better player than he is today? I think he'd be one of the top three in the league in any decade.
Secondly, I understand your point about being a "basketball player" and how "streetball" has affected this, and it's valid to an extent. Yes, the SportsCenter highlights of dunks and three-pointers have taught a generation of players that those things are more important than setting screens and the proper position for a block out, but I don't think the individual failings of the players are at fault for the C's problems right now.
It really comes down to team basketball, and how well each player recognizes and utilizes the strengths and weaknesses of his teammates. That is something that a relatively young roster, which has been hit with an immense number of injuries to core guys, will have trouble adjusting to. It's not an excuse as much as it's a fact. Some of these guys are still learning basic NBA principles. It will take time, and good teaching. It doesn't necessarily mean that they're bad basketball players.
Paul Pierce has three years of college and eight-plus years of NBA experience. Ryan Gomes has four years of being the man in college and one-plus years in the NBA. The simple factor of experience can help explain why they're "good" basketball players. As for Tony Allen, while I admit he has his flaws, I don't think the necessarily makes him a bad basketball player. He has a fundamental understanding of defensive principles that allow him to anticipate better than most on the defensive end. I'd say that's a trait of a good basketball player. The boneheaded turnovers and over-dribbling? Not so much, but those may be a product of a player still learning his role within a team. Remember, Tony was forced to play point guard last year. That wasn't his fault. It may take time for some of those tendencies to dissipate, combined with the proper positive/negative reinforcement from his coach.
One thing that bugs me about Tony Allen is his seeming unwillingness to pass the ball. On his drives he just seems to put his head down and drive without seeing open players he could easily dish to for open shots. -- Luke Starrett
This has been one of the major malfunctions of Tony Allen during much of his two-plus seasons in the NBA, although I must say that in the past five games, I have been more impressed with Tony's passing ability than anything else. Sure, he still dribbles too much on occasion and may still not see the open man (especially on fast breaks), but his passing, especially into the post, has really improved lately. I can't count the number of times that his drives and dishes found Al, Kendrick Perkins, or Gomes wide open for easy looks under the basket. He's shown similar attention-drawing attacking and dishing, which Pierce was really thriving in before his injury. Hopefully, Tony's offensive court awareness only keeps improving as he carries the torch in Pierce's absence.
Why doesn't Doc go with Gerald Green for the rest of the season. Wally Z doesn't fit in this system. The season is over... we should be working towards the lottery and getting Green some much deserved playing time to build his confidence. WHAT IS GOING ON!!!! -- Gabe
Well, despite Wally Szczerbiak's recent struggles, he's still a key part of this team as it's currently constructed. When healthy, he's the second- or third-leading scorer on this team, is one of the few players who can bring that much-talked-about "veteran presence," and is usually a net positive when on the floor. The problem is, with someone like that on the roster, it makes it harder for young, inconsistent players to get minutes over him. And despite the fact that Wally has been awful the last couple of weeks, he at least has a body of work in the NBA that precludes the coach from benching him for an unproven commodity.
If this were two weeks from the end of the season, it'd be a different story. You could reasonably sit Wally and give more minutes to Gerald on the "development" angle since the C's would no longer be playing for anything meaningful (assuming they're out of the playoff picture by then). But at this point in the season, you can't just sit a player like Wally on the end of then bench and throw in Gerald for 35 minutes a game for the rest of the season. It doesn't work like that. For starters, Wally is the second-highest paid player on this team, still has a few years left on his contract, and doing so would completely kill both his value to the team and any value he could bring in a potential trade.
So the solution, of course, is to try and move Wally for whatever you can without having the returning pieces offer the same roster problem. This is a hard thing to do with Wally's salary, so the C's have their hands tied. Unless they move him, he will continue to be a key part of the rotation, and will limit somewhat the available minutes for Gerald (although not completely, since these two have shared the court on occasion).
Boston has been struggling and the major negative influence is the coach. I think the Celtics run too many set plays, which makes us too predictable and the defense should improve. The Celtics should copy the successful teams of the league, like Dallas, Detroit, and Phoenix. These teams, unlike us, can move without the ball, are vicious on the boards, and relentless on defense. -- Neo
I don't know if I'd classify Phoenix as "relentless on defense," but your point is well taken. Although I would argue that it's not the existence of the "set plays" that makes the C's predictable, but what those plays consist of. Too many times it looks like there's no play called at all, as all of the players stand at their positions on the offensive end of the court waiting for the guy with the ball to do something.
Moving without the ball, as you pointed out, is probably the Celtics' biggest problem in half-court sets, and has been for a while. The frustrating part is that the team has shown flashes of knowing how to do so: whether it be Wally setting solid screens in the post to free Al, Gerald doing his Rip Hamilton impersonation by running off multiple picks from one end of the court to the other, or guys like Al and Perk rolling to the basket after picks at the perfect times. The problem is, those things only happen about a quarter of the time. All too often, it's the guy with the ball in his hands dribbling around the court and not involving his teammates until it's too late. And in my eyes, that's a coaching problem, first and foremost.
The Good is only going to get better. Half the Bad (read point guard) is a disaster. This is the teamís weakest position and I would argue the most important position and no relief is in the foreseeable future. The point guard position is very weak in the coming draft. The one possible solution would be a trade or wave some big bucks at possible free agents Mike Bibby and or Chauncey Billups. If Sacramento or Detroit felt they weren't going to be able to keep their respective players maybe they would trade them to Boston at the end of the season. I would be willing to trade Gerald and the No. 1 draft pick in 2007 for either player. Any thoughts on the Celticsí point problems? -- Tom of Oregon
Well, I'm less optimistic about the point guards now than I was following their solid play during the five-game win streak (which now seems like it was about three years ago). Sebastian Telfair has been pretty much a non-factor in the last five-plus games. Rajon Rondo can't even get off the bench. Delonte has played solid, and for a "Delonte is not a starting-caliber point guard" person, I have been pleased with his production from the point recently. But you're right, the day-in day-out play of the points has been the biggest problem facing the C's this season. Can Telfair or Rondo eventually become that guy? That's the million dollar question. Deron Williams was horrible last year for the Jazz and now all of a sudden he's All-World. So such turnarounds can happen. But I'm getting more skeptical by the day that the team's long-term answer at the point is on this roster.
I think it's highly unlikely that either Bibby or Billups becomes a Celtic in the near future. First of all, the C's aren't "one piece away" at this point, which would have justified them trading for either at this point. Danny won't give up Gerald and a No.1 pick (combined with the contract of Theo Ratliff) at this point in the season.
As for signing them as free agents, it isn't likely because the C's won't get much cap relief until next year, when Ratliff's deal comes off the books. But most of that money will be used to re-sign the kids. So it's hard to see how the C's could add an upper-echelon veteran point guard in free agency.
So what's the solution? I can't say I know. Heck, I wanted the C's to pursue Speedy Claxton in the offseason, and look how he has turned out in Atlanta. Baron Davis would sure look good in Green right now, but the Celts lost their chance to get him last year. Maybe some veteran point presence will become available for a price the C's can afford sometime in the next year. Until then, they'll have to continue to hope for the best from their young point triumvirate.
I thought it was Joanie Mitchell who sang "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?" -- Matt
One tiny correction: it was Joni Mitchell, not Joan Jett who sang you don't know what you've got till it's gone (Big Yellow Taxi). -- Stephen Rasche
I got a few more e-mails like this in response to my column last week that referenced the lyrics "You don't know what you've got till it's gone." Joni Mitchell did, indeed, sing these lyrics in her 1970 song "Big Yellow Taxi" from her "Ladies of the Canyon" album. However, I was quoting a completely different song (which happened to contain that same line) -- Joan Jett's "You Donít Know What You've Got" from her 1981 "Bad Reputation" album. Anyway, I'll give Joni credit for having that lyric before Joan, but I'll give Joan credit for the more rockin' song. So there.
Thanks to everyone who has written in, and sorry to those whose e-mails didn't make it. Keep 'em coming, though.