|Posted by paul on July 25, 2012 at 10:35 AM|
I've criticized Danny Ainge quite a bit over the past year and a half, and rightly so, in my opinion. I think The Trade will go down in history as one of the worst acts of malpractice by the GM of a contending team on the verge of the playoffs. I think the notoriety of the Ainge Express became so obnoxious that Larry Bird was forced to essentially rebuke Ainge for it publicly, reminding Ainge, and the world of basketball generally, that it's wrong to treat loyal veteran players like trade bait. There have been times in recent years when I have even wondered if Danny's career as a GM was going to go down in flames because of his hubris, taking the rebirth of Celtics Pride down with him. He booted a championship that we seemed to be closing in on. He alienated the Big Three. He left us with no center and few young talents, and still he kept trying to trade Rondo, our best player, and possibly the league's future best player. Many fans chose to believe in Danny blindly, no matter what, but I think many thoughtful fans really wondered where we were headed, and worried.
But we always knew that Ainge had a rare eye for underappreciated talent, a true gift for wheeling and dealing, and a genius for putting a team together, for understanding how disparate talents might mesh. Now he seems to have put the brakes on his hubris. Ainge's reported no-trade offer to Allen (however it was arranged) could be construed as a kind of mea culpa for the Ainge Express, and, even more amazingly, we've gone half a summer with no Rondo trade rumors, as Shawn recently pointed out. Danny almost seems a changed man, and as a result - in my opinion - his talents have come to the fore, and his resulting work this summer looks like a masterpiece.
NBA fans outside of the Celtics Kingdom may think we are crazy to be excited about our team right now; all we did was add bits and pieces. The way most fans look at basketball, it seems, if it's not to do with Lebron James, or Dwight Howard, or Deron Williams, it barely happened. Celtics fans see things a bit differently, don't they? We see a Celtics team that should have beaten the Miami Heat last year, even though the Cs were hobbled in too many ways to count. We see a team that has gotten better in just as many ways. We know that the most important players from last year will be back. We think that Rajon Rondo is about to take yet another giant step forward as a player. We pretty much guarantee that he will be hitting threes at a much improved clip, just for starters!!
Danny did try to bring Ray Allen back, but that was mainly a gesture of respect (which in itself suggests that Ainge has changed his ways). Ray should perform well in Miami next year, but he seemed to be causing a lot of problems for the Celtics as they tried to transition to the Rondo era. He seemed to resent any changes to a system that for many years had been built around his sweet shooting. Allen moved on, and this was probably for the best, for him and for the team.
Ainge's most controversial move was probably signing Jeff Green to a hefty contract. Clearly Danny believes very strongly in Green; given Ainge's strong eye for talent, we should probably trust him on this, and it does seem very likely that small forward is a more natural position for him. Jeff Green remains Danny's biggest roll of the dice. Is Ainge just being stubborn about Green? Or will Green prove him right? How high the Celtics can soar in 2012-2013 depends a lot on the answer to this question.
There has been some suggestion that, once Bradley comes back, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee will form the basis of a strong second unit the likes of which we haven't seen around here in a long time. Wilcox showed signs last year of becoming a brilliant backup center. Sullinger looks like he will be contributing right away as a backup powerforward, and possibly the Celtics' most eager banger in the paint. A breakout season is pretty much expected from Jeff Green. Add Terry and Lee and it looks like we will finally have offensive firepower coming off the bench. Our second unit could end up blowing other teams out.
But I really wonder if this Celtics team will break down neatly into a first unit and a second unit. Already last year KG's unusual substitution pattern tended to break down such neat distinctions, and Pierce may be seeing some of that pattern himself in the year ahead. More importantly, I can't imagine that Rondo will be playing fewer minutes than last year. You want your best player on the floor, not on the bench, and Rondo, for his part, is going to want to play with all his toys! Some of the team's best transition players will be in the 'second unit' - guys like Wilcox, Green and Lee; there's no way Rondo's going to want to forgo playing with those guys just to respect a substitution rotation. No way. He is going to want to get out in transition with them, and they are going to want to get out in transition with him. Rondo is also going to want to play with Sullinger. He LOVES a Big with a nose for the paint. The only time he's had that was when we had Shaq for a month and a half. All Rondo did then was average 15 assists/game. Sully is no Shaq, of course, but neither was Shaq when Rondo was finding him for easy buckets.
I think that what we will see is Rondo playing whole games, pretty much, but getting snatches of rest more often. Playing under the Big Three for five years has helped Rondo become a point guard who can run any kind of offense brilliantly. This team should be able to attack in the half court and in transition equally well, and it should be able to do this all game long. It should also be able to attack other teams on defense. We may not have a true dominating center, but I think we can expect KG to lead a gang of defensive minded Bigs, backing up an absolutely savage defensive backcourt. Here too I think Rondo will take a leadership role. Already he has proven himself to be possibly the most disruptive 'free safety' in basketball, and increasingly he has been quarterbacking the defense as well as the offense. If he adds to this a stronger focus on lockdown defense against his man, and if he conspires with folks like Bradley and Lee to put on a full court press at times, the Celtics will be able to unleash pure hell on other teams defensively. Here too I think that quick snatches of rest will help Rondo keep fresh, without his having to leave the court for long stretches of time.
Basically, I don't think this team will break down into starters vs. benchers like most teams do. I think that was part of the point that Ray Allen missed. I think it will break down to Rondo, as maestro, and an orchestra of basketball talents. I don't think the rest of the league realizes yet what a storm is about to be unleashed on them. These Celtics are deep. They will attack you in a multitude of ways, on both ends of the court. And they are led by a guy who will spellbind you...