Thursday, August 30, 2007

Clippers Sign Another Player That Should Be In Boston

Several weeks after taking veteran free agent Brevin Knight off the free agent market, the Clippers have once again swooped in and nabbed an unemployed NBA vet in Ruben Patterson.

Both guys know how to fill a role, they play hard, and can really help round out a winning team. The problem? The Clippers aren't a winning team. Not only that, they aren't at all equipped to handle these personalities. Knight has been rumored to be a bit of a handful (in the "Grumpy Gus" sense) in the locker room, while Patterson once had to roll around with one of those electronic ankle bracelets after he sexually assaulted his nanny. Guys like that don't assimilate all that well to unstable situations, which is exactly what the Clippers have. The other L.A. team has an injured Elton Brand, an injured Shaun Livingtson, and a perpetually injured Sam Cassell. That's the core. Then there's overpaid Chris Kaman, oft-injured and disenfranchised Corey Maggette, and "always missing Steve Francis" Cuttino Mobley on the edges. Does that sound like a proper cauldron to be throwing Ruben Patterson into? Or even Brevin Knight?

Not only that, but Patterson just became roster overkill. The only place where the Clippers have any real depth right now is at small forward. They've got Maggette to score, Quentin Ross to defend, and rookie Al Thornton to do a bit of everything. How are they even going to get the Nanny Stopper on the court? It's a disaster.

On the other hand, we have the Boston Celtics. You might recall that when the KG trade first happened, I implored Danny Ainge to sign these very players. Brevin Knight would be the perfect fit to back up Rajon Rondo - he could give the C's a solid 20 minutes a game at the point while teaching the youngster a few tricks. Knight has always been a fabulous passer and terrific help defender, which would have only aided Rondo's development in those areas. As for Patterson, he was the perfect compliment to their perimeter rotation. He hustles, plays with energy, shoots a high percentage, defends, and offers some decent athleticism. How on earth is James Posey a better choice for that spot?

Anyway. It's just weird to see both of the guys that could have perfectly rounded out the Boston roster wind up in an awful situation 3,000 miles away. It's like the bizarro result of what should have happened.

Oh well, maybe this means Maggette is finally on his way out of town.

Monday, August 27, 2007

And ... We're Back

Please forgive yet another extended absence from the blog. I was travelling and then starting my new job, so things have been hectic. And speaking of new jobs, that is going to slow down the production level quite a bit. Not only is my new profession a tad on the demanding side, but it also would be in poor taste to make several posts each day, during work hours, using my real name. So this is going to be a morning, lunch hour, late night, weekend kind of thing, with the goal being 5-10 posts per week. We'll see how it goes.

I've got some stuff on tap regarding Team USA, including thoughts on J-Kidd's legacy, the way superstars turn it up on D, and some eyewitness accounts courtesy of my brother, Drew. So that should be fun.

For now, I'm going to break from all-NBA, all the time just long enough to post my NFL picks. After all, I need a place to put them, even if this is now just a hoops blog.

I'll make it quick:

AFC Division Winners - New England, Indy, San Diego, and Pittsburgh.
AFC Wild Cards - Cincinnati and Jacksonville
NFC Division Winners - Philly, Seattle, New Orleans, Minnesota
NFC Wild Cards - Dallas and Green Bay

(That's right, I've got the Ravens and Bears sitting at home.)

Super Bowl - Pittsburgh over Dallas
MVP - Tom Brady
DPOY - Champ Bailey
ROY - Adrian Peterson
COY - Brad Childress

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Aid to the Clippers

Someone needs to get on the horn and place an order to be delivered to the Staples Center, ASAP. Within should be thousands of horseshoes, amulets, four leaf clovers, and rudraksh nuts. We should also probably ring as many church bells as possible and remove all broken mirrors and step ladders from any Clippers facilities. And a ban on black cats wouldn't be a bad idea either.

I mean, can it get any worse for the Clips? 14 months ago they were jousting with the Suns in the Western Conference semis and looking every bit like a rising power in the NBA. Now? Not so much. Cassell washed up in a hurry, Dunleavy snookered the team into an extension (true Clippers fans and those familiar with Mike Sr.'s work all seemed to know right from the outset that this was a bad idea), Chris Kaman suffered from the effects of either "getting nuts grabbed hangover" (courtesy of Reggie Evans) or "getting paid hangover," and Shaun Livingston nearly had his leg come flying off his body. Now Elton Brand, the most consistent player in franchise history (by a long shot), has a torn Achilles tendon and might miss the entire 2007-08 season.


Of course, it is possible that Brand - known as an extremely hard worker - could come back as early as February, but that is a best case scenario. Plus, this is a guy that is a notoriously slow starter, which means that the 35 game mark (when he starts getting going) will come at the end of the season.

All of which means the Clips are probably dead in the water before the season even begins and no doubt kicking themselves for drafting a "help now" guy in 76-year old (slight exaggeration) Al Thornton.

Anyone have any ideas for how the Clippers can catch a break? If not, I suggest we send that order of horseshoes on the double.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Rondo Believer

I've become borderline obsessed with the Celtics ever since I first heard they were pulling the trigger on the KG deal. Maybe it is because I want to believe the NBA still matters after the big referee scandal or perhaps I just have some excess energy after finishing the old licensing exam. Whatever the reason, I'm determined to figure out whether this whole circus is actually going to turn Boston into a good team. I'm already on record that the C's are botching their post-KG opportunity to round out the roster and I believe they are priming themselves for a potential disaster. That said, I'm not ruling out a Finals run for this team as it is currently constructed.

Part of the reason I'm still bullish is because I seem to hold out more hope than most that Rajon Rondo can make a big leap forward and become a legit playoff point guard.

My instinct is that Rondo can do it. His athleticism is insane and he really impressed me last year with his defensive intensity and ball handling. Rondo's shot clearly sucks and his decision-making as a rookie was obviously questionable at best, but what rookie doesn't make questionable decisions with the ball? Particularly rookies given part-time roles in the offense.

The big question is whether such a rookie can turn the corner by his second year. Deron Williams accomplished the feat last year with ease and went from a shaky rookie PG to a damn near dominant lead guard in the postseason. I'm not suggesting that Rondo is going to make that kind of jump, but I couldn't help but wonder if the transition from backup rookie to full time starter is a natural one to make in a player's second year.

With that in mind, I decided to scour through every relevant point guard in the NBA in search of guys that got spotty minutes as a rookie, only to become "the guy" in their second year. The list of such players really isn't that long. I had to rule out all of the guys that got big minutes as starting point guards their rookie years (Mike Bibby, Tony Parker, Stephon Marbury, T.J. Ford, Jamaal Tinsley, Chauncey Billups, Kirk Hinrich, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Jason Williams, Raymond Felton, and Chris Paul) as well as all the guys who failed to get big minutes as a starter their second season (Steve Nash, Leandro Barbosa, Steve Blake, Shaun Livingston, Sam Cassell, Rafer Alston, Mo Williams, Jamal Crawford, Antonio Daniels, Earl Watson, Eric Snow, Smush Parker, Derek Fisher, Jose Calderon, and Jameer Nelson). And obviously, I can't research any other 06-07 rookies.

The Test Group

That left a list of eight guys that went from reserves/part time starters (with less than 30 mpg) as rookies to starters (50+ starts, 30+ mpg) in their second year. That list includes Deron Williams, Monta Ellis (if he counts as a PG), Jarrett Jack, Baron Davis, Andre Miller, Jason Terry, Gilbert Arenas, and Luke Ridnour. As Tony Kornheiser would say, "That's it, that's the list!"

The problem with such a small test group is that it doesn't really account for the myriad ways a rookie point guard can come to take over a team in year two. Rondo's situation is that he's a talented player who is in a "last man standing" scenario following a massive trade. Is there a situation like that represented by this group of players? I'm not sure there is. That said, this group of players came to starting roles in a variety of ways that range from overwhelming talent demanding playing time to "someone has to play" situations. I don't want to read too much into the uniqueness of the circumstances, but it also can't be ignored. More on this later.

General Trend

The initial bit of good news for Celtics fans? Nearly every guy on this list made huge strides from Year One to Year Two. Almost across the board, these players made big jumps in key statistical areas. And it wasn't just the kind of statistical improvement that comes from extra playing time either, because I focused the analysis on "Per 40 Minute" stats. Even eliminating minutes as a changing variable, almost every guy got better in almost every area.

One thing that stood out to me is that every player on the list lowered his fouls per 40 minutes, which indicates a much better feel for the pace of the game and an awareness of Tim Donaghy's presence on the court. Okay, cheap joke, but I really do think it speaks volumes about the way these guards adjusted to the NBA game.

In addition, all but one player on the list saw his turnovers per 40 go up. While that might seem like a bad stat, I suggest the opposite. I've always thought people get too carried away with turnovers, because a high number can indicate aggressiveness and a willingness to push the envelope in addition to just sloppy play. Steve Nash and Jason Kidd often have unbelievable games filled with turnovers. Like many basketball stats, turnovers only mean something if accompanied by context.

All told, the "per 40" numbers of these eight players showed a trend to improve scoring, improve playmaking, and - perhaps even more importantly - improve feel for the game and aggressiveness.

This is all good news for Rondo, but I felt that the list was still too general, mainly because Rondo is 21 and will turn 22 in February of the 2007-08 season. That puts him on the younger side of the ledger, which I believe is relevant because the younger guys typically made bigger strides and in fact all of them "improved" by any definition of the word. The results of the "23 and over" crowd were a bit more mixed, which is in keeping with the philosophy held by many that NBA teams should draft younger guys if they want to see dramatic improvement. The older you are, the closer you probably are to your ceiling, or something like that. Anyway, here are the two groups (four players in each group):

23 and Over

For the point guards that turned 23 or older during their second year (when they become the clear starter), the results are mostly positive. However, it appears that for the older players, the progress was more subtle and more in line with the skill set that has been on display ever since. Plus, the only guy that came anywhere near regression (Ridnour) is on this list.

A quick look at teach player in the 23 and Over group:

Jarrett Jack, 23 - Jack went from 4 games started to 77 and saw his minutes increase 13 per game to 33.4 in his second year with the Blazers. He became a pretty competent point guard and saw slight increases in points and assists per 40 as well as a big bump in eFG%. His boards dropped, which is actually pretty common. Not sure why, although it could be that as point guards they learn how to get back on D and get in position for outlet passes to start the offense. Or maybe they get lazy. I don't really know. In addition to improving offensively, Jack really came along as a defensive player last season. I feel like Jack represents Rondo's floor next season, which isn't bad, considering the former Yellow Jacket was better than anyone running the point for Cleveland, Orlando, Miami (Wade doesn't count), Washington (without Arenas), Houston, or the Lakers in last year's postseason.

Andre Miller, 25 - To me, Miller really represents the difference between the older and younger guards. While he definitely improved from year one to year two, most of that was just the natural byproduct of more minutes (from 25.5 to 34.7). He had a slight bump in points and assists and - like pretty much all of these guys - committed fewer fouls, all based on per 40 minute numbers. However, Miller was pretty much Miller, even as a rookie getting spot minutes. But again, he was already 25 years old when he became a starting point guard in his second year. The important takeaway here is that Miller's per 40 numbers held up when he became a starter, which is important because - like Rondo - he can't hit the broadside of a barn with his jumper. I think a lot of people are worried that Rondo will struggle to remain effective as a full time player if he's more heavily scouted and can't keep defenses honest. Miller faced similar issues and wasn't effected in the least.

Jason Terry, 23 - Perhaps it was because he came off the bench for Arizona's national title team, but for some reason the Hawks coaching staff couldn't get used to the idea of Jason Terry starting as a rookie. He only logged 27 starts (very similar to Rondo's 25) as a rookie (even though his competition was Bimbo Coles) and then jumped up to 77 in his second year. Terry actually saw a drop in assists per 40, but only because he took a massive leap in scoring. He also enjoyed a big bump in eFG%. Like Miller, Terry's second year was less about improving (although he certainly did improve) and more about establishing what type of player he would be - namely, a scoring lead guard.

Luke Ridnour, 24 - Ridnour is the most suspect player on this list. You probably already could have guessed that, because he lost his job to Earl Watson last year. But know that the numbers tell the same story. Ridnour went from 6 starts to 82 and from 16.1 minutes to 31.4 in his second year, but saw only a bump in his assists per 40 minutes, with his eFG% staying the same and his points and boards dropping. Part of Ridnour's problem is that he was so horrific on defense that he played shorter rotations than any other guard on this list, which made it harder to find a groove on offense. That shouldn't be a problem for Rondo.

Under 23

This is the group that Rondo would belong to, which bodes very well for Boston. Each guy on this list made serious progress during his second year and three of the four went from bench players to legit studs (while the other, Ellis, was named the league's Most Improved Player. Two (Baron and Deron Williams) were drafted higher than Rondo and two (Arenas and Ellis) went in the second round. One (Williams) played better than Rondo in his rookie minutes, the other three were probably slightly outperformed by the Celtic point guard. So while it seems a little crazy and maybe even irresponsible to compare Rajon Rondo to guys like Baron Davis and Gilbert Arenas, there isn't a compelling statistical reason not to compare him to those players. Here are the "under 23" players, individually:

Deron Williams, 22 - The Kingpin of this whole list and the guy that every emerging second year point guard is going to want to be. He started 47 games at 28.8 mpg as a rookie and made the jump to 80 starts and 37 mpg in year two. With his new found responsibility and the maturation of his game, Williams made a nice jump in points per 40, a huge leap in assists (almost unfathomable, actually, from 6.2 to 10.1), and a slight bump in eFG% (effective field goal percentage, which takes into account threes). As mentioned above, like everyone on the list, his fouls went down and his turnovers went up, indicating a much better presence and feel on the court. Overall, a massive improvement.

Gilbert Arenas, 21 - Arenas made 30 starts and played 24.6 minutes per game as a rookie and impressed enough to warrant 82 starts and 35 minutes a night the next season. His eFG% dropped (and has been dropping ever since), but everything else went way up - points, boards, assists, you name it. Arenas showed flashes as a rookie, but nobody saw him stepping up like he did in his second season. They should have.

Monta Ellis, 21 - Deja vu, anyone? Like Arenas, Ellis turned 21 during his second season in Oakland, when he went from 3 starts to 53 and from 18.1 minutes per to 34.3 mpg. And of course his numbers went up - doubling someone's minutes tends to do that. More importantly, Ellis' points per 40 went way up, his eFG% went way up, and he saw a significant increase in his assists per 40. Only his boards dropped. The only bad news here for Rondo fans is that Ellis really regressed in the playoffs. However, even that can be explained. Because unlike every other guy on this list, Ellis was still not supposed to be the starting point guard of his team. He was inserted into the role when Baron got hurt, so he didn't prepare the previous summer to be the starting point guard, nor did he feel the same sense of ownership and responsibility once Baron and Richardson returned. Ellis' postseason slump is more about reverting back to his rookie mindset than his rookie game. Unless the C's plan on bringing in a stud veteran point guard to unseat Rondo just before the playoffs, this shouldn't be a big fear.

Baron Davis, 22 - Speaking of Baron, he didn't get a single start during his rookie year and logged just 18 minutes a night, but started every game at a whopping 39 minutes per during his second year. Like Jason Terry, Baron both improved and also settled into his game, as his assists per 40 actually dropped, but he grabbed more boards and scored far more often. The odd thing about Baron is that while his fouls went way down (as expected), he actually committed fewer turnovers per 40. This tells me that he was both plenty aggressive and plenty sloppy as a rookie.

What It All Means

My overwhelming gut reaction after looking over this list is to run out and purchase stock in Rajon Rondo. The eight point guards that shared nearly identical circumstances all saw their numbers translate as a starter - and that is a bare minimum standard that really only pertains to Luke Ridnour. The other seven guys all improved, almost across the board. They perfected skills (scorers or playmakers), became more aggressive, and got comfortable with the pace and physicality of NBA games. Not only that, but the younger the player, the more extreme the improvement. Since he turns just 22 this year, Rondo seems to be primed for a huge breakout season. All of which means that should be more than serviceable as the pilot of Boston's title quest.

However, all of that optimism has to be tempered just a bit given the unique aspects of Rondo's situation. For starters, I'm not sure there is a guy on this list, with the possible exception of Andre Miller, that has a jump shot as mangled as Rondo's. Additionally, half of these players took over the reigns for losing teams, where expectations were low - just as the Celtics youngster was set to do before all the trading. On the flip side, Rondo is probably a superior defensive player to every guard on this list, so that helps negate the shooting concerns. And its not as if none of the aforementioned second-year point guards played for playoff teams - Baron's Hornets won a playoff series, Monta Ellis and the Warriors upset the Mavs (although, as mentioned above, he didn't really do much to aid that result), Luke Ridnour and the Sonics won the Northwest division, and Deron Williams led the Jazz to the Western Conference Finals. So it can be done.

When you add it all up, it seems that Rondo's chances for stunning success greatly outweigh the odds of colossal failure. At the very least, based on his per 40 numbers from last year, he should show improved comfort with the speed of the game, limit his foul trouble, and provide solid stats along the lines of 12 points, 7 assists, and 5 boards a game. His shooting percentage should improve either slightly or greatly (even if his form doesn't) and he will likely continue to play terrific pressure defense on the ball and in passing lanes.

I have to say, I'm down with Rondo. The C's no doubt still need a capable backup, but they can cease their search for a starter. I'd argue they've already got the guy they need to win the whole thing.

Celtics Stuff: Boiled Down

This is pathetic, but I am throwing up a quick post to put all of my scattered thoughts on this Boston stuff in one place. I've been all over the map on this topic, which I'm blaming on being out of practice because of the bar exam. So here it goes:

1. On draft day, I felt that the Ray Allen trade was a good idea, because I believed (against all odds) that Danny Ainge had a master plan to use the Ratliff contract to bring in another key piece. In fact, I gave the C's an A+ for their draft. Maybe a little too enthusiastic, but to this day I am confused why everyone flipped out.

2. In the first hours of the renewed KG rumors, I made a case for Boston doing whatever it took to get Garnett, including trading Al Jefferson. I've seen several people argue this point and take the other side, using stats to make a case for Jefferson being "nearly as good" as KG. I don't buy it. I don't doubt Al's potential, but KG is a vastly superior defender and leader and he's done it in every situation. Jefferson's only stint of elite (if we can call it that) production came when Boston had already stuck a fork in its season last year. Not exactly high stakes. (Note though that I did not advise adding Ryan Gomes to a KG deal - I think Boston is really, really going to miss him.)

(I also suggested that Boston then turn Rondo and a future pick into Jose Calderon, which was apparently the result of someone slipping PCP into my Trader Joe's burrito, as numerous Raps fans kindly pointed out. I guess Colangelo is prepared to lay out big cash for Calderon and move forward with a point guard platoon that earns north of $15 mil a year. Who knew?)

3. Once the KG deal was complete, I joined the likes of ESPN's Marc Stein in a Celtics Kool-Aid drinking contest, but with the caveat that they would need to add some cheap veterans. I didn't see this as being a tremendously difficult task, considering they had the entire $6 mil exception with guys like Brevin Knight, Ime Udoka, Matt Barnes, Ruben Patterson, James Singleton, and P.J. Brown on the market. Adding the former and the latter and one of the swingmen in the middle would have rounded out this roster nicely. Instead, they opted for Eddie House and Jackie Manuel, which I found deeply disturbing.

4. Given the news that Ainge had crapped the bed with his first post-KG moves (and, in the process, betrayed the trust that I placed in him way back on draft day), I decided to see if Boston could somehow add another piece via trade. This is the post that Henry linked too in True Hoop and it is important to note that these were last gasp ideas to salvage the mess that is the Boston roster.

5. Coming soon ... why I am a Rondo Believer.

So that's where we are at. I've gone from feeling oddly (and uniquely) optimistic about the Ray Allen trade to feeling vindicated when the KG deal went down to being completely perplexed by Boston's inability and unwillingness to finish the job. I know I've asked this before, but ... Eddie House and Jackie Manuel?

Salvage Trades

As discussed below, Boston is not using free agency wisely. There is still hope of stealing a marooned free agent on the cheap or bringing in some bodies via buyouts (Troy Hudson?), but the best shot at picking up at least one more decent player in Boston is probably with a trade. The problem? They have no contracts. They've got three guys making $55 million and that's pretty much it. Kendrick Perkins makes $4.4, but they need him to log minutes at the 5 (by the way, everyone trashes Perkins, but I think he's pretty decent - at the very least he can do what Diop does in Dallas, right?). Rondo makes over a million, but he's their point guard of the future, err, present. Then they've got a bunch of loose change. It's really amazing to look at the salaries on this roster.

The only player with a salary meaty enough to move is Brian Scalabrine, but that is only because Ainge made the moronic decision to pay the guy $3 million per. Hard to imagine anyone wanting this stiff.

That said, trying to trade Scalabrine + one is probably Boston's only hope. Here are some possible deals that could help, all of them stretches (because that is the hand Ainge and Co. just dealt themselves):

(Note: for the players I thought Boston should have targeted via free agency, see this previous post.]

1. Scalabrine ($3MM) to the Warriors for Jasikevicius ($4MM). Boston would have to add a contract - any contract - to this to get within 125% on each side, but this trade might work. Golden State has no use for the former Maryland Terrapin/Team USA destroyer so they might be willing to get rid of him and save a few bucks on Scalabrine, who could have some value in Oakland as a backup forward. This is basically a swap of crap for crap, except that Jasikevicius could really help Boston and be a nice compliment to Rondo off the bench. He's good enough that he shouldn't be doing his best Mateen Cleaves impression and waving towels on the end of the Warriors bench. If G-State doesn't want him, maybe Boston can steal him away.

(Speaking of Golden State, now that KG is no longer an option, what exactly is the master plan over there? I still contend that the Richardson-for-Wright trade was a good one, but it seemed like that was the first of a series of moves. Are they going after Yi? Are they so excited about Bellini that they are calling it a day? When will they decide between Barnes and Pietrus? I'll admit, the Warriors interest me greatly.)

2. Scalabrine and Tony Allen (total $4.9MM) to Houston for Rafer Alston and Steve Novak (total $5.2MM). The Rockets are desperately trying to get rid of Rafer Alston and will probably see any successful attempt to do so as addition by subtraction. Plus, if Houston - who has added three point guards, Luis Scola, and tons of depth in the past two months - has one remaining weak spot it is the need for an athletic wing defender. With their depth, the Rockets can afford to gamble on Allen's return to health and they can absorb Scalabrine into the bench. Meanwhile, Boston gets a more experienced - if somewhat shaky - point guard to pair with Rondo and a much better shooter to bring off the bench in Novak. The loss of Allen - if healthy - would be tough to swallow, but the last thing this Jurassic team needs is another health concern. The addition of point guard depth and shooting makes it worth. Not to mention the fact that the Manuel signing would actually make some sense without Allen on the roster.

3. Scalabrine and Leon Powe (total $3.67MM) to Memphis for Damon Stoudemire ($4.3MM). This deal actually works for both teams and fits under the cap. If Boston believes Big Baby is ready to contribute then they have no need for Powe, since both are undersized power forwards. This allows the C's to include Powe with Scalabrine in an effort to tempt Memphis into giving up Stoudemire. It shouldn't be too hard. Mighty Mouse isn't in the Grizzlies' plans anymore and having Scalabrine rot on the bench won't be any different than having Damon rot on the bench. But the addition of Powe gives Memphis one more young player to add to a growing mix that includes Conley, Lowry, Gay, and Warrick, not to mention Mike Miller and Pau Gasol. As for the Celtics, they might not be getting a world-beater in Stoudemire, but he fills in all of Rondo's problem areas with scoring and experience and could really help their second unit. Plus, since Memphis recently waived Alexander Johnson, Boston could pick him up for cheap and it would be like getting two players back in the deal.

(By the way, Boston should right this minute be offering every bench player on its roster for Kyle Lowry. I doubt Memphis will trade him, but considering they drafted Conley instead of Horford, you never know.)

[Update: Clearly the California bar exam has fried my brain as Horford went #3 to the Hawks and Conley #4 to the Grizz, making my statement above impossible and idiotic. Still, drafting Conley one year after taking Lowry doesn't exactly scream "We love Kyle!" Maybe Boston could get him. I doubt it though.]

4. Future Pick to Portland for Jarrett Jack ($1.2MM). Boston doesn't have a lot of draft picks left to trade, but I don't know what else they can offer Portland that makes sense. Jack could really help Boston's bench and doesn't seem to have a place in Portland where Blake is the PG of now and Sergio Rodriguez is the PG of tomorrow. And the Blazers have so many players on the roster I can't imagine them wanting another asset in return. Maybe this could work. Also, Boston should keep an eye out for a Darius Miles buyout. He's a lunatic but they are officially in gambling mode anyway.

None of those trades are likely to happen, nor will any of them truly solve Boston's roster problems, but they might be the best chance the Celtics have of rounding out this team and competing for a spot in the Finals.

Eddie House and Jackie Manuel?

Come on, Danny Ainge. When I went on record saying that Boston was 2-3 pieces from being the favorite in the East, I didn't mean any pieces. In fact, the list of appropriate options was included in the post and nowhere on it did the names House and Manuel appear.

Honestly, the way Boston is rounding out its roster is depressing. I know it is stupid to trust this front office with a master plan, but from the minute they mortgaged the future to acquire Ray Allen, I've assumed that there was a big picture plan of attack to use young assets and Ratliff's contract to bring in another star. And that once that star was in place, that they would go on a luxury-tax-be-damned mission to get veterans on the cheap, like the Lakers did with GP and Malone a few years ago.

Well, up until yesterday, it was all going according to plan. But then suddenly, mysteriously, Boston pulled up short before Step Three in the process. Hours after trading for the most expensive player in the NBA (and re-singing him), they decided they didn't want to get into luxury tax territory. What? I'm sorry, but that isn't an option at this point. They need to cobble contracts together and make another move for a vet. They need to spend every last cent of their exception to fill out the bench. They can't pull the reigns back now. It's insanity.

Eddie House is not the answer as a backup point guard, especially on a team with Ray Allen. Jackie Manuel couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat, and even if he turns out to be a Quentin Ross type player (best case scenario), he can't log minutes at the 4, which means he is pretty much worthless (since Ray-Ray, Pierce, and Tony Allen will play all the minutes at the 2-3 spots).

The Celtics just used up some cash and some roster spots on guys who can't help them. That's the bottom line. And perhaps this can be salvaged on some level by a creative trade or a P.J. Brown signing for the minimum or even getting Matt Barnes on the cheap now that he's desperately playing agent roulette ... but we are starting to reach Hail Mary territory. Already.

I guess I should have known better than to trust Danny Ainge. Guys like Brevin Knight, James Singleton, and Ruben Patterson could have helped this team and been had for a song. Instead, he signed freaking Eddie House and Jackie Manuel. Wow.

And I'm not even a Boston fan. I can only imagine how frustrating this is them.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

With the KG Trade Finalized ...

I'm very curious to see what Boston does to round out the roster. As detailed in a previous post, I felt this was a great trade for the Celtics and thought it was a no-brainer to use the Ratliff bargaining chip in conjunction with Jefferson to give themselves a shot at winning now. Allen, Pierce, and KG are all fantastic players and - even more importantly - they should mesh well together given their different strengths.

However, it will be very interesting to see where Boston goes from here. They obviously must round out the roster in advance of the 2008 trade deadline because while these guys aren't ready for retirement, they aren't young either. Boston is probably only going to get 2 or 3 years of elite level play from this trio, so they must complete the roster and aim for the Finals immediately.

I personally think Rondo will make a big step forward this year and now that the Toronto contingent has ruled out a Calderon trade, I think Boston can stand pat at starting point guard. Rondo can push pace, apply pressure on defense, and get into the lane to create for Allen on the wing. He'll be more than adequate as a 30-35 minutes a game guy. However, Boston needs more than rookie Gabe Pruitt to back him up. In fact, I would contend that Boston actually needs a veteran 20 mpg point guard that can spell Rondo early and actually replace him late to run the offense. Boston could definitely get by with a platoon featuring the young buck and an experienced vet out of the Avery Johnson mold. My buddy Josh Stump wondered in an email today whether Brevin Knight had signed with anyone and I thought that was a perfect fit for Boston. Knight is fragile and can't log huge minutes (not can he shoot at all), but he knows how to run a team and could be a perfect closer as well as a tutor to Rondo.

In fact, it is Boston's bench that concerns me. In my previous post, I discussed why the inclusion of Al Jefferson shouldn't bother Celtic fans, and I stand by all the points I made at that time. However, I will note that the proposed deal didn't include Ryan Gomes. I think his inclusion will be costly for Boston. He was a hard worker and a versatile player that really would have given this team some help as the first forward off the pine and now he's off in the land of lakes where his subtle skills will be totally wasted.

That is why I would argue that Boston needs to focus on the bench. Rondo is going to be fine as long as they bring in a vet to help him out. Perkins is going to be fine with KG there to mentor and protect him in the middle. I really think the starting lineup is set. However, they can't feel great about a second unit that features Pruitt, Tony Allen (recovering from an ACL tear), Scalabrine, Big Baby Davis, and Leon Powe. That is zero centers, zero natural point guards, zero shooters, and about 10 total years of experience. I'm actually expecting Powe to give them some punch in the middle, for Allen to make it back (he was playing great last year), and for the rookies to come along nicely. That said, they still need to add two pieces to the bench.

The first is covered above, as Boston needs to add a veteran point guard on the cheap. Again, Knight would be ideal but even a guy like Jason Hart would do. Notice I said "like" Jason Hart, because the real version already signed with Utah. Then they need to add a versatile small forward type that can guard people and allow Boston to shift Pierce down or Garnett up to go big or small. Getting some shooting from that player wouldn't hurt either. Morris Peterson would have been ideal, but he just signed with New Orleans. Perhaps James Posey? He seemed washed up last year, but as recently as the 2006 Finals, he was a beast. Ime Udoka would be a huge add, but aren't the Spurs rumored to be offering him quit a bit of cash? I'm not sure how much coin Boston could throw at him. Ruben Patterson seems like a pretty good option. Matt Barnes is appealing but probably won't want to sign for less money to come off the bench when he's got such a good thing going in Oakland.

All told, here are the players Boston might want to target to fill those two positions, with only a midlevel to split between them:

PG - Brevin Knight, Earl Boykins, Troy Hudson (ironically, as he was just bought out by the Wolves), Darrick Martin, Eddie House, Mike Wilks.

F - Ime Udoka, Ruben Patterson, Matt Barnes, James Singleton, James Posey, P.J. Brown, Devin Brown, Austin Croshere, Kelvin Cato, Jumaine Jones.

As you can see, the pickings are pretty slim. And that proves that the biggest problem with the KG trade wasn't all the guys that Boston had to give up, but the fact that they couldn't get it done until now, when all the decent free agents were already locked up to deals.

Still, hope is not lost, as there are some decent players on that list. If Ainge can get even one veteran to sign for less than $1 mil, he can spend $2.5 mil each on two other guys. It seems plausible that his $6 million midlevel could net a combination like Knight, Patterson, and P.J. Brown.

With those three players, suddenly the roster looks like this:

PG Rondo
SG R. Allen
SF Pierce
PF Garnett
C Perkins
B - Knight
B - T. Allen
B - Patterson
B - P.J. Brown
B - Powe
B - Big Baby
B - Pruitt

With Big Baby and Pruitt moved all the way down to the 11/12 spots on the depth chart, suddenly the bench doesn't seem so thin. And Knight, Allen, Patterson, and Brown would give Boston some real quality defense coming off the bench.

With a few more quality moves, Ainge can have this team positioned as the favorite in the East.

Quick Baseball Post

I know I just got done saying that this was going to become a basketball only blog in any future versions, but I have to take a moment to point out the nights where Pepperdine alums Noah Lowry and Dan Haren both get W's. Haren continued his push for the AL Cy Young (he's winning on my ballot) by improving to 13-3 with a 2.44 ERA and Lowry continued his recent hot stretch by pitching in and out of trouble in route to a 3-1 victory over the Giants that upped his record to 12-7 and lowered his ERA to 3.32.

It seems like just yesterday I was spending lazy Friday afternoons at Eddy D. Field watching Haren and Lowry lead a Pepperdine team that won 50+ games. Basketball focus or not, I'm going to give these guys some love whenever they both win on the same night.