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Tuesday, January 28, 2014
State of the Union: Future focused?

By Chris Forsberg

The Boston Celtics were flat-out embarrassed Tuesday night against the New York Knicks. It happens, but that doesn't excuse the rather putrid effort put forth at both ends of the floor in a 114-88 loss that wasn't nearly as close as the score suggests.

Brad Stevens
As the Celtics' losses mount, Brad Stevens must determine how to approach the rest of the season.
There are 35 games left on Boston's schedule for the 2013-14 season. As coach Brad Stevens admitted last week, it's "pretty ridiculous" that the Celtics (15-32) remain only 4 games out of a playoff spot at this point of the season, but it speaks to how impossibly bad the Eastern Conference has been, even if teams like Brooklyn and New York are finally making some strides toward being the teams we expected.

The Celtics return home Wednesday to host the Philadelphia 76ers in a matchup of two of the four worst teams in the NBA. A loss for Boston, which has dropped three straight and 15 of 17, would give it the third-worst record in the league (with the second-worst team, Orlando, next up on Sunday). Those with an interest in Boston generating the best draft pick possible are perfectly content with the team struggling as much as it has lately.

But don't call this tanking. The Celtics are not willfully trying to lose games, they're simply playing poor basketball. Which is why, sooner than later, Stevens and his staff will sit down (and they probably have already) to outline a plan for the final three months of the season.

The impending trade deadline makes crafting a blueprint for the rest of the season a bit more difficult because of the potential for additional moves before Feb. 20. But, speaking generally, the Celtics need to step back and figure out what benefits the team most while building toward future seasons. For the sake of this exercise, let's assume the roster stays largely intact, whether by design or simply an inability to find other deals that help Boston down the road.

Some things this armchair coach would consider:


Here's the good news for Stevens: There are only eight games remaining until the trade deadline, when the roster for the remainder of the season will become a bit more certain. There's also potential for this team to be in a better place health-wise by that point (Rondo with more time to shake rust; Bradley working his way back). The important part for fans to keep in mind throughout this season is, when watching these games, ask yourself, "Did the team make progress? Did it build toward the future?"

Tuesday night was a resounding, "No," but there have been very few nights when the team has made virtually no tangible progress. You can make the case that there are positives you can pluck from the Knicks' loss, including more floor time for Rondo and Johnson's quality effort; even the loss isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Ultimately, it comes down to effort. All fans want to see is a team competing hard and trying to do all the right things while trying to achieve progress. That didn't happen Tuesday; Wednesday's a new game.