As a certified, and probably certifiable, fan-atic who hemorrhages green, my frustration level has reached Pitino-era levels. Fortunately it is still short of John Y. Brown levels but that was a trauma of catastrophic proportions which had our storied franchise swapped for the Buffalo Braves. Swapped like baseball card or a bag of marbles. Traded in like a Pinto by invoking the lemon law. Dumped like a fading trophy wife or boy toy grown tiresome. No, thank goodness the frustration isn't that bad, yet.
However conjuring up those comparisons did bring back the helpless, sinking feelings of the demise of the 80's Celtics with the shortened careers of Bird and McHale who flat broke down under the load. Gave out in part due to the lack of emerging talent to lighten the load, Len Bias may you rest in peace and burn in basketball Hades. The writing was on the wall, the fall inevitable, and the ensuing death of Reggie Lewis just a final straw. The moving finger wrote, and moved on, into a void measured better in decades than seasons. And this current season of travail has all too many of the same feelings of misguided inertia leading down a dark path to an empty limbo.
By nature I'm a pretty positive guy. I don't assume there is an impending train whistle when I see a light at the end of a tunnel. I don't usually quail at the unknown in the dark; afraid the bogeyman is about to grab me. I rather enjoy it when the wife strands me in an airport, bus station, mall food court, or hardware store while she "just picks up a few things." Seldom do I fail to find some interesting feature be it animal, mineral, plant, or odd character with which to while away a few minutes or even hours.
This current predicament, however, has all the trappings of heading south, souring big time, going flat broke. Crashing back to Earth from the lofty heights of a championship with few assets, huge bills, and essentially nothing in the pipeline is a recipe for flat line seasons (and yes there is an "s" as in multiple) and lottery picks. Ainge made a calculated gamble to add Daniels on a one-year rental and Rasheed on a three-year retirement plan. I applauded his decision, appreciating both his shrewd acquisition of basketball acumen as well as the flexibility of the pieces added to shore up the Green weaknesses.
And yet events have conspired to sabotage his efforts to duplicate the 2008 run to the title. Role players dropped like flies, and for months not days or weeks. Garnett went down, again, and the enforced inactivity has left him with more bark than bite, at least until (or maybe if) he regains his strength and conditioning. Paul has been slowed. Whether by nagging injuries or time or both is still in question but definitely slowed. Ray Allen has remained healthy but has obviously lost a step and has become erratic on offense and an increasing liability on defense. The Big Three have gone from terrors on defense to being terrorized, at least by above average NBA athletes. Healthy and hitting on all cylinders this is still a dangerous squad which could compete for a title. Unfortunately it seems less and less likely that there will be a time when they are all healthy, or hitting on all cylinders.
The bright spot is the presence of Rondo and Perkins. As in baseball, strength up the middle is a critical ingredient and Danny did well to hold onto these two as he emptied the cupboard and traded the contents as well as the cabinet and picks to acquire Garnett and Ray Allen. Along with Pierce these two were about all that was left other than broken pottery. The bad news is that Ainge has been unable to add any long or even mid-term pieces of quality. Other than his strong up-the-middle two youngsters, Danny has a squad of expiring contracts and aging veterans (stars become just veterans with advancing age). Ainge has slightly more than two weeks to decide whether to fish (with a leaky boat, rusty equipment, and frayed lines) or cut bait (with $30M in expiring contracts and a series of aging stars any one of which might push some other contender over the proverbial top). My heart says the former but my head, more and more, says if you can't get there from here, chart a new course.
Ask yourself, if Danny blew it up tomorrow, just how upset would you really be?
If you are like me, the answer would be in three parts (unfortunately not three-part harmony). First, anguish over what might have been. Second, relief at the release from the seemingly unending series of injuries and signs on the wall that the ravages of time are robbing any chance of a miracle run. Finally a sense of anticipation that Ainge got out of the dog-chasing-his-tail frenzy while the getting was good and the pieces could be exchanged for new parts that might make the wait for relevance far shorter than the decade plus following the last fall.
Which brings me full circle to my title, which occurred to me as I contemplated the post-apocalypse reconstruction. Might the looming lockout and CBA (collective bargaining agreement) knockdown-drag-out come just at the time the Celtics are down and rebuilding? Could the turmoil actually make the job easier and our impatience more tolerable? Could blowing up the huge-contract-constructed team now actually make Danny's rebuilding under a new CBA more efficient and practical? Is there a silver lining to the angry skies of this injury-ravaged season?
I must admit that it feels like there will be a lot more about which to write hopefully with a change of course than to continue along this path that seems so strewn with rocks and reefs that threaten to tear the guts out of the good ship Celtic. There are only so many ways to write "cross your fingers and pray nothing else goes wrong." Things have gotten so bad that I've been reluctant to change my "lucky" underwear after any game in which no Celtic is injured. The really bad news is that I'm seldom stuck in dirty underwear for very long. Maybe it is all my fault; I should have chosen a lucky shirt instead.
Excellent article! You make some great points. I agree that healthy, this team can win it all this season but with injury after injury after injury and players' inability to return to form after those injuries, it does give much room for thought!