It's seems fitting that as we're on the cusp of a holiday that celebrates freedom we talk about the NBA, which is in the midst of its free agency period, a perilous time that's tries men's souls and their knowledge of the Byzantine collective bargaining agreement. No luxury taxation without mid-level exceptions and Bird rights representation is not quite as catchy as the original rallying cry.
Here are a half-dozen hoops thoughts:
1. The decision to bring Ray Allen back to the Celtics is going to be dictated by role, not remuneration.
It's questionable whether Allen would be content taking a backseat in the backcourt, especially with the Celtics bringing in Jason Terry on a mid-level exception deal.
Allen is the consummate professional. Publically, he handled losing his starting spot to Avery Bradley in a dignified matter, but there was enough chatter from folks around the team about his displeasure with becoming a reserve that it raises questions about him accepting a diminished role moving forward. One of the single most important developments of last season was the unexpected development of Bradley. Making any move that blocks the growth of Bradley, who is coming off shoulder surgery, is counterproductive.
The NBA's all-time leading 3-point marksmen is committed to exploring other options; he's scheduled to take visits to both the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Clippers this week, neither of which can offer as much green as the Green. The Celtics have a two-year, $12 million deal on the table. But the Clippers, who can pay up to $5 million a year, could offer Allen a starting role. Miami, which can squeeze Allen in with the tax-payer mid-level exception of $3 million per season, can't do that. It can provide an opportunity to knock down wide open jumpers and win another NBA title without having to fight Terry and Bradley for crunch-time minutes.
2. The famed Three-Year Plan is really the only one the Celtics have. While the extension of the championship window has a lot to do with the Celtics remarkable renaissance last season, it's also a reminder of the reality of Boston as an NBA destination. Big-name, in-their-prime NBA free agents or free-agents-to-be aren't walking through that door, even if it is to play for the most storied team in the game, to play under coach Doc Rivers and to play with Rajon Rondo.
The Celtics simply don't have the lure of Los Angeles, Miami, New York/Brooklyn, Dallas, or even Chicago. That's a reflection on the climate of the city (meteorologically and socially) and the misplaced priorities of certain members of this generation of NBA players. It's also why the Celtics are so eager to bring the band back together -- because there is little alternative.
3. Celtics first-round pick Jared Sullinger's something-to-prove attitude should fit right in on a team that has a trademark on defying conventional wisdom.
Sullinger was introduced to media for the first time Monday, and it was obvious he was irked by his precipitous drop in the draft and the characterization of him as an unathletic power forward with a bad back.
Remember that there were questions about Rob Gronkowski's balky back when the Patriots drafted him in 2010. Some teams took Gronk, who sat out the entire 2009 college football season after surgery for a bulging disc, off their board, the primary reason he was available to the Patriots in the second round. If Sullinger can have half the impact on the Celtics that Gronkowski has had on the Patriots then the Celtics have another first-round draft steal.
4. After watching the NBA Finals, I had to revise my point guard rankings and put Rondo ahead of Russell Westbrook.
Both had huge games against the Miami Heat in defeat -- Rondo scored 44 in an overtime loss and Westbrook had 43. However, the Heat had a harder time containing Rondo, who averaged 20.9 points and 11.9 assists while shooting nearly 49 percent from the floor in the conference finals, than it did Westbrook (27 points, 6.6 assists, 43.3 field goal percentage) because when Rondo got into the lane Miami didn't know if he was going to score or distribute.
That dual-threat created a quandary for the Heat that created offense for other Celtics.
Whereas Rondo got his teammates involved and got them easy baskets and open looks, Westbrook, a fearless scorer, failed to find a way to get teammate James Harden more involved in the Finals. Harden scored in single digits in three of the five games of the series and it would have been four if he hadn't tallied 11 points in garbage time of Game 5. The majority of that responsibility belongs to Harden, but part of a point guard's job is creating for others and piloting the team.
5. Kendrick Perkins's role as guardian of the rim has been overstated since his departure.
Another leftover Finals thought, Miami's victory once and for all dispelled the misguided notion that if Perkins had still been on the Celtics when they faced the Heat in the 2011 playoffs he would have prevented LeBron James and Dwyane Wade from getting to the rim.
Miami averaged 45.2 points per game in the paint in the Finals and 44.3 percent of their points came in the paint. Against the Celtics in the 2011 Eastern Conference semifinals, Miami scored 39.4 percent of its points in the paint and averaged 37.6 points per game in the paint. Perk blocked three blocks in the NBA Finals, or half as many as Wade.
When the games were on the line Perkins was most often on the pine, not clogging the lane. He didn't play at all in the fourth in three of the five Finals games and was on the court for 12 seconds in another (Game 2). Perk logged a total of 6 minutes and 11 seconds in the fourth quarter and scored two fourth-quarter points while pulling down one fourth-quarter rebound.
6. The NBA is a great league with a great product, but its offseason and free agency period has to be among the most convoluted and stultifying for fans to follow.
Deciphering federal tax code is easier reading than comprehending the esoteric CBA, a confusing maze of loopholes, exceptions and codicils. You practically need to be an expert in jurisprudence to know what your team can and can't do.
Few pro sports CBAs are simple documents, and they're all full of provisions and qualifiers. But the NBA's is the worst. Most fans of the NFL, NHL and major league baseball can quickly acquire at least a basic understanding of what their teams will and won't be able to do to augment their rosters via trades or free agency. What other sport needs a "trade machine" to tell you whether a deal can be made or not?
With last year's lockout, the league and the players missed a great opportunity to simplify and streamline the CBA to make player procurement easier for fans to follow. Perhaps, the NBA is just following the American way because one concept this great country embraces nearly as much as freedom is bureaucracy.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.