Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The opposite of chemistry

I'm not talking about bad chemistry vs. good chemistry; I'm just not talking about chemistry at all for a moment. Instead this is about components- the parts that in theory anyway will add up to a tidy sum:

Kevin McHale once said in reference to the great Celtic teams of the 80s (paraphrasing): "We knew that going into each game we we're going to win most of the matchups." ...McHale was almost always going to outplay his opposite number, Parish his most nights, DJ and Ainge theirs more often than not, and Bird was going to destroy whatever poor soul stood in front of him every time. Game in game out, all those individual advantages added up to something special.

Along those lines, here's a few thoughts about the current roster and why this probably is not the roster you'll see in early November:

THE EAST is a barren landscape without any giant mountains blocking anyone's path. It's an open plain with almost every team having a shot at the playoffs, and many of those having a legitimate chance at being a league finalist. Here's a brief look at the Celtics' key players and how they might fare against their eastern rivals:

Perkins and Ratliff: It almost seems crazy to say the phrase "key players" and then list Theo Ratliff in the next sentence. But that's what the roster reads like right now and if both are healthy and here these two will eat up a lot of the minutes at center. Perkins is determined. Ratliff is in a contract year. But once again quoting the convivial McHale: "It takes more than wanting it. You can put five plumbers out there and I don't care how much they want it, they're not going to win."
The result: Most nights the two pure centers will lose their individual match up. Neither scores. Whatever else they give won't fully make up for that deficit. It's a big net minus.

Jefferson and Gomes: There are so many keys to the coming season, none bigger than Big Al himself. Will he make another leap? Based just on last season, more nights than not he's going to outperform his eastern counterpart. If we can make that MOST nights, that would go a long way to insuring a comfortable playoff spot. Gomes should be much more effective now that he doesn't have to carry a big load anymore, but rather just fills in where needed with his many skills.
The result: net plus, with a possibility of a big plus.

Ray Allen and Paul Pierce: LeBron James, Carter and Richard Jefferson, Dwyane Wade, Arenas and Butler, Hamilton and Prince, Luol Deng and other talented sorts make the wing positions a very competitive place in the east. But most nights the Celtics win here. They better.
The result: a sizable plus.

Rondo and (gulp) who else?: This is a cloudy forecast- not cloudy in the negative sense, but cloudy in the I CAN'T SEE sense. I love Rondo, but who can tell how he'll perform this season? Talented second year points often become really special like Deron Williams. They also often don't. And what happens when Rondo's out of the game?
The result: you tell me.

Everyone else: I expect Tony Allen to come along slowly, Leon Powe to play with great desire but still be short, Scalabrine to run around a lot, Gerald Green to jump very high, Big Baby to be a lot of fun, Brandon Wallace with his height and defense might actually contribute, Gabe Pruitt and Telfair right now are inadequate back up points.
The result: If you're absolutely depending on any of these guys for wins you may be pleasantly surprised or unpleasantly disappointed. It's wait and see here.

The conclusion is in no way groundbreaking. It was obvious before and it's obvious now: The Celtics are going to win big at the wings. Jefferson will very likely more than hold his own and perhaps become scary at one of the big spots. But the Celtics are going to lose the pure center battles many nights, and their point situation appears to be unstable.

They still must have a long agile big man and a veteran point. If they can shore up those two weak spots the playoffs are assured. If not, you can lump them in with a whole lot of other incomplete eastern teams vying for the same playoff positions:

Detroit, Miami, Chicago, and Cleveland are in. That's it.

Toronto had an impressive year last season and could go up or down from there. Washington and New Jersey (just like Boston) have three guys to build around. Orlando has Howard, and Rashard minus Darko is still a net plus. If Milwaukee is healthy they're a playoff possibility. New York is vulnerable but plays hard and can't be dismissed out of hand with Randolph on board.

The rest- Philly, Indiana, Charlotte, and Atlanta will likely fall short; but that still leaves seven teams to fit into four positions.

Now we will talk about chemistry, because if no other moves are made that's what it comes down to. Depending on how it goes, the Celtics as currently constructed are anywhere from having homecourt advantage in the first round to being about 10th in the conference. That's why the OTHER TRADE must happen. Too much was spent on Ray Allen in Delonte West and the 5th pick for the Celtics not to take the next critical step. They must make that second deal to insure their rise to prominence right now.

They cannot go into the season as they are presently constructed. It's not good enough.

Big names are available. The Celtics have assets to use. Make it happen. Don't just go half way.

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