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Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Did Danny get it right?

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

The Celtics Mailbag lightens up this time of year, with the trade deadline in the rearview mirror (thankfully) and all the outrageous trade proposals stashed safely away until summer. That doesn't mean fans don't still have plenty of questions about this team moving forward.

Q: Are people undervaluing what Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett mean to a locker room? I feel like all we hear about is how they are old, but that experience is valuable. How many teams can take a risk bringing in a player (i.e. Jordan Crawford) and not have to worry because of who else is on the team? I think that presence is being overlooked, but that's what separates the Celtics franchise from others. -- Brian (South Boston, Mass.)

A: I try to bring this up every time someone asks about trading Garnett. Can you replace 15.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game? Of course. Can you replace the backbone of your defense and the entire conscious of your organization? Of course not. Garnett's impact cannot be measured simply by on-court production. I thought it was interesting to hear Wyc Grousbeck point out how the organization valued the opportunity for its young core to experience a playoff series alongside Garnett and Pierce this year. The Boston brass is being very realistic about this team's chances to achieve its ultimate goal this season, but the Celtics have clearly put a value on allowing their young core to experience a playoff stint alongside veterans that know what it takes to win the biggest prize. And we know how fiercely protective of his locker room coach Doc Rivers is. The mere idea of losing Garnett and Pierce, while Rajon Rondo is rehabbing, would have left a humongous void in leadership for the next iteration of this core. Boston has to move on without Garnett and Pierce at some point, but the value in keeping them around for the rest of this season is often overlooked and undervalued.
Garnett/Pierce
The importance of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Celtics can't be measured simply by on-court production.

Q: In your estimation, should Danny Ainge have dealt Pierce for 70 cents on the dollar, then traded Garnett (assuming he would then lift his no-trade clause) and start it over? It seems a team with DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe, Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger is a good young nucleus. -- Andy (Reston, Va.)

A: The Celtics were absolutely in an unenviable position. Injuries ravaged Boston's depth and lengthened its odds for making a title run. With aging veterans, the Celtics most certainly had to consider an overhaul -- as difficult as that extreme makeover might have been to stomach. Alas, if you believe the post-deadline spin, Ainge and his staff were simply underwhelmed by the available offers. I like that the organization set high prices for its talent and was willing to ride this thing out unless it was bowled over. If Rondo and Sullinger bounce back healthy next season, there's still a young core in position, and the Celtics have the summer to address how to proceed with the veterans. I've long subscribed to the win-now mentality because, as Boston's injury history emphasizes, you just never know how things will play out year to year. I think the Celtics look at the East and believe they can compete regardless of adversity. No offer floored them, so they took a safer path with a chance to re-evaluate down the road.

Q: Do you see Doc Rivers using a playoff-esque rotation like he did Monday night in Utah to help improve the C's playoff seeding? -- @_robhardy (via Twitter)

A: No, Rivers previously stressed in Phoenix that this team's strategy hasn't changed. The Celtics will prioritize health and rest ahead of playoff positioning. Now, that doesn't mean Boston is resigned to the seventh spot, but if Garnett needs rest, Rivers is not going to risk running him into the ground over shuffling up a spot. Let's face it, all anyone in the East desires to do is avoid the No. 8 spot and the daunting prospect of playing Miami out of the gates. I'm simply not sure there's a tremendous difference in talent level after that, and Boston's road-heavy schedule makes getting up into the top four seeds a daunting prospect.

Q: They say numbers don't lie. So how have I performed this season? How can I help the team (outside of sitting out the rest of the season, which I personally think would be a bit extreme)? -- Brandon Bass (Baton Rouge, La.)

A: Brandon, I've been particularly critical of your game this season, but you've actually been playing more inspired ball lately. I like that you're being more aggressive on offense, particularly going at the basket and not settling for just being a pick-and-popper. Your shot totals are rising, which is an encouraging sign that your confidence is coming back. (Deny it as you might, it dipped this season when shots weren't falling.) After a slow start, your defensive numbers are starting to bounce back a bit. According to Synergy Sports data, you're now allowing 0.778 points per play, ranking in the 84th percentile among all league players. Here are two things to focus on the rest of the way: rebounding and consistency. Thin on bigs, this team absolutely needs you on the glass, and a 9.5 rebound percentage over the past five games isn't acceptable; neither is a 112.2 defensive rating. Especially when you don't have Garnett on the floor alongside, you need to elevate your game on the defensive end to mask the team's size deficiency.

Q: After a solid first two games, Terrence Williams hasn't seen much playing time. What are the C's planning to do with him? -- @ill_Bill89 (via Twitter)

A: Hold on, we have a similar question (and y'all know I can't resist a question from the actual "player") ...

Q: Chris, this is Day 7 of my 10-day contract, and Doc didn't put me in Monday night. Should I be worried? I really don't want to go back to China. -- Terrence Williams (Boston via Seattle)

A: Don't fret, Terrence (or Twitter Bill). I think the team really likes what you've shown. You've displayed an ability to handle the ball with the reserve offense and be a competitive defender at three positions. Some additional time in the playbook during this break in game action should help. If you simply put all of your energy into competing on defense and facilitating the offense (finding shots in the flow), I think you'll stick around the rest of the season. You add nice depth at the swingman spots. Just remember that minutes might be sporadic at times, particularly when the rotation tightens up. Don't try to do too much when those minutes come and you can carve out a role for the rest of the regular season.

Q: There were some references to a Jordan Crawford/Kevin Garnett "incident" when Crawford was acquired last week. Can you shed some light on that? -- KFo (South Boston, Mass.)

A: Crawford got a little chatty during a summer pickup game, and Garnett reportedly delivered a little head slap intended to shut him up. As Crawford said when he joined the team in Phoenix, "It was never a thing. It was just basketball. Now we're on the [same] team. Hopefully I can help them." Confidence isn't a bad thing when harnessed correctly, particularly for a reserve shooting guard. I like Crawford as a wild card, and I'm interested to see how his game develops as he settles in.

Q: Are we saving the last roster spot for an established vet? These young guys are not ready for playoff battle (Boston waited too long on Kenyon Martin) -- Father Time (Texas)

A: I do think the Celtics are being patient while waiting to gauge which players become available before the March 1 deadline. (Players need to be bought out by then in order to be playoff eligible for their new team.) Cap-strapped Boston doesn't have much flexibility, so it is giving Terrence Williams and DJ White the opportunity to play their way into rest-of-the-season deals while keeping an eye on any veteran bigs that shake free. Rivers has admitted to desiring some extra depth up front. I get the feeling the Celtics were fine with letting someone else give Martin a first look, considering he's been available and they've needed big help for a while.

Q: Is it time for Jeff Green to start ahead of Brandon Bass? I think he needs the minutes to help his confidence. -- @itsUncleLeo (via Twitter)

A: I like Green in a bench role. It's easy to watch his 31-point outburst in Phoenix and think a starting role would increase his production, but there's no reason he shouldn't be able to do what he did off the bench. He's still averaging about 32 minutes per game lately in a reserve role. And the second unit really needs his spark when he's being aggressive. If he were a better rebounder than Bass, it might be a discussion, but Green is better suited to spell Pierce early.

Q: How come the turnovers didn't go up drastically like everyone said they would? -- @CjEuLnTICS (via Twitter)

A: Phenomenal question. In the 43 games before Rondo tore his ACL, the Celtics had a team turnover percentage of 15.3 percent (11th best in the league). Without Rondo -- and without a pure backup point guard -- we all figured that number would rise. Over the past 14 games, however, the number has actually dipped to 13.9 percent, which is fifth best in the league in that span. Part of the answer is that Boston probably isn't as aggressive in transition without a pure ball handler, which eliminated some reckless turnovers from attacking the basket at full speed -- but probably comes at the expense of some transition points. A simplified offense has helped drive the turnover numbers down as well. But I'm guessing ball security has been a big focus for Rivers, as Boston simply cannot be competitive without valuing the ball in this post-Rondo world.
Jeff Green
Is it time for Jeff Green to get the starting role in place of Brandon Bass?

Q: Wyc Grousbeck said that people heavily involved in Banner 17 will be in the rafters. Can we infer then that Ray Allen and Rondo will have their numbers retired someday? I feel Pierce and KG were widely believed to be done deals. -- Colton (Salt Lake City)

A: Pierce is obvious, but there's certainly some debate about Garnett. The standards in Boston are so ridiculously high given the team's past success that it ramps up the degree of difficulty for modern players, particularly ones who played only part of their careers there. At the moment, I'd put the odds in favor of Garnett landing in the rafters. Allen? Not so much, and it has little to do with the way things ended; five late-career seasons, as decorated as they were, might leave the résumé thin. Let's revisit Rondo in a decade. The Celtics are going to run out of numbers if they put every ring-wearing alumnus in the rafters.

Q: Which team do you think is the best matchup for the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs? I am from the school of thought that with this squad it would be best to face Miami. If everyone expects Miami to come out of the Eastern Conference, isn't it better to face them as healthy and fresh as possible in the first round? Thoughts? -- NBA Fan (Indiana)

A: I actually subscribed to this notion last year, but I've sort of reversed my thinking. Given the unpredictability of the postseason, it's almost better to hope someone else can knock off a juggernaut than try to do it yourself. There's some value in posturing for position, but the longer a team can go without seeing the best team in its conference, the better. If I had to pick among Indiana, New York and Brooklyn in the first round -- and I don't think any of them leave Boston shaking in its high-tops -- I think the Knicks would be the preference. The Celtics play well in MSG, and New York has the most inconsistent defense of that bunch.

Q: Every year, by the end of the season, we hear Doc Rivers telling the same old story: "I'm taking rest and health over playoff seeding." Do you think this year will be no different or will they try to get as high as No. 4 to have (maybe?) home-court advantage in the first round and a chance to take the Heat in the second round? -- Marcel (Brazil)

A: The more I consider the options, the 3-6 matchup wouldn't be the worst thing if Boston could shuffle up just one spot and leapfrog Chicago or Atlanta. The prospects of playing the 2-7 winner have to be more enticing than seeing the Heat in Round 2. Bottom line is that the Celtics haven't put themselves in a particularly endearing spot due to injuries and inconsistent play. They are at the mercy of where the chips fall heading to the postseason and have little control over their own destiny. Boston's focus should simply be on playing the most inspired ball possible when mid-April arrives.

Q: The Celtics are now 10-18 on the road. Do you see them becoming a better road team, or will the struggles on the road continue even in the playoffs? -- La'Quisha (Vietnam)

A: This is by far the most troubling stat of the season. Teams that can't win on the road don't win in the playoffs, particularly when they are a lower seed. Maybe that's why Monday's win in Utah was encouraging. But with a road-heavy slate in the second half of the season, Boston has to be more competitive to give itself some confidence away from TD Garden. This team used to thrive in hostile environments and needs to rekindle that to overachieve in the postseason.

Q: Will the Celtics be players in the offseason via trades/free agency? -- @ASp0rtsAholic (via Twitter)

A: Offseason? Offseason!? The trade deadline passes and you are already worrying about the offseason!? The answer is yes, but let's enjoy the rest of this season. Savor whatever this team is able to accomplish in the face of adversity. There will be plenty of time to break down the 2013-14 roster when the season is over.