- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- The rumors suggest they're about to be torn apart, but all this noise might simply be bringing the Boston Celtics closer together.
An inconsistent and often uninspired first half of the 2011-12 season left Boston's core dangling as the trade winds pick up in advance of the mid-March trade deadline. But while the daily buzz seems to suggest a roster division looms, the Celtics have responded by rallying together, both in shooting down the chatter and playing better basketball.
The Celtics climbed back above .500 with their third win in a row with Friday's 107-94 triumph over the New Jersey Nets -- all while dismissing the various rumors surrounding their players to date.
"It's nothing that we haven't been through before," said captain Paul Pierce. "[Rajon] Rondo's been through it; I've been though it a number of times. The thing is you have to do your job, you can't let that affect you. I kind of mentioned it to Rondo today, how I was part of trade rumors for probably four or five straight years. I just didn't let it affect me on how I approached each and every game. You know whatever happens, happens -- it's a business. Sometimes you don't have control of it."
The Celtics certainly have control of one thing: their on-court performance. And Friday's effort was their best in weeks. From limiting their first-half turnovers (two for no points), to offensive execution (32 first-half points in the paint; 50 percent shooting from the floor), the team built a 21-point first-half cushion and never looked back against New Jersey.
The Celtics know they need more of that. After all, there's only two ways to stomp out trade rumors: (1) win games, and (2) discredit bad information.
The Celtics did both Friday. Even before the win, Rivers sounded off on "silly season," his nickname for this time of year. But make no mistake: He finds very little trivial or innocuous about trade rumors.
Rivers again voiced frustration about what he claims are unsubstantiated rumors, including a report earlier this week that indicated the Celtics were "aggressively shopping" Rondo.
Rivers is genuinely concerned that bad information could adversely affect his players at an absolutely critical juncture of not only the 2011-12 season, but the franchise's future. The Celtics must determine soon how to approach the trade deadline and whether they will be buyers (stocking up for a postseason run), sellers (admitting they are not true contenders and auctioning off pieces of their core), or detonators (completely blowing up the core in order to facilitate rebuilding).
Winning games will eliminate some rumors, but not all of them. So Rivers did his best to clarify the chatter.
"I don't mind any rumors that are true," Rivers said. "I think I'm pretty up front with you guys about it. I do get upset when they are not true. Or, in my opinion, sometimes news is created. And then people report on the news that they created. And when that happens, I'm not real happy with it."
"So, in this case, and in the Gasol case, that's two already that I haven't been real happy with," Rivers said. "Because there was no truth to that. That Gasol rumor was even crazier; that was just ridiculous. I don't know where it came from. When that kind of stuff happens, it bothers you because it's being created by somebody outside of your touch. And you can't do anything about it."
"Well, I'm going to put it like this: If this is the first time I've heard it, what do you think?" he said.
Rivers noted he talked with Rondo on Friday, but it wasn't about rumors. Rivers said he made a quick crack about Rondo in trade headlines, but the conversation immediately steered to Friday's visit from Deron Williams and the Nets.
Rivers does know there's 13 days left in silly season, plenty of time for even more absurd rumors to circulate and distract his team from the goal of simply winning games.
"It is what it is," Rivers sighed. "This year, in my opinion, the games mean so much more now and you have two weeks to go through this stuff."
Added Rivers: "From a coaching standpoint, you're trying to get your guys ready to play a game and then they are answering all this [rumor] stuff. In the past, it's been three or four games in that [rumors] stretch; this year's it's probably eight or nine games in that stretch and your season can change in there. I think that's why all of us, at least coaching-wise, are a little more aggressive in trying to head this off."
Players almost universally confronted the recent rumors head-on after Friday's game. Instead of letting it fracture their foundation, everyone is rallying around one another, highlighted by Rivers' going to bat for Rondo on Thursday.
"I don't know where people are getting their information from, but it was big of Doc to come out with a statement," Rondo said Friday after Rivers told ESPNBoston.com on Thursday that his relationship with Rondo has never been better and the coach wants his point guard here this season. "People are still going to say that me and Doc have problems, even after that comment and statement he made, they are still going to say what they want to say. It's just part of life."
Yes, it's part of silly season. These previously staggering Celtics could have easily splintered amid the rumors. Instead, the noise might just be unifying them for a stretch run.
"We hear [the rumors], but it's out of our hands, man," Garnett said. "We try to get everybody that's in the talks, we try to make sure they stay focused, enjoy being here, enjoy the guys that are here. Management is going to do what they have to do, but, as players, we have to come together in this locker room, and understand we are players, we are in the same boat. We do support one another, and at the end of the day, we're C's. And everybody understands that."
By the time silly season passes, the rest of the league might not be laughing at a refocused Boston squad.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.
The Celtics can't control all the trade rumors, but winning sure helps.