What's there to know about C's?
'For now, Celts a .500 team'
The Celtics have won four, lost four, and now they're in the middle of a four-day break. Seems like a good time to assess what the team in green has shown thus far and what it needs to show to remain a contender as this rapid-fire NBA season unfolds. After all, Boston doesn't get another break this long until it has five days off around the All-Star game (Feb. 23-27). And even if eight games doesn't seem like enough of a sample to judge, remember that eight is 12 percent of this 66-game schedule.
So, here are six things we probably know about the Celtics as they wait to face the defending champion Mavericks on Wednesday.
1) Rajon Rondo is a grown-up.
When Rondo's name kept coming up in trade rumors this fall, there was a real fear around Boston that he would be offended and it would hurt his play. The young point guard has a reputation for being stubborn and emotional, but he hasn't thrown any Snapple bottles so far this season.
On the first day of training camp, Rondo was bombarded with questions about potential trades and his emotional state. He handled them all with maturity and professionalism
and he's maintained that course ever since. He hasn't had any outbursts (like when he threw a glass bottle at a video screen last season), he's playing the game with his usual entertaining flair and he's averaging 14.8 points, 10.5 assists and 5.1 rebounds (numbers all above his career averages) doing it. There's only one player in the NBA with a triple-double this season, and that's Rondo.
2) Mama said there'd be days like these.
Friday night's 87-74 loss to Indiana was historically bad for the Celtics. They tied a franchise low for points in a half with the measly 25 they put up in the first, shooting 7-for-21 to open the night. Boston was playing its fourth game in six days, so part of the problem was fatigue (a lot of those misses were left short, a sure sign of gassed legs). That was to be expected for an older team like the Celtics during a compressed schedule, and it likely will be a factor for the remainder of the season.
Another part of the disjointed offense problem is the number of new players trying to integrate without the benefit of a preseason - the entire second unit, for example. Even the players who have been on the team (Marquis Daniels and Avery Bradley) have almost no practical experience within the system. Needing time to work out these kinks was to be expected, and it will probably continue ...
3) ....at least until Doc Rivers gets a rotation.
It's understandable there's no true rotation at this point. The schedule has been too crazy, there are too many new faces and Paul Pierce's season-opening injury didn't help, either. But right now there are 12 guys who seem like they might make Rivers's rotation, and that's too many.
In a normal NBA season, an eight- or nine-man rotation is standard operating procedure. That allows the subs enough time to find a rhythm and be effective. Using 10 players might be necessary this season, but that still leaves some decisions for Rivers, who has been erratic with his rotations in the past. He has to decide who is the backup point guard, Avery Bradley or Keyon Dooling, and who will get the backup minutes at the shooting guard/small forward spots between Daniels and Mickael Pietrus (when healthy), as well as Dooling and Bradley, who have both seen time at both guard spots. It would probably be best if two of that group stepped up and took the majority of minutes while the other two served as insurance.
There are fewer choices in the front court, but still some work to do. Brandon Bass has locked up minutes at the power forward/small forward spot and after that it's between Chris Wilcox and Greg Stiemsma. Chances are good that Jermaine O'Neal will miss plenty of time with injury and Boston will need both Wilcox and Stiemsma, but while O'Neal is healthy, Rivers should figure out which of those two big men will get the minutes and which will get the bench. Stiemsma went from starting and playing 21 minutes against the Wizards on Jan. 2 to playing less than seven minutes, all of it in the second half, Friday against Indiana. That's too sporadic for a young player.
"I've got to find something that works with them that we can give them," Rivers said about his bench after Friday's game. "They're an energy group; they're not a scoring group. But we've got to come up with something."
4) Danny isn't done dealing.
Having so many capable players means Rivers needs to make some tough choices. It also means Danny Ainge is probably going to use some of those pieces to wheel and deal. After watching these first eight games, it's hard to imagine Ainge not tinkering with this roster. There likely will be an excess point guard, big man and maybe a shooter (if Pietrus doesn't work out). Plus, there's the expiring contracts of O'Neal ($6.2 million) and, dare we say it, both Allen ($10 million) and Garnett ($21.2 million). And if Ainge thought last year's team needed shaking up enough to trade away Kendrick Perkins, he's bound to think this team needs some recalibrating.
5) Ray isn't human, and KG is still crazy.
Getting rid of Allen right now seems like a ludicrous idea, however. The physical freak of nature looks as good as he did six years ago when he was making Western Conference All-Star teams for Seattle ... and that's when he was 30. The seemingly ageless Allen leads Boston in points (20.4 per game), minutes (34:53 per game) and shooting percentage (57.5), which includes an absurd 63.4 percent from behind the arc.
Just like Allen has maintained his elite level of fitness for an amazing 16 years in the league, Garnett has maintained his elite level of insanity, I mean intensity. He's still banging his head, issuing non-stop talk to teammates, opponents and fans and taking focus to a scary place after 17 NBA seasons.
6) The margin for error is thin.
Maybe it was just a matter of it being too early in the year, but it seemed like more than that when the Celtics lost their first three games with Pierce sitting out with an injury. They can't afford to be without any of their big four if they hope to contend with Miami or Chicago, or maybe even New York, which beat Boston in the opener, or Indiana or Orlando.
If they have their rest and health, the Celtics are as dangerous as any team in the league. But, as of now, they have to be clicking on all cylinders with all of their stars to be dangerous. Otherwise, they're just another team, just like that 4-4 record says they are.
"We're a 4-4 basketball team. That's what we are. You are what your record is. Don't make no mistake about that," Rivers said. "One of the guys said, 'Hey, that's alright; we're better than that.' And I said, 'No, we're not.' You're what your record says you are."
(Tim O'Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)