Ask Gary Celtics Mailbag: Reasons for optimism

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Kevin Garnett’s pass to Jeff Green for the winning bucket at the end of Wednesday night’s thrilling victory over the Pacers was as emblematic of the team’s identity as any play the Celtics have had this season. This group is as fun to watch as it is resilient. I had a friend tell me this morning last night’s was his favorite Celtics win in recent memory.


These Celtics are a joy. They’re also something of a mystery, enmeshed in a four-team log jam in the middle of the Eastern Conference with 22 games left to play. Many fans are understandably rooting for this group through green-tinted glasses, and I don’t blame them. It’s a lot of fun watching this scrappy veteran group play.

With the interest high, it’s a good time to break out our weekly edition of the mailbag.

The Celtics are obviously in a difficult position, stuck between making a playoff run and preparing for the future. It seems a lot of people around town think that the Celtics cannot get quality FA’s to sign here. I think, if you are a scorer and have a chance to come play with a pass-first PG like Rondo, it must be appealing. Do you think FA’s are still going to hit the ignore button when Danny Ainge calls?
Ian, Charlestown

Good question, Ian. I’ll give you a two-part answer. The Celtics already have $69,954,194 committed to players for next season. In 2014-15 that number is $52,050,000, and that’s with Paul Pierce off the books. They’re not going to be able to afford a big-name free agent this offseason unless they make some serious roster adjustments first.


To answer your real question, I do think there’s appeal in playing here, playing with Rondo and for Doc. Does that mean a Dwight Howard is going to want to play here? Depends on his situation. But people often confuse being able to attract the top 2 or 3 free agents and attracting free agents in general. The Celtics lured Jason Terry here and signed Jeff Green and Brandon Bass last offseason.

Rivers is a coach every player wants to play for, and there’s a winning culture here. It’s not as dire as some in the media would make you believe. Rondo is very popular around the league, and guys see the chance to play with him as a chance to pad their stats and win at the same time.

How the heck did Avery Bradley last until the 19th pick in the 2010 draft? Shouldn’t his defensive skills alone have made him a top-10 pick?
RondoHondo, Brockton

Ainge deserves all the credit in the world for his Bradley pick (if you think I’m a team apologist, just wait until the next question). Bradley is the real deal, and he’s only getting better. Imagine him next season, farther removed from shoulder surgery and with another year under his belt, at just 23-years-old. He could be scary good.

Bradley fell for a variety of reasons. He was just 19-years-old at the time of the draft and was coming off his freshman season at Texas, where he averaged 11.6 points on 41 percent shooting. Scouting reports questioned his ability to share the ball, and at 6-feet-3 inches he was an undersized shooting guard. Even after the Celtics drafted Bradley he had some fairly unimpressive stretches during his time in Maine. Give the Celtics credit for developing him, and give Bradley credit for working his tail off and learning the NBA game. He’s gifted but also studies a lot of film to play the kind of defense he does.


Gary, I understand drafting players in any sport is always a crap shoot, but I heard Chandler Parsons had one of the best pre-draft workouts the Celtics ever saw. Then the Celtics go ahead and draft a very skinny JaJuan Johnson, who never got off the bench. Who in the organization made that decision and on what basis was Johnson considered a better prospect? Also, who saw what in J.R. Giddens (how many players from New Mexico-other than Danny Granger ever made it in the NBA?) over DeAndre Jordan? Why draft Fab Melo (who doesn’t look like he can play for at least 2 more years in the NBA) over better forwards or Festus Ezeli? I know these are tough questions. Thanks, Dan
Kodiak, Alaska

Drafting is, as you pointed out, a lot about luck. The Celtics are one of about half the NBA who uses advanced metrics very seriously in their analysis of players. Ainge is also a great judge of talent by sight, as evidenced by his picks of Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Glen Davis, Jared Sullinger, etc. But you’re right, Dan, that he’s missed on a bunch of players as well.

The Melo and Johnson picks strike me more as drafting a raw product (read size) and hoping he turns into something. There were more NBA-ready big men in last year’s draft, but Ainge saw potential that Melo would be a better player than any of them three or four years down the road. He still may be right, though I don’t think the team is happy with his development so far. As for Parsons, not sure anyone saw he’d develop into the player he’s become. He was a role player at Florida who deserved his draft placement at the time. Not giving Ainge a free pass, though. The Giddens pick stands out as a pick he missed on, though it was at No. 30.

How far do you see the C’s going? I really believe that they can bring Banner 18 home. They are playing with such passion, grit and balls. What do you think? Why isn’t Doc playing the new bigs? Brandon Bass is not the answer.
Elizabeth, Township, N.J.

Your enthusiasm is shared by many, Elizabeth. Celtics fans are very excited about this team, and they have every reason to be. This group is eminently root-able, arguably more than any Celtics team in recent memory. No one thought last year’s group would make they run they did, but they surprised a lot of people. In a lot of ways this feels the same.
As for your second comment, I think it reflects on just how hopeful you and many others are. D.J. White isn’t ready to play a big role for the Celtics, and Fab Melo is far from ready. Brandon Bass can be very inconsistent, but with Sullinger injured he’s the only option the Celtics have at the position. They’re going to ride it out with this group.
The last time Boston hosted the All Star game was in 1964. Why haven’t we hosted one here since?
Harold, Boston

Did a little research into how the host city is selected for the All-Star Game. The NBA sends out bid requests several years in advance and selects from the teams that apply. It’s up to the teams to gather up enough vendors, hotel rooms, etc. and submit the package to the league. It sounds like a lot of work.
My guess is the Celtics organization hasn’t felt that the time and investment is worth it. The fan base is already strong. And Boston really isn’t a convention city, where large groups of people shuttle in and out for various events. There are a lot of people here all the time, complicating the logistics of a large event (the Olympics thing, by the way, would be a total nightmare). With the amount of basketball history here, though, here’s hoping there can be an event soon, at least while most of Boston’s basketball legends are still around.
I’m an avid shamrock fan since Bird era. After 50-plus games I’m not convinced the team is playing at its peak. Do you think they will peak at the right time going to the playoffs and in the playoffs as well? I still believe they can still reach the Finals ( no injuries please ). They also have a good youth supporting the veterans.
Jamie, Phillipines

This letter was sent before the stirring win over the Pacers, but the sentiment is still good. The Celtics need to play their very best to have any shot in the playoffs. One win over Indiana is great, but the C’s would likely need to win a game on the road vs. the Pacers in addition to holding court at home to win a playoff series.
Indiana, New York, Atlanta, Brooklyn, and Chicago would all give the Celtics difficult series, though all are winnable. Miami, in my opinion, would be too tough a challenge. And then you’ve got to deal with the west. Not saying it won’t be a fun journey, but the end result might not be what Celtics fans hope for.
Let’s say this Rondo-less Celtics team gels well for the rest of the season and play a bit over .500 and make a spirited but ultimately loosing effort against Indiana in the first round. With this possible scenario, I am wondering what your predictions are for KG and Pierce and the “state of the team” for next year. Next season seems to be another year of championship contention for the two aging vets as Rondo returns, young role players continue to mature, and new faces in Williams and Crawford offer some consistent production off the bench. Agree and thought you said it well that “gritty wins” do not make for a good organizational long term plan. But am I wrong that there would almost be a “blowing up” of this team next year to move toward rebuilding?
By the way, followed C.J. McCollum here for the past 4 years. Would go nuts if he became a Celtic! He’s undersized but has “it”: intelligent, confident, good work ethic, seems like he would be a good fit for Doc.
Andrew, Bethlehem, Pa.

Next year’s run may very well look something like this one, Andrew. But I’m still waiting for that shoe to drop, whether by injury or trade. I’m convinced Rondo, Pierce, and Garnett are on the market again this summer, if only because they have to be. Ainge wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t explore his options. What if the Celtics fall in the first round this year, KG or Pierce gets hurt next year, and the team loses in the first round again? You’re left staring at a future without Pierce and Garnett and also without any answers in the pipeline. It’s not fun to think about, but it’s a dynamic that’s constantly playing out in the front office.
Thanks everyone for the questions. Ask one for next week and follow me on Twitter.

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