A new calendar year typically ushers in renewed optimism. But even the sort of fresh start that 2013 will offer might not be enough to undo the pessimism that has set in for Celtics fans amidst a ghastly three-game losing streak that dropped the team to two games below .500 to close out 2012.
It's enough to make some wonder: what if the Celtics simply never put it together this season?
"You feel that every year, you really do," coach Doc Rivers admitted before the team's 1-3 road trip that ended with three consecutive losses by at least 18 points. "That's a fear even when you're playing well -- that you may have a good record, but your eyes tell you something different, or you feel something different. I think this team wants to [click], and I think they have to learn how to. I've had teams here in the past that we've won with, that I didn't feel like they wanted to. And somehow, they did it. They got there."
Rivers is hoping some of his players, particularly the newer faces with old habits, will use their New Year's resolutions to subscribe to what has made the Celtics so successful in recent seasons. And that wayward veterans will revert to those familiar ways, as well. But it comes down to actually doing those things.
"Our minds are in the right place, I think our heads are in the right place," Rivers said. "It's a good group of guys that want to win. But it's a lot of guys from different places bringing a lot of different habits, and their habits show under pressure right now. And it breaks down things that we do offensively and defensively. That's what we're trying to focus our guys on, staying in good habits -- our habits."
The natural inclination for observers is to scream for a change, the old belief that sometimes the only thing that can save a team is a shake-up. Boston's decision-makers have preached patience amidst early-season inconsistencies and staying the course seemingly remains the team's best avenue for long-term success.
If nothing else, the team is about to get a little jolt with the impending return of Avery Bradley. While no one expects the third-year guard to turn this team around on his own, there's a belief that his defensive talents will bring consistency to that end of the floor. What's more, his presence should have a trickle-down effect on the bench, allowing the Celtics to (finally) cement Jason Terry and Courtney Lee in reserve roles, which could help that group start developing some much-needed consistency.
What's prudent to keep in mind is that there are still four months left in the regular season. There's still nearly two months until the trade deadline. While this team is making it impossible for its fan base to remain patient given its uninspired level of play, some of these calls to blow up the roster or fire the coach seem insanely shortsighted.
Go ahead and circle Jan. 24 on your calendar. That seems like a prudent date to better examine where Boston stands. That gives Bradley, assuming he's healthy enough to return to action on Wednesday night against the Grizzlies, about 12 games to show whether his addition alone is enough to give Boston that much-needed kick in the tail.
It also gives Boston about a month to work out of whatever woes it is enduring at the moment, playing eight of those 12 games at home. There's a quality mix of playoff opponents (Grizzlies, Pacers, Hawks, Knicks) and bottom-feeders (Cavaliers, Bobcats, Hornets, Suns) to gauge whether Boston is progressing.
Earlier this month in Philadelphia, 76ers coach Doug Collins was asked how long it takes a team to find its identity. His answer seems to ring true with the Celtics at the moment.
"I don't think you know who you are until you face some adversity, and you have to really gather around each other, and be that team you've worked so hard to become," Collins said. "Obviously, you'd rather not have those kind of moments, but for the most part, unless you're a super elite team in this league, either an injury or a schedule is going to get you and you're going to have some bumps in the road."
Kevin Garnett seemed to echo that sentiment after Sunday's loss in Sacramento, telling reporters: "These are dog days. This is when you really see who's with you right now. Ain't nobody cheering. Ain't no lights on us right now. And I love this right here, because this is when all the plastic people melt. So we've all got to look at ourselves in the mirror, including myself, and try to figure out what I can do better to help this team."
Added Garnett: "I'm not living in the past or nothing, but the reason why guys came back and made additions to this team is because of what we built here. We've been known to defend. For some reason we've gotten away from that, so we've got to go back to our origins and figure it out. I told y'all [after Saturday's loss to the Warriors], these are the times when you're going to see who really wants it, who really is willing to work to change this."
The Celtics seem unwilling to believe this won't turn around. For now, they refuse to accept the notion that this won't click. But it's going to take work to right this ship and it's going to take a resolution to work much harder in 2013.