The Celtics endgame

The Celtics are hanging onto the 8 seed for dear life. Last night, they got a big win over the Cavaliers (who are ninth) and managed to tie up the Knicks for the 7 seed. In Boston, most people realize that this group is done. I’m reminded of the Pistons in ’08-09; here’s the IMDB:

Endgame (2012)
PG-13 (66 games and 1 playoff round) – Sports Action

In 2008-2009, the Detroit Pistons are coming off six straight Eastern Conference finals appearances. However, their core players — Chauncey Billups, Richard “Rip” Hamilton, and Rasheed Wallace — are aging, and they have suffered painful playoff exits in recent years. Early in the ’08-09 season, it becomes apparent that the Pistons can no longer compete with the elite Eastern Conference teams. The Pistons desperately trade team leader Billups for superstar Allen Iverson, who is in the twilight of his career. The Pistons ask Iverson to come off the bench, and the result is a mess. The Pistons struggle to the 8th seed and are swept out of the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose young star (LeBron James) has become the best player in the NBA.

Director: Doc Rivers
Writer: Danny Ainge
Stars: Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett

Cast:

  • Chauncey Billups …………………………. Paul Pierce
  • Richard “Rip” Hamilton ………………… Ray Allen
  • Rasheed Wallace ………………………….. Kevin Garnett
  • Antonio McDyess …………………………. Jermaine O’Neal
  • Allen Iverson ………………………………. ?????????????
  • Tayshaun Prince ………………………….. Mickael Pietrus
  • Jason Maxiell ………………………………. Brandon Bass
  • Rodney Stuckey …………………………… E’Twaun Moore
  • Kwame Brown ……………………………… Chris Wilcox
  • Arron Afflalo ………………………………. Avery Bradley

The comparison is eerie. Pierce and Billups are herky jerky old guys that can still drain threes and get to the line, Allen and Hamilton are two of the greatest curl play runners ever (though Hamilton can’t shoot the 3), Garnett was a better rebounding and defender than Wallace once but at this point there’s not much difference, McDyess  and O’Neal are strong defenders living on borrowed time, Prince/Maxiell and Pietrus/Bass are role players who have hit their ceiling,  Stuckey and Moore can both score but it’s unclear whether they can carry a team yet, Brown and Wilcox are token big men that always seem to play for losing teams, and Afflalo and Bradley are young, extremely persistent defenders with limited offensive potential. Both teams struggled with injuries to their old men.

What’s different? The Celtics have an established coach that the players respect (somehow the Pistons went through three coaches during their six championship game appearances and had another new coach — inexperienced Michael Curry — in ’08-09). They also have one key piece I left out: Rajon Rondo. He’s the only young guy on either team who could be the best player on a (mediocre) playoff team. For these two reasons, the Celtics effort remains stronger than the ’08-09 Pistons and they haven’t yet settled for an “Iverson trade.”

Still, the Celtics are in trouble. The trade for Iverson (along with some truly awful signings) dropped the Pistons into a coffin: the 8 seed in ’08-09, followed by 27 wins in ’09-10. That’s clearly not the right road. Instead, I would advise Ainge to stop chasing dreams this season and trade Allen and Garnett for whatever young assets he can get (draft picks or young prospects). The Perkins trade last year effectively closed the championship window for this group. Garnett and Allen’s trade value will never be hiring than during the stretch run this year. Some contender would part with draft picks for these guys to try to get over the championship hump.

The Celtics would prefer to trade Rondo. As Steve Kerr puts it (in SI):

As good as Rondo is — and he’s incredibly unique and fast and crafty — in the half-court it does become difficult to execute offensively. There’s always been this kind of little edge in Boston: Maybe we can get better if we move him.

Unfortunately, Ainge has shopped Rondo so hard that he’s probably undervalued right now. They’re better off sticking with him and Pierce (who they will never trade) and collecting young players. If not, they might act out the sequel: “Detroit Apocalypse.”

Edit: With the news today that Rondo’s on the trading block and the Celtics are giving up on the season, I’m feeling prescient. However, the Celtics have managed the Rondo situation horribly. As I mentioned above, his trade value is down now because it’s so clear that the Celtics dislike him. As if shopping him weren’t enough, their leaky pipe let all the dirty details out today.

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3 responses to “The Celtics endgame

  1. LeBron James will be played by….LeBron James.

    Seriously though, this is an eerie parallel. Other similarities include:

    1. Both teams made big deals for veteran power forwards and then immediately won championships (both beating the Lakers)
    2. Both teams lost a heartbreaking game 7 in the finals in their last shot at winning it

  2. Not to mention the GMs (Dumars and Ainge) are former star guards for these teams.

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