Managing some sizable expectations
That's good because, as available big men are plucked from a scrapheap that will stop filling up with Friday's playoff eligibility waiver deadline, it's slim pickings (and, if we're being honest, it might have been slim pickings to start).
Some will lament a missed opportunity after Ronny Turiaf elected on Wednesday to sign with the Miami Heat. The loss should sting more on the psyche than on the court. It was just a year ago that a bought out Troy Murphy, caught in a similar Boston vs. Miami tug-of-war, elected to join the Celtics. The idea that Turiaf decided to chase a title in South Beach, at a time when Boston likely could offer more playing time, might speak to how players view the Celtics' chances of winning a title this season.
But here's a couple things to keep in mind.
1) Last year, Murphy had virtually no impact on Boston's season. After all the hubbub about where he'd land, Murphy proved to be underwhelming in 17 regular-season appearances (2.6 points, 2.2 rebounds over 10.5 minutes per game) and played a whopping three minutes in one postseason appearance. There's the very real chance that Turiaf -- and many of the other big men that swapped teams -- will have a similar impact with their new squads.
2) Coach Doc Rivers admitted last week that Boston doesn't deserve to be considered a true contender given the way the Celtics have played during a seesaw season. Even still, he cautioned against looking past them when the playoffs roll around. Said Rivers: If Boston is "healthy, you just never know."
And therein lies the key element in this much-ballyhooed search. The big body coming in is being pegged to simply eat up minutes over the final 20 games. His No. 1 task is making sure that Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass are still standing when the playoffs roll around in late April.
If the newcomer does anything more than that, it's an unexpected bonus.
Ultimately, Boston's success this season will be determined by the nine-man core that Rivers has leaned on in the second half of the season. So if you're looking for a silver lining as available big men are snatched up by other contenders this week, consider this: Boston has navigated the last two weeks without two centers and has kept its head above water because of the outstanding play of Garnett and Bass, along with the development of rookie Greg Stiemsma.
What more can be said about Garnett, who after a slow start out of the gates, has been Boston's most consistent player, thriving recently while shuffling to the center position. Bass continues to play well while running with the first unit, firing away from his mid-range sweet spot and providing steady defense alongside Garnett.
Despite playing with a lingering right foot ailment that has required him to often wear a walking boot, Stiemsma has steadily developed into a serviceable backup, lessening the immediate need for big-man help with his solid play on this road trip. His season stat line -- 2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.3 blocks over 10.7 minutes per game -- won't floor you, but over his last nine appearances that's bumped up to 3.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.2 blocks over 17.3 minutes per game.
That's better than most buyout players will perform to close out the regular season.
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