|Posted by paul on November 10, 2012 at 9:35 AM|
Danny Ainge made a momentous decision three years ago, when he pulled the trigger on The Trade. To this day, it's hard to understand why he did it. Most of the given reasons were obvious smoke. Because Shaq was going to save the day and therefore we didn't really need Perkins? Give me a break. Somehow most of the media, and bloggers, and smartypants fans bought that line of baloney. That alone is a sad commentary on our times, on how eager many of us - especially the smartypants - are to be fooled. Don't give us real medicine. We'd rather have snakeoil.
In my opinion, the real reason Danny made the Perkins-for-Green trade was that the ownership had instructed him to get rid of Perkins, and the reason for this, according to my speculation, was that they wanted to send a message to the players that they were going to go to the wall in the Lockout negotiations; reportedly the Celtics owners were leading hardliners in those negotiations. The Celtics pretty much blew a great shot at a championship because they didn't want to negotiate with Perkins. When that whole situation is put into context with the larger situation, the Lockout, it's not hard to figure out what it was really all about. The Cs' ownership's willingness to sacrifice a championship shot had to ring a loud bell for the players.
Regardless of reasons, the consequences of The Trade have continued to play out ever since. Perkins is not an outstanding rebounder, or scorer. Well, he's lousy. He's not much good at anything, really. But he's tough. And he is a dedicated defender of the paint on defense. Even on offense he contributes, as someone who takes up space, and sets picks. He does the dirty work. Paired with Garnett, he gave us a stout back line to our defense, and some toughness on the offensive side. Ever since The Trade, we have struggled on the interior. Of course, no one wants to talk about it, something Shawn rightfully appeared to allude to earlier today. No one wants to talk about the Perkins Trade, two years later, even though we continue to suffer from the consequences, and even though KG has indirectly alluded to it himself by comparing Sullinger to Perkins. Perkins made KG better. Perkins made the whole team better.
The Celtics are a stubborn team, and this is part of what makes them great. Even as their substance has been hollowed out over the years, they have stubbornly continued to see themselves as champions, and this has allowed them to be more like champions than they really should have been able to be. The thing is, what makes you strong can also hurt you. The refusal to recognize that the years are going by, and times are changing, can condemn a person, an institution, a country, and a basketball team. We continue to play on offense as if Ray Allen were still here, and we continue to play on defense as though Perkins were still here, and we continue to play as though the Big Three were still young and dominant. We are stubborn. We don't want to embrace change. We have gotten used to certain patterns, certain ways of doing things.
When we look at what is going on with this team now, it should shock us a bit. We are totally reliant on Kevin Garnett on both ends of the court, even though KG can only play 30 mpg, and even though he is not the dominant player he once was. This is crazy, not only because he cannot reasonably be expected to carry the load, but also because we have a lot of other talent. What will it take for us to change the way we do things? Will KG have to go down under the strain? Will we have to have a long losing streak that threatens to take us out of playoff contention? There was talk this summer about changing the way we do things, but that talk doesn't seem to have manifested itself on the court much. Instead that word "execution" has been popping up over and over again, as it so often has over the past six years. It's clearly Doc's favorite word. Doc loves the intricacies of the game of basketball. Sometimes I think he misses the forest for, not just the trees, but the leaves of the trees!
It's too easy to blame Jeff Green, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee for underperforming, when they've been thrust into a system that may not suit their talents. As I understand it, these guys need an up-tempo, energy-based game. The intricate half-court oriented game the Celtics have favored in recent years is not the kind of game they are best suited for. I'm not saying we should abandon our sets and patterns. I'm saying that we have to change the emphasis, and there was in fact some talk about this over the summer. I recall Rondo saying that the team was going to play a more uptempo game. I think they actually have played more of an uptempo game, but not much more. Basically they seem to be trying to pour new wine into old bottles, regardless of how well it fits.
But in sports, as in all things, one thing depends on another. Everything is interconnected. As soon as one starts talking about one aspect of the game, one finds oneself talking about another, and then another, in an endless chain that curves in on itself over and over again. Thus it's hard to talk about the Celtics pushing the pace without talking about the Celtics defense. It's difficult to fast break, for example, when you are not able to stop the other team from scoring. A fast break team has to play strong defense, and it has to rebound well. Last year we played strong defense, but we didn't rebound well. This year we aren't even playing strong defense. How did we go from being an elite defense to being a bad defense? Well that brings us back to Perk, doesn't it? And that brings us around to Rondo.
It used to be that only the Haters would harp endlessly on Rondo's defensive shortcomings. Now it's impossible not to notice that Rondo's man routinely blows by him, either off the dribble, or off a screen, penetrating our defense, forcing frenzied rotations, which in turn cause us to lose the rebound even if we are able to prevent the penetrator from either scoring, or dishing to a scorer. Even Doc has been forced to speak to this, claiming that Rondo couldn't go all-out on the defensive end because he has to work too hard on the offensive end.
Honestly, the way the relationship between Doc and Rondo has grown is very touching. It really is. Doc seems to love Rondo as a son at this point. Who can forget the emotion he showed towards Rondo after the loss to the Heat last year. I think a lot of us feel some of this for Rondo. As surly as he can be with the media, and as cocky as he can be, and as lazy as he can seem on the court sometimes, he is very loveable in many ways. Look at the game last night. After the way Rondo seemed to will the team back into the game in the second half, on his way to a fairly astonishing 20 assists, it seems unkind to remind anyone that it was Rondo's lack of defense on Jrue Holiday in the first half that helped to bury the Cs in a hole they could not escape. When the Willful Wizard of of the Boston Garden finally arrived at the game, in the second half last night, he made us forget about Mr. Cool's less than inspiring first half performance in the first half, but not quite. Unfortunately, the old Rondo I'll-turn-it-on-when-I-want-to magic doesn't quite work anymore. I'm not sure it ever worked as well as Rondo may have thought. But now folks rightly expect too much from Rondo to continue to overlook his lapses.
In a way, it's unfair to Rondo to complain about his lapses. He really is playing more consistently than he has in years past. Already we can see this. Rewind back to the start of last year. Back then, Rondo played two straight great games, and then dialed in the Jarrett Jack stinker in game three. It's hard to imagine that 'Jarrett Jack' Rondo ever showing up this year. After five games, we haven't seen a hint of that Rondo. He's already leading the league in assists, playing more minutes than anyone, and scoring more points than he has before, and he's shooting with more confidence. And one gets the feeling that Rondo has barely gotten started. He's not clicking on all cylinders, by any means. But without a doubt, he has made a great start towards being this Celtics team's accepted leader.
But the key to the next step, in my opinion (and Scal's too, I hasten to add), is for Rondo to raise his defensive commitment. In the past, it was understandable that Rondo would be more focused on the offensive end, and that his defensive play would slide a little, but it's time to reverse that trend. It's like a song, where you work hard on the chorus, and it gets better and better, but then you hit a block, and can't seem to get the song to the next level. Then you realize that you haven't considered the intro in a while, that you'd forgotten all about it, and that you need to work on it some. So you work on the intro, and then the whole song begins to gel again and gets better and better. Rondo's man to man defense is like that intro now. It needs his attention and his focus and his energy, and the whole team needs that.
In a way, the point guard's defensive play really is the intro to the entire defense; as the opposing offense tries to bring the ball up, the quality of the opposition they encounter can have a big effect on how well the rest of the defense is able to resist or even disrupt what the offense wants to do. It's all about initiative. Generally, offense is inherently aggressive, and defense is inherently passive, but strong defenses try to turn that upside-down. With a team like the Celtics, whose back line is not powerful, the front line of the defense becomes especially important. The defensive play of the point guard, particularly his man-to-man / on the ball defensive play is especially important.
Rondo has all the talent he needs for defensive play. He showed some of it in the second half last night, where he seemed to try harder to turn the tables on Holiday. I remember thinking about Rondo's amazing defensive talent and knowledge early in the first game of the season, against the Heat, where Lebron was on a breakaway, and Rondo expertly picked him up around the three point circle and rode him out of the play. Who does this to Lebron James?! This is the kind of thing that makes coaches go nuts over Rondo, I think. But it's time for Doc to stop making excuses for the seemingly lazy way Rondo often plays on the defensive end in man-to-man. For goodness sake, most of the time he doesn't even go into any sort of defensive crouch!! Sometimes the fundementals aren't just for drones, Rondo! A solid defensive crouch can help with your lateral quickness against a shifty guard, according to fundementals 101, right? Oftentimes Rondo doesn't even get his hands in the air to make passing more difficult. That's fine when he's trying to tempt the guy he's facing into a careless pass, but that's not always the reason.
I don't think the problem is that Rondo doesn't want to play stellar defense. I think he'd be a candidate for DPOY if he would focus more on his defensive play, especially on the ball and man-to-man, and I suspect he'd love that, and I know he wants to help the team. I think it's a case of Rondo being stubborn. Stubborness can be your best friend, but it can be your biggest enemy too. But the biggest negative consequence for the team of Rondo's apparent stubbornness about his defensive play isn't even on the defensive problems of the team overall, in my opinion. Nor is the biggest negative consequence the effect it has on the team's offense, which struggles when it can't get the ball back in transition. I think the most serious effect it has is on Rondo's leadership. It is so important that this team follow Rondo's leadership, both in terms of following his cues, but also in terms of inspiration. A true leader must INSPIRE his team. Does anyone seriously think that watching Rondo slough off on defense inspires anyone?!!
Come on, Rondo! Your teammates won't respond fully to your leadership when they see you taking it easy on the defensive end. There's just no way. It's just human nature that they won't, and really, who can blame them?
This team badly needs Rondo to step up his defense big time, and consistently. That is the one step that could unlock so much progress for this team. You hold the key, Rondo. You've been stubborn long enough. You can't ask others to change when you won't change. Show them!! Change yourself.