This feeling is pretty familiar. In fact, it’s still fresh in my mind. This time three months ago, two of the Boston Celtics most talented players walked out the door old Western style, headed down south for Oklahoma City, but didn’t really accomplish much in hindsight.
The same could be said for the Celtics, really. Boston never entirely established themselves following Kendrick Perkins’ absence. Sure, the series sweep of the New York Knicks was promising at the time, but when Boston needed Ray Allen to hit a last second three pointer against New York’s doughnut defense, you got the sense that things weren’t what they used to be in Doc Rivers’ lineup.
At the time, I never really blamed Danny Ainge though. A lot of people jumped the gun and banished him from the TD Garden, at least in their minds. But I stopped myself from doing that — even when the Celtics fell to the Miami Heat 3-1 in perhaps the most dismal effort ever shown in the Big 3 era.
Yep, I forgave Ainge for as long as I could. Instead, when people asked me what was wrong with the Celtics, I alluded to the ever boring and overused age factor, or the faulty elbow of Rajon Rondo. But then two things happened within a week, and even I couldn’t stop myself from taking an easy stab at Boston’s GM.
First, Shaq retired. Most of us expected that to happen sooner or later. But it wasn’t until his funny/emotional press conference that I realized “Hey, the Celtics really don’t have many big men anymore”. And as the headline reads, that was strike two for Ainge in what had already been a frustrating week of hating on the Miami Heat.
(By the way in case you’re wondering, strike one occurred this time last year when Tony Allen left. Thanks again Memphis Grizzlies).
Second — and this is the most recent — the man most Celtics fans forgot about (I know I did sometimes), toddled off to CSKA Moscow for $8.75 million. Again, this was speculated about for quite some time, but most of Boston expected either the Celtics to offer Nenad Krstic a healthy sum of money, or for CSKA to engage in a tense bidding war with Ainge.
Instead, neither happened.
So now, the Celtics have a pretty big — actually, a huge — problem on their hands. All that’s left to happen is for ‘Big Baby’ Glen Davis to pull the pin sometime in the next month, leaving Jermaine O’Neal to fret in the corner while the Celtics Big 3 are left with yet another heavy load to carry on their backs.
But as I wrote in my previous column, the Celtics by far have the most to gain in free agency, that’s if you discount the Lakers open suede wallet, and perhaps the Orlando Magic and a few other nitpicks not named the New York Knicks.
Still, this problem seems to have popped up without so much as a whisper. It’s scary to think that this Celtics team is disappearing before our very eyes, and even though Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are still ticking on, Boston has successfully gone from +3 big men to -3 big men before half of the Garden could even say “I told you so Mr. Ainge”.
This time last year the Celtics had Shaq to rely upon. But they also had Semih Erden, another 240+ pounder left to stray to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now it’s all up to Jermaine O’Neal, unless Boston pulls off some kind of posh trade that sees the uncertain Yao Ming travel out East, or DeAndre Jordan leave the Los Angeles Clippers — but not many of us are willing to entertain either of those ideas.
I guess if there is one thing the Celtics can hang their hat on, it’s that O’Neal at least showed some kind of promise early in the playoffs. It’s not the kind of promise that allows Ainge to walk away unscathed — that would be unjust — but O’Neal’s 5.8 points per game in the postseason at least leave a glimmer of hope for something great to come from nothing.
Unless Ainge wants to dial Rasheed Wallace’s phone number and get on his knees and beg for him to un-retire, there is a lot that needs to happen in Boston — right now. Unless Ainge wants to fork out some absurd figure for Dwight Howard, the same urgency is also felt throughout the entire team.
If there’s one thing that Celtics fans can actually rely on, it’s Doc Rivers, and not for the first time either. Shaq himself stated how close the Celtics are as a team, and it’s hard to see the issue of no big man causing Rivers too much grief.
“Playing for Doc Rivers was very very special,” Shaq said during his retirement speech. “We had a lot of talent on our team, but Doc Rivers was always, always, always focused on the team. I remember one time I went 5-for-6, and I said to Doc that I could have gone 10-for-12, or 12-for-18. But he said to me, ‘Shaq, it’s not about you, it’s about the team.’ So thank you, Doc.”
Rivers will be resilient during this time. Ainge, well who knows.
This may be the final time the Celtics have a serious shot at winning it all. Free agency, well, it booms questions towards what has normally been a fairly solid Celtics roster.
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