By Bill Simmons
Page 2

Before we delve into Part Two of my First Trimester report card, Troy Murphy's double-double in the Fleet Center last night made me think of something: You could make a strong case that, in 2001, former Celtics GM Chris Wallace had the worst draft in the history of any sport. Consider the following things:

  • The Celtics had the 10th and 21st picks, plus the option to either A.) use Denver's pick at No. 11, or B.) keep rolling that pick over. They ended up exercising the pick, giving them three in the top 21.

  • At the time, the Celtics had two keepers (Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce), plus four pricey veterans under contract for two years or more (Kenny Anderson, Tony Battie, Eric Williams, Vitaly Potapenko).

  • They had three specific needs: Find an athletic swingman who could shoot threes; find a young point guard; find another rebounder.

    So what happened? They ended up taking three shooting guards: Joe Johnson, Kedrick Brown and Joe Forte. None of them are still with the team; Forte is out of the league. Johnson was sent packing to Phoenix with a No. 1 for Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers eight months later -- a trade which helped them make the Eastern Finals, but seemed short-sighted when they failed to re-sign Rogers that summer.

    Basically, they whiffed on all three picks. Johnson panned out in Phoenix, but they could have had Richard Jefferson, Troy Murphy or Vlad Radmanovic in Brown's spot (all of whom they worked out). Instead of Forte and trying to convert him into a point guard, they could have taken Tony Parker or Jamaal Tinsley at No. 21. And while we're here, Zack Randolph (17), Brendan Haywood (20), Gerald Wallace (25), Sam Dalembert (26), Gilbert Arenas (30), Memo Okur (37) and Bobby Simmons (41) all became solid NBA players as well. You could argue that it was the deepest draft in years.

    Here's my point: For that particular team, the safe picks would have been Johnson/Jefferson, Murphy/Radmanovic, and Parker/Tinsley. But GM's don't become famous by making safe picks -- at least they think they don't -- so Wallace rolled the dice with Brown (an athletic Juco player with no basketball sense) and Forte (who couldn't play point and was a shaky guy to boot). Doesn't make him a bad person. Just makes him a bad GM. More importantly, it will be a long time before I get over the 2001 Draft.

    (And if you think I'm bad, you should hear my Dad, who loved Troy Murphy in college, lobbied for the Celtics to take him and gets traumatized when he watches Murph on the Warriors now. Considering that my Dad was also against the Billups-Anderson trade, the Blount signing, the Baker trade and the LaFrentz-Walker deal, you could make a strong case that he should be running the Celtics right now, or at least serving in a Vito Corleone-type capacity like Red Auerbach. But what do I know?)

    Onto Part Two ...

    RAEF LAFRENTZ
    Surprisingly competent season: 27.5 minutes a game, 11.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, nine double-doubles, hasn't looked totally crippled running up and down the floor. He's in that Kenny Reeves stage -- big knee brace, grimaces all the time, never looks totally comfortable with that bum wheel -- and he's certainly a different player than he was in Dallas and Denver (when he played above the rim). But he's been a pleasant surprise; you have to admire how he's been playing in pain and gritting out back-to-backs and four-game/five-night swings. And he would definitely help a contending team -- for instance, if Minnesota traded Sprewell and Ervin Johnson (two expiring contracts) for Ricky D, Raef and Raef's enormous contract (runs through 2009), Raef would end up being their crunch-time five and Eddie Griffin would have someone to hang out with. Good trade for both teams. It's not like Minny could ever get under the cap with KG's contract, anyway.

    (Does any of this excuse the brutal Raef-Antoine trade before last season? Of course not. You can't take on that kind of contract for someone with bad knees. You just can't. Still, the Celts may be able to salvage this one before the deadline.)

    Grade: B-plus.

    WALTER MCCARTY
    Here's a guy who has remained in the league because of three things: His energy, his attitude and his three-point shooting. Well, he admitted last week that he wasn't been playing with enough energy, which raises the question, "If you're Walter McCarty, how can you not play at anything less than 110%?" His three-point shooting was gawd-awful until about three weeks ago -- he's up to 34% now, which still isn't good considering that's his only skill. And supposedly he's been complaining behind-the-scenes for more PT. In other words, he's been 0-for-3 in the "Things I Need To Do To Stay In The League" department.

    My stance on Walter hasn't changed for six years: If he's anything other than your 10th man, and if he's playing in the last five minutes for any other reason than "Everyone else is in foul trouble," you're probably looking at a .500 season ... or worse.

    Grade: C-minus

    GARY PAYTON
    I was dead-wrong about the Blount contract ... but I was dead-right about the GP trade. Like I argued last summer, the Lakers were the worst-possible team for him -- GP needs the ball in his hands, needs to run the show, needs to bark at the officials and bounce stuff off the coach and feel like it's his team. None of those things were possible in KobeLand. And yes, there's still something left in the GP Tank. Offensively, he's still pretty good. Defensively, he has trouble stopping quick guards and defending high screens, which gives him something in common with Steve Nash, Sam Cassell and every other veteran in the league. And he still has some swagger in him. He's been a joy to watch and a true professional in every sense of the word.

    Do I think he would help a contender like Minnesota, Houston, Seattle or Dallas? Absolutely. Do I think he would be a godsend for the Clippers? No question. But I would rather see the Celts keep GP through the trading deadline, then sign him to a two-year extension, if only because Allen, Jefferson and even Pierce can learn from a Hall of Famer on an everyday basis. Whether GP would want to stick around with the likes of Ricky, Blount, Banks and even Pierce for another two years ... well, I doubt it.

    Grade: A-minus

    KENDRICK PERKINS
    They took a flier on this guy with the 27th pick in the 2003 Draft -- a 300-pound high schooler with something like 79.3% body fat -- and within 18 months, he got himself into decent shape and looms as a potential asset for this team. He's 6-foot-10, but he plays like 7-foot-2 with those long arms, which brings me to one of my favorite NBA theories: I love guys with long arms. If I ever ran an NBA team, all the big guys would have long arms. I'm not even kidding. Anyway, he's not bad and getting better, although you can't play him and Jefferson at the same time because of their defense. During a Knicks game last week, when Raef couldn't play, Perk grabbed 13 rebounds and looked pretty good. And he's another one of those Good Attitude Guys.

    My prediction: Within three years, he moves into that "Mediocre Big Men" group of "Guys who don't really kill you, have some decent skills, always try hard and make six million a year." Solid pick by Danny.

    Grade: B-plus

    PAUL PIERCE
    Peaked three years ago ... now his stats have settled into the inexorable decline of someone in their early-30's making max contract money.

    (By the way, he's only 27.)

    Here's what really ticks me off: He's basically on Ray Allen Memorial Cruise Control. That's been established. I'm Paul Pierce, I don't need to get better, I get to take the big shots at the end of games, I'm going to pretend to the press that I'm the leader of this team and then do little things during practices and shootarounds to show up my coach that nobody knows about, and then when I finally get traded, everyone will be stunned because they can't believe someone would trade an All-Star guard in their prime. But when the final year of his contract comes up in three seasons, I guarantee you'll see Pierce get into phenomenal shape and carry some team to 55 wins, just like Allen is doing this season in Seattle. And I'm sure it won't be in Boston -- he'll be long gone by then.

    One more thing on Pierce, and here's why he has no chance of making the All-Star team next month: The Celtics have played 32 games. By my calculations, Pierce has been the best player on the court in five of them: Opening night against Philly (35-13-8); 11/6 against the Knicks (28-10-8); 12/18 against Cleveland (34-7-6); 12/31 against Washington (26-5-1); and 1/3 game the Hornets (19-10-10). Against a depleted Warriors team last night, with Mike Dunleavy, Cal Cheaney and Derek Fisher (!?!?!?!?!?!) guarding him, Pierce went 7-for-20, only attempted 7 free throws and finished with 19 points. How does an alleged All-Star not dominate a game like that at home? How???? An hour later, I went to the Staples Center and watched Corey Maggette carry the Clips to a win over Portland, going 8-for-12 from the field and 13-for-13 from the line for 31 points. The difference in effort between Maggette and Pierce ... I mean, it's not even worth discussing. One guy cares, the other guys pretends he cares. Huge difference.

    Which brings me to my point: Three years ago, Pierce was the best guy on the court every other game. And three years from now, when his contract is coming up, I'm sure he'll be the best guy on the court every other game. In the mean time, he'll be running up and down the floor with a 37-cent stamp on his forehead.

    (The NBA ... it's FANNNNNNNNN-tastic! I love this game!)

    Grade: C-minus

    JUSTIN REED, DELONTE WEST
    Two rookies who haven't gotten much run -- Reed because of numbers, West because of a broken thumb. Everyone has high hopes for West though. Including me.

    Grade: Incomplete.

    MICHAEL STEWART
    Always takes time to pick the right outfit, very supportive on the bench, sometimes even breaks out eyeglasses.

    Grade: B-plus

    JIRI WELSCH
    Just the wrong team for him -- the whole "freelancing/run-and-gun" routine isn't exactly his style. I'm a firm believer that certain players belong on certain teams, as Matt Harpring's career has proven over the past few years. Stick Jiri on a team like Utah or Sacramento, where guys who move without the ball are rewarded, and he'd probably average 15-16 a game. Seriously. Stick him on a team where Ricky and Paul are flipping a coin at midcourt to see who gets to shoot, and he's probably going to look like he does now: Glazed, unhappy and overwhelmed.

    Does he bring anything to the table? Absolutely. Good offensive player, looks Havlicek-ian at times, underrated defensive player. But he's soft and he doesn't stick up for himself. I see him bouncing around the league, making a couple more stops and eventually landing on some team out West and thriving as everyone says, "Wow, when did Jiri Welsch become good????" It will be like seeing Thomas Haden Church carry "Sideways" for scenes at a time.

    Grade: C

    DOC RIVERS
    The plusses: Great energy on the sidelines ... surrounded himself with a quality coaching staff ... developed the rookies nicely (especially Jefferson, although it's officially time for him to start playing more) ... did a nice job turning the team over to GP on the court ... handles the media very well ... benched Pierce for mouthing off to him during the last four minutes of the Bucks game (which I loved) ... during the Clippers game, became the first NBA coach to ever chest-bump a player during a game ... and most importantly, his team has stayed in every game but three (road games against Sacramento, San Antonio and Dallas).

    The minuses: His team has blown a staggering amount of games in the fourth quarter, which remains the biggest reason why they're 15-17 ... has a knack for pulling a bench player out of the game just as they're starting to come on (especially Jefferson) ... hasn't gone with the Smallball lineup (GP, Allen, Pierce, Ricky and Jefferson or LaFrentz) nearly enough ... defers way too much to Pierce down the stretch ... rarely runs any high screens for GP or posts him up (a major mistake) ... remained WAY too patient with Blount for WAY too long ... has thrown out some of the most inexplicable five-man lineups I've ever seen on a basketball court.

    How much of those minuses were directly related to the whole "I'm trying different things to see what I have here" mentality? It's hard to say. And how many of them were directly related to unprofessionalism off the court from some of the veterans on the team? Again, hard to say. During the beginning of the season, it took Doc nearly a month to realize something that was painfully obvious -- Welsch needed to start and Ricky needed to come off the bench. So that worries me. But I can't judge him until March. It's too soon.

    (Although I will say this: He hasn't done anything to live down the "Great motivator, terrible game coach" rap that was hanging on him in Orlando.)

    Grade: B-minus

    DANNY AINGE
    Things are proceeding as planned -- two years ago, this wasn't a fun team to watch, and they only had 2-3 commodities for a trade. Now it's a fun team to watch, they have guys to trade, they have expiring contracts, then even have a stable of intriguing young guys on the bench (including a potential franchise player).

    The future of this team takes shape next month before the deadline: They have three expiring contracts -- Payton ($5.5 million), Googs ($2.5 million) and Michael Stewart's corpse ($5 million) -- that can be packaged to anyone looking to get under the cap. So they need to get creative, whether it's making a play for one more veteran who could help (like Antoine Walker or Nick Van Exel); rebuilding from scratch (like packaging Pierce and LaFrentz to Portland for Stoudamire and Abdur-Rahim's expiring contracts); or using some of their pieces to dump the contracts of LaFrentz or Blount (like trading Ricky, Blount and Stewart to Atlanta for Walker; or Raef, GP and Davis to Minny for Sprewell, Olowokandi and Cassell).

    But Danny has to do something. And he knows it. So this grade could be changing in a few weeks -- whether it's higher or lower remains to be seen.

    Grade: B-plus.

    WYC GROUSBECK
    He's the owner of the Celtics, traditionally a thankless job with this franchise ... well, except for Paul Gaston, who refused to sign Rogers and okayed the Vin Baker trade when he knew he was selling the team a few weeks later, screwing over an entire fan base in the process. Thanks, Paul. Anyway, in his short time with the team, Wyc has made his mark in one unique way: He's entered the Brigitte Wilson-Sampras/Mark Cuban Pantheon for "Best reactions in the stands from someone affiliated with the team after a good play." It's almost become a Celtics tradition -- we see Tony Allen jamming a rebound home, we see a quick cut to Wyc applauding happily, and then Tommy Heinsohn screams something incoherent. If this sequence came out on DVD, I think I would buy it.

    Grade: A-minus

    Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.


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