Commentary

Time to turn the page?

As losses pile up, 'baggers losing faith in C's while awaiting Danny's next move

Updated: January 9, 2014, 8:26 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

While pulling the drawstrings on the Celtics mailbag in the aftermath of the Courtney Lee-Jerryd Bayless swap, the prevailing theme from readers is simple: "Who's next?"

With little more than a month until the trade deadline, Celtics fans are eager to know how the dominoes will fall from here. Will Boston seek more cap-clearing deals? Might the Celtics make a bigger splash on the trade market to overhaul this roster? What if they just sit tight?

With the team riding a six-game losing streak (and having dropped nine of their past 10 overall), fans seem to have turned their attention to the future and maybe turned a bit on those players perceived to be underperforming at the moment.

In the big picture, Boston made strides in eliminating some of its cap clog with the Lee deal, while also getting back a player they like and who could stick around at a more reasonable price tag after this season. If this is the only move the Celtics make before Feb. 20, then they've at least given themselves a little bit extra future flexibility. But we suspect the Celtics will be quite active over the next 41 days and will at least entertain plenty of possibilities.

Where they go from here depends on what the rest of the league is willing to give up (or take on) in order to make a deal happen. But armchair GMs made it clear in their letters, they're ready to sell, sell, sell.

Let's dive into the bag:

Q: It's official: Jeff Green is never going to be able to lead a team. Can we move on? Any chance we can trade him for draft picks? -- James (San Francisco, Calif.)

A: Hold on there, James, we got a whole stack of angry Green letters to thumb through here. …

[+] EnlargeJeff Green
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesWith Jeff Green failing to fulfill expectations, his future in Boston is questionable.

Q: Can the Celtics just admit that Jeff Green is never going to be anything more than we've seen? It's time to move on. -- Giorgio (Berkeley, Calif.)

A: Hold that thought, Giorgio, they get angrier. …

Q: I would just like to know, what's up with Jeff Green? Watching him play up until this point this season has been incredibly frustrating. He should easily be the best scorer on the team. I feel like he should be averaging 21-22 points per night. I don't understand why he's not more aggressive, instead of settling for outside shots (which, by the way, he seems to be missing every game). He should be driving [to] the basket more. Not to mention, when I watch him, sometimes it looks like he doesn't even know how to dribble with his left hand. It's kind of pathetic. What's his deal? -- Randall Ridge field, Conn.)

A: Everyone feel better? This topic probably deserves its own mailbag (and maybe it'll get one by February). We'll boil it down to this: We also expected more from Green during this time in the spotlight, but more often than not it feels like he has blended into the scenery (particularly when Boston was playing its best basketball). The Celtics' offensive rating is 3.8 points higher when Green is off the floor this season and Boston is minus-98 overall during his court time (third worst on the team behind Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley). Every time you're ready to give up on Green, he sucks you back in with a big shot or a tantalizing effort. The one thing that resonates with me is that coach Brad Stevens has noted how one of the best qualities in a player is knowing what you can expect on a nightly basis. With Green, you can just never be sure. For that reason, if the right deal materialized for future assets or cap savings over the next two seasons, Boston ought to think long and hard about it. The one reason I think it's more likely that they wait until the summer to make that decision is this: Getting Rajon Rondo back healthy will give the team a glimpse of what Green can do when he's not the focal point of the offense and maybe, just maybe, that extracts more consistency from him. But our readers are not holding their breath.

Q: I'm unsure of the benefit for the C's in acquiring Ryan Gomes [as part of the Lee-Bayless swap] and then waiving him. Did it clear cap space? -- Matthew/@NHWizard (via Twitter)

A: No, the Gomes inclusion will actually add about a half million dollars to Boston's salary commitment this season (not a huge deal considering the team freed about $2.1 million this season by swapping Lee for Bayless). It was likely the cost of doing business. Boston not only shed Lee's long-term salary, but got itself a $2.1 million trade exception in the swap (Gomes was absorbed via the minimum-salary exception). Boston is still roughly $1.7 million under the tax line this season, which could help it take on a small amount of salary in any future deal (or sign a future-minded player to fill their empty roster spot later in the year).

Q: I get that the Celtics are not willfully tanking, but the losses are piling up. Give me a reason to remain invested in the 2013-14 season from afar. -- Grove (Sterling Heights, Mich.)

A: Rondo's return should naturally inspire some intrigue after a year off the court, but his return also starts an important span of evaluating Boston's entire roster. So the Celtics have a pretty good idea of the core guys they'd like to build around in the future, but the final three months of the season will go a long way toward cementing those plans. For instance, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has been adamant that Rondo can be the centerpiece. But we do have to see how he performs as the on-court leader under first-year coach Brad Stevens. If Boston decides that Rondo is, indeed, the guy to build around, then they can see how guys like Bradley, Jared Sullinger, and Green perform with him. That will go a long way toward whether Boston gives Bradley his potential payday in restricted free agency this summer, or if Green will stick around. The final couple months could tell us a lot about how the next couple years could look around here.

Q: Do you see the C's making any moves for young talent this year, or is the focus on getting money off the books? -- @eLiud3 (via Twitter)

A: Boston clearly has a priority toward unclogging the cap, but as the Lee-Bayless swap showed, there are ways to accomplish a bit of both in one deal. Boston got two future seasons of Lee's bloated salary off their books, while bringing on a 25-year-old player that they like and can possibly retain on their bench at a reasonable rate in the future. If the Celtics make it through the deadline with an open roster spot and a little bit of wiggle room under the luxury-tax line, I'd absolutely expect them to sign a player to a potentially nonguaranteed deal (the type that gets them involved in Boston's system in the final month and through the summer, and gives the Celtics the chance to decide if they make the roster next season. Think: Terrence Williams, Shavlik Randolph).

Q: What is the next step, in your mind, for the Boston Celtics? Will it be moving Gerald Wallace? -- Joe (Plainview, N.Y.)

A: Wait a second there Joe, we're heading to another touchy subject with readers.

Q: I'm tired of hearing Gerald Wallace ripping the team after every loss. For a guy who is averaging 4 points per game while being paid $10 million per year (worst contract in the NBA), it's time to look in the mirror first. What's your take on Wallace? -- Chris (Woburn, Mass.)

A: And that's only a sample of the venom unleashed on Wallace in this week's letters. I understand why some are sick of hearing Wallace chirping after losses. But despite his declining production, he has been a good presence for the Celtics this season. We can debate whether he has been a bit too vocal at times, especially in the immediate (and emotional) aftermath of lopsided defeats, but it has been good for Boston's young roster to have a veteran who isn't afraid to speak up and question the team's efforts. That said, if the Celtics can find a way to move his contract, it would be the biggest triumph of the season. Frankly, I'm not sure how they do that without giving up a young, low-cost talent (Olynyk? Sullinger?) or a combination of picks, and that price tag might be too steep to pursue. And I'm just not a fan of the stretch provision. Yes, Boston could waive him this summer and pay $4 million in each of the next five seasons to move on, but that's an awful lot of money to pay to not have a player. At that point, I'd almost rather part with a future draft pick than just eat a bad deal.

LIGHTNING ROUND! ('80s guitar solo plays behind lightning sound effect )

Q: Does Brandon Bass have any real trade value? -- Tom (Boston)

A: Absolutely. Like the rest of the Celtics, he's cooled recently, but he's a versatile defender who could really help a contender in need of frontcourt help. And his deal, with only one season remaining at reasonable money, isn't prohibitive to absorb.

Q: How do you think the idea of Jordan Crawford returning to a backup 2 guard will sit with him once Rajon Rondo returns? -- Nick (Sydney, Australia)

[+] EnlargeBrad Stevens, Gerald Wallace
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyGerald Wallace's frequent post-loss criticism of his team may be starting to backfire.

A: I like the idea of a potential Crawford/Bayless backourt, the tandem capable of sharing both ball-handling duties and shots (Stevens has noted he likes having multiple ball-handlers on the court, particularly in reserve lineups). Crawford simply has to maximize his floor time now, with less margin for error (like that mind-numbing turnover on a 3-on-1 break against the Clippers).

Q: When a player like Greg Stiemsma scores 12 points against your team, shouldn't you begin to be concerned about your interior defense? -- Adrien (Belgium)

A: You bite your tongue when talking about the Steamer. I'm actually surprised I didn't get more letters this week lamenting how Boston let Stiemsma get away. You're slipping, nostalgia crowd (or maybe you were too busy penning love letters decrying the decision to immediately waive Gomes).

Q: Whatever happened to Shavlik Randolph? -- Van (Buffalo Center, Iowa)

A: That's more like it! Last we heard, Shav was back in China after the C's released him last summer. With every opponent offensive rebound, we fondly recall Randolph's late-season exploits last season.

Q: Prediction on Rajon Rondo return date? -- James (Quincy, Mass.)

A: Hard to imagine him missing the return of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on Jan. 26 (almost exactly a year after he suffered the ACL tear). But here's guessing he surprises us sooner. Clearly, Celtics fan could use a bit of good news to cheer them up.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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