If you haven't heard, we play the Boston Celtics tonight. So to mark the occasion, Steve Weinman of CelticsBlog was kind enough to chat with us about the current state of our two respective teams. Our answers can be found here in Steve's latest "Daily Babble Production", a column that he somehow manages to keep lengthy, interesting, and uncommonly insightful on a daily basis. Here's what Steve had to say:
DS: I've heard rumors that the Celtics are pursuing Robert Horry now that PJ Brown is adamant about staying retired. Given the history Horry has with Sam Cassell (but also with his nemesis Danny Ainge), what are the chances Horry wears the green and white... and how useful would he be in a Doc Rivers system?
SW: I first mulled this one over last summer because Robert Horry is one of my top five to ten players of the last 15 years. Since I'm not the one who mentions him in my site mission statement, I probably can't claim to you folks that I'm at the head of his fan club, but I'm darn close (and yes, count me in as a supporter for his Hall of Fame campaign). I probably would have killed to have as recent as the 2006-07 version of Robert Horry on this contending Celts team. The clutch shooting, the veteran savvy, the toughness, the length and versatility on defense: a lot of that skill set would have been particularly helpful on a Celtics team lacking in several of those areas (namely the length off the bench).
But sadly, after watching him down the stretch a season ago, I'm not sure how useful Horry would be in any system at this point. He looked uncomfortable shooting the basketball, and he couldn't move at all defensively. He is a seven-time NBA champion who already has as good a legacy as someone playing his role could possibly have. Given what poor shape he appeared in during his last go-around with the Spurs, I'm not sure how reasonable it is to expect him to have the desire at this point to really commit himself to getting back at the physical level to give himself a chance to be an asset, much less learn the Celtics' system. I love Big Shot Bob, and the Horry fan within me would happily embrace him as a Celtic, but I don't see that marriage having too high a ceiling at this point.
All that said, I don't think we're going to have to worry about it. As recently as a few months ago, Horry was asked about the Celtics and made some snide remark about Ainge, with whom he famously quarreled in Phoenix. An Horry-Celts union would likely be a last resort for both entities.
DS: Clyde Drexler only played a few full seasons with the Rockets. And yet the Rockets retired his jersey/number. What are the chances the Celtics do the same with Kevin Garnett?
SW: Barring KG committing some sort of heinous crime or being expelled from the league, I say it happens. The guy came to town and in one fell swoop turned the basketball culture not so much upside-down but back to right-side-up (since it had been upside-down for two decades, really). His impact on this team has been felt in ways that go far beyond his own statistical production. He was instrumental in bringing the team its first championship in 22 years and in so doing introducing a completely new generation of Celtics fans to green glory while also rekindling that feeling for the more experienced observers. No matter what happens from here on out in Boston (the two scenarios detailed above excepted), he'll deserve to have his number hang from the rafters at the New Garden, and this is the type of organization that will recognize that.
The only hold-up I could see at this point is the beginning of worries that the Celts will eventually not be able to field an active team because of a lack of available numbers. But we've still got a ways to go in that direction, so no worries for now.
Jump to see the entire conversation:
DS: Kevin Garnett has always been thought of as fiery. He's always had heart and passion. This year it seems like he's gone over the deep end. It seems like every time I turn around he's challenging point guards to fights or elbowing LaMarcus Aldridge in the head. Has the championship gone to his head? Or is this really the only way he can stay motivated to win another?
SW: Okay, Dream Shakers, bring out the firing squad for me on this one: I'm semi-copping out because I can't possibly be rational about this. The best way I can find to sum up my emotions on this one is to go back to what I write in an email to Henry Abbott after his piece titled "Kevin Garnett's Big Mouth," an excellent compilation of thoughts and a great read.
My comments to Henry:
"Just wanted to take a minute to applaud you on a heckuva piece about Garnett. I really enjoyed reading your conclusion - mostly because it encapsulated my own internal struggles with KG. As a Celtics fan, I love what he brings to the table and have at no point desired to see it another way. But I've also found myself unwilling to get into some of the discussions we've had at CelticsBlog (particularly when it has become fans around the league arguing with C's fans and the stoutest KG backers) because whenever I've sat down to write a defense of certain behaviors, I've realized that I can't be sure if I'd take it seriously if I read the same thing about someone else's player - and the double standard in denial remains the worst kind of double standard in my book.
So instead, I settle for being up front and admitting it: I'm a Celtics fan, and I love what KG has done to this team. I'll take the whole package and not worry about it. But that doesn't mean I've got an objective clue about right and wrong."
I'm a fan, and that's short for fanatic. As long as the front of his jersey reads "Celtics," I'm not going to be able to write something reasonable about Garnett's antics that don't either make me feel like I'm appropriating a behavioral double-standard or becoming some sort of ingrate as a fan. So I'll defer to the more objective observers on this one. I am serious about reading as much as I can from as many perspectives as I can find on KG's behavior. In that vein, I'd be curious to hear what the authors and membership here thinks on this. Sorry, folks: I owe you one.
DS: Clearly the Celtics are the best team in the league again this year, at least to this point. What scares you/makes you hesitant about possible series' with Orlando or Cleveland?
SW: Orlando is worrisome of course because of that large individual in the middle, but even more so because I think they've improved on a couple of their key weaknesses from a season ago. Jameer Nelson played at an absurdly high level throughout December, and if he keeps up anything close to his production over the last month, he is going to be a factor in pushing this team to the next level come playoff time. This team is also finally giving the consistent defensive effort that Stan Van Gundy begged for through all of last season. The Magic have jumped three spots in efficiency from last year (sixth to third), but they are five points better per 100 possessions defensively than they were a year ago. That's huge.
But as improved as Orlando is, the primary concern in the East is without question the Cavaliers. Late last season, a friend said to me, "You know, if all he has to do is beat you four times out of seven, I wouldn't like my chances if I were you." That just about says it all about LeBron James. The idea that an individual player can overcome a balanced team in a single game with one spectacular performance on any given day is one thing. The idea that it wouldn't be asking too much for him to do it four times in seven tries seems borderline-insane. And the scary part is that at this point, it isn't really relevant. Because as much as some may want to believe that it is, it isn't the Celtics versus LeBron. He's got a team behind him in Cleveland. The Cavs have played defense throughout Mike Brown's tenure, but in addition to their second-ranked D, the Cavs are also at the top of the offensive efficiency rankings. Danny Ferry has surrounded LeBron with efficient outside threats, a couple of big-time offensive rebounders (Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao) and aggressive new addition Mo Williams to go with longtime stalwart center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and the results have been great. Literally everything about this team is a legitimate concern at this point. The Cavs were the Celtics' toughest task last year, and they have only gotten better. I think we're looking at another epic if these teams meet again in the playoffs.
DS: The Stephon Marbury-to-Boston rumors have been swirling for a while. Do you think adding him to the roster would improve the Celtics, or would he simply be a cancer and try to do too much?
SW: As a New York native who has spent most of the last five years ripping on my Knick fan friends and reveling in the beauty of mess that the hated Knicks have become, all I can say is that every day that Donnie Walsh and Steph don't agree to a buyout is a small victory for me. But the way the rumors have been flying lately, it's hard not to wonder if all I'm rooting for is the procrastination of the inevitable.
I don't doubt that Steph is still talented and has the physical ability to add something for this team off the bench. But from following him through his career and particularly being here in the Sizable Apple for most of his tenure, I don't want any part of having to root for a guy with such a penchant for misbehaving and killing locker rooms. For all his talent, he's never showed any interest in the good of anyone but himself as far as his basketball success has been concerned, and that's neither how this Celtics team works or how championships are won in this league. If he puts on the green, I'll have to welcome him and root for him to the end because I'm so head-over-heels in love with this team. But it sure isn't the way I'd like to see things break down.
DS: A lot of people have said that Rajon Rondo deserves to be an all-star. Yet, it could be said that he is merely a product of the insane amount of talent surrounding him. Is he worthy of an all-star bid in your mind?
SW: Truth be told, this is the first time I've thought about this one way or the other, mostly because the fewer Celtics that play in the All-Star game, the happier I'll be. Rest, rest, rest. The last thing this team needs is a freak injury to anyone in a meaningless exhibition.
The truth is that Rondo has improved this season, and his development is crucial to the effectiveness of the Celtics' offense. The mantra among Celts fans at this point is that when Raj is on, the offense is all but unstoppable, and that really has been the case thus far. His ability to get in the lane and force defenses to react to him has made life easier for everyone around him, and he looks more confident attacking this year. That said, he still can't make an 18-footer with any regularity, and opponents have recently started putting longer defenders on him with the instructions to give him a couple of steps to coax him into the jumper. That hasn't been pretty for the Celts. He has had some very good and even a couple of great nights, and he was one of the biggest difference-makers in the franchise-record 19-game winning streak from mid-November through mid-December. But the consistency still isn't there any night.
Now that's fine as he is 22 years old and in his third year in the league, and Celts fans are plenty excited about what we're getting from him at this point. But as far as All-Star selections are concerned, he might fall a bit short this season. Devin Harris has in my estimation been the clear-cut runaway as the best point guard in the Eastern Conference thus far. The aforementioned Jameer Nelson's play has to put him up there, too, especially considering his stunning efficiency shooting the ball (61.7 percent true shooting). Jose Calderon doesn't play a lick of defense, but he has been statistically productive, albeit on a vastly underachieving team, which may hurt him. On the flip-side, Mike Bibby's volume numbers aren't super-impressive, but he has played efficient basketball and been a key part of the Hawks' surprisingly good start this season. As a fan, I'm not sure where to objectively place Rondo. I think he's in the discussion and could go either way, depending on how the next couple of weeks shake out for both the individuals and their teams.
How's that for firmly straddling the fence?
For now, I'll say he's out, but part of that might be a combination of my attempt to compensate for my fanship and my desire for him not to be involved.
One more Rondo note, just because it seems worth bringing up: It's actually my feeling that while his offensive production may be underrated nationally because of the talent around him, his defensive value may have become overrated by NBA fans at large. Rondo is an excellent team defender. He has quick hands, long arms and fingers and great instincts that make him fantastic at jumping passing lanes, getting deflections and sneaking around for weakside steals. But his individual defensive play still leaves a fair amount to be desired. His enjoyment of playing as a gambler occasionally prevents him from playing as smart and controlled a game as he should when it comes to keeping his man in front of him and not lunging. But please don't take this as some sort of slam against Rondo. Like most Celts fans, I love the guy, and I'm thrilled about the idea of spending the next decade watching him grow as a player. But there is room for improvement everywhere.
DS: How could Danny Ainge get rid of Allan Ray and keep Brian Scalabrine? I know Bostonians do love Scalabrine, but having Allan Ray and Ray Allen on the same team is worth so much more than carrying a red-headed, less talented version of Steve Novak. Am I right?
SW: You make a compelling case, good sir, but there are two deal-breakers. First, I think A-Ray has a much better shot here if he spelled his first name with an "e" in order to keep complete symmetry with the perennial All-Star who joined the backcourt the year he left.
More pressingly, to my knowledge, Allan Ray never did anything quite like this.
Ah, the sweet naivete of those who think Danny won Exec of the Year because he made a couple of trades in the summer of 2007. No, what makes Danny such a visionary is that he saw in Brian Scalabrine the potential to do something like that. That right there, that's talent evaluation for you.
DS: How do you expect Rajon Rondo to head-f**k Rafer Alston this time around?
SW: Pardon me, is that Dream Shake-speak for "Will your point guard have the nerve to protect himself once again after ours throws the first blow and tries to cause an altercation?" If so, absolutely. But mostly, he'll be focused on sprinting past Rafer all night long.