MEMPHIS -- Great diversity in the mailbag this week with readers curious about a variety of topics as the Boston Celtics prepare to wrap up a four-game road trip Saturday night in Memphis.
We tackle technical fouls, Paul Pierce's stylish(?) eyewear, Michael Beasley's upside-down headband, studio gangsters, and ponder what would happen if all of Boston's big men fell victim to the injury bug.
Enjoy the latest dip into the Celtics mailbag:
Q: What's the over/under on when NBA referees will start applying the new technical foul rules to superstars, not just the Boston Celtics? -- Zain (Davis, Calif.)
A: I'm not necessarily disagreeing that the Celtics have been tagged with more debatable technicals than their opponents, but if you look at the technical foul leaderboard through Thursday's game you'll find: Opponents 8, Celtics 7. Joakim Noah, Kevin Durant, DeShawn Stevenson and Jose Juan Barea have all fallen victim to what would best be dubbed "referee's discretion" (Durant's was later rescinded because it truly wasn't warranted). At the end of the day, it hasn't cost the Celtics a game yet (you could argue it didn't help in Cleveland). But if the trend continues where there's a lack of consistency in the calls, it might cost Boston a 'W,' and that's when everyone can really get in a lather about it. I'll say this: It does seem toned down from the preseason, but remains completely subjective.
Q: How big of a concern is Boston's tendency to lose large leads in the second half of games? -- Peter (Melbourne, Australia)
A: On a scale of one to five shamrocks, let's give it a two right now. It's on the radar, no doubt, but it hasn't quite bit the team yet. Celtics coach Doc Rivers likes to point out that all NBA teams give up leads, especially on the road, when home teams almost always make a charge. But given that it did plague them last season and accounted for some rather unnecessary losses, it's something the team will undoubtedly strive to shore up. In the two games they've lost this season, the Celtics didn't give away big leads (Boston did boast an 11-point cushion on Cleveland), but the Green's biggest problem was failing to execute late in those defeats. Overall, Boston must strive for more consistency in its play over 48 minutes and those lead fumbles will take care of themselves.
Q: What are you hearing about Jermaine O'Neal's injury? We need at least one of the O'Neals until Perk comes back and we don't need to overload Shaq this early. I hope it is nothing too serious. -- Kareem (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
A: Jermaine O'Neal has been very cryptic on both the injury and the "procedure" he had done in hopes of alleviating the flare-ups. Having spent the past few days talking to him about the injury, I come away with the feeling that the MRIs taken by Boston doctors show no large structural damage, and I'm wondering if he's simply dealing with a degenerative condition such as arthritis. That's not what O'Neal wants to hear right now because he's never dealt with an injury that isn't fixable with the likes of surgery (even if it's something minimally invasive that wouldn't sack him for a long stretch). With knee arthritis, though, you can attempt to limit flare-ups, debating treatments such as cortisone shots, but it never really goes away and you're never quite sure when the next flare-up will occur. O'Neal got a second opinion from doctors in Miami on Friday hoping they can either confirm what the Celtics' doctors found or offer a different course of treatment. Either way, he returned to Boston afterward, and the key is getting the swelling under control and keeping it down moving forward.
Q: Whats up with Paul Pierce's ugly glasses? Those things are terrible! -- Sean (Boston)
A: You mean, THESE. Pierce has sported the specs after wins in Oklahoma City and Miami during this road trip. Personally, I think they're kind of awesome. It's a bold fashion choice, but one that only an All-Star can probably get away with. When you're in the public eye, you have to mix it up a bit. Pierce's glasses, combined with the white-trimmed, two-tone blue pinstripe blazer he sported in Oklahoma City should earn him a spot in StyleWatch in the pages of People Magazine.
Q: Have you ever made someone so mad that they called you a "studio gangster?" -- Chris (Troy, N.Y.)
A: The Urban Dictionary is a fascinating reference, but I don't think I expected to be scrambling there for a news story based on a war of words between NBA rivals. In a way, it's kind of humorous. But it's probably also good for this rivalry (and yes, we can probably call it that now). I remember before the season, people were conflicted about whether Miami and Boston was a rivalry. Two weeks into the season, it's probably developed to that quickly. You mix in two quality games on the court, and some extracurricular chatter off of it, and when it's two teams hell-bent on accomplishing the same ultimate goal, a rivalry tends to develop. The problem: The teams don't meet again until Feb. 13 at the Garden, and we'll have to stoke these ambers should they start to cool into the new year.
Q: After the Memphis game is Delonte West allowed to return? -- Richard (Nashua, N.H.)
A: Yes, West's 10-game suspension ends after Saturday's tilt in Memphis. He's been able to practice with the team throughout the suspension (though he didn't travel), and he'll no longer be forced to be out of the locker room at least two hours prior to tip-off (which is why it rarely benefitted him to come to the arenas). Obviously, you can probably expect a little rust (and a little overhyped emotions) when he makes his Garden and season debut Wednesday night against the Wizards, but clearly his presence should give the second unit a much-needed boost.
Q: Who will give the team a bigger boost when they return to action: Kendrick Perkins or Delonte West? I'm going with Perk, but it's close. -- Tyler (South Bend, Ind.)
A: Both are extremely important to Boston's overall success this season. I think, on the surface, West will provide the bigger initial boost because of how vital he will end up being to that second unit (he's the glue; that was obvious in the preseason). Plus, he's coming back sooner, so it's simply more noticeable. The Celtics don't have the luxury of a true backup point guard and it's clear how much Nate Robinson misses West's presence, so it's going to elevate the play of the second unit immediately. With Perkins, it might not be as noticeable right away. He's going to be working himself back into shape and -- provided they can eventually escape the clutch of the injury bug -- the O'Neals can maintain a solid level of play with the starting unit until Perkins returns. But we're talking about the team's starting center, someone who has the championship experience and all that chemistry forged over the past three seasons. It might take Perkins a little longer to shed the rust and get himself back into form, but the Celtics will need him to be the rock of the frontcourt as the postseason nears.
Q: Apocalypse scenario: Semih Erden's shoulder declines quickly. The O'Neal Brothers both are unavailable due to knee issues. Perkins is still a little ways off. What happens? -- Joe (Boston)
A: THIS comes to mind. The scene in "Semi-Pro" when the Dewie the Bear gets loose in the coliseum and Jackie Moon screams, "Everybody panic!" sending the arena into bedlam. On the surface, there's no favorable situation if all the bigs go down (Glen Davis jumps to a starting role, weakening the bench immensely). Rivers suggested this week that the team wouldn't be afraid to look outside the organization if it had to, even if it meant making a roster move to free up a spot for another big man. As Rivers cautioned, there's not a lot of serviceable big men wandering the streets these days. The Celtics will lean on Erden and the O'Neals, even if they are less than 100 percent, particularly since anybody new coming in would have to learn the system and it would take time just to integrate them on the floor (unless the team was simply desperate).
Q: I was watching the [Timberwolves] game tonight and Michael Beasley was wearing his headband upside-down. I thought the reason Rajon Rondo was not wearing a headband this season was because the NBA outlawed it? Is this true? Are we going to see Rondo with the headband again? -- Christian (Northfield, Minn.)
A: Well, would you look at THAT. Somebody's going to get a call from the uniform police requesting a financial donation to the league sooner than later (unless the NBA is issuing warnings first). I think Rondo's probably content to remain headband-free this season. After all, it's working out just fine for him so far.
Q: As an old curmudgeon of a Celtics fan, why don't the players wear black shoes anymore? This upsets me more than the dancing girls. -- KC (Australia)
A: Don't fear, KC, no need to shake your fist at those whippersnappers. As THIS picture shows, many Celtics players do wear black shoes on the road (remember that shoes these days are hardly ever one solid color). I do believe there are uniform rules that require home teams to wear white shoes with white jerseys (though some players, like Rondo, have been known to bust out the team-colored kicks, like his lime green Nike shoes).
Q: I don't have a question, I wouldn't even try to guess what Kevin Garnett might have said [to Detroit's Charlie Villanueva], but I wanted to pass on a story that, in addition to other things, further illustrates why I don't believe he could possibly have intended to diminish cancer or belittle those with the disease [when Villanueva suggested Garnett called him a "cancer patient" during on-court trash talk]. My wife worked in a children's cancer ward during Mr. Garnett's tenure in Minnesota, and the Timberwolves came to the ward on occasion to visit with the kids. It seems like it was a community outreach-charity situation, but they, of course, came with press and publicity. But what stuck with her was that, when she saw Mr. Garnett there, it was without the press or publicity, just visiting kids. I think Boston is lucky to have Mr. Garnett as a citizen. -- Jeff (Minneapolis, Minn.)
A: In times when Garnett's on-court outbursts are subject to intense scrutinizing, it seems only fair to offer a contrasting point of view from a time when he's not in the public eye. Thanks for sending the story.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.