The closer we get to the NBA's Feb. 24 trading deadline, the more banged up the Celtics' bench becomes. So naturally, a good chunk of your questions are devoted to potential ways to beef up Doc Rivers' second unit over the next two weeks.
Will we see a trade? A buyout? A noteworthy un-retirement, perhaps? There are a lot of options facing the C's at the moment, but it's always risky to shake up a championship-caliber team late in the season. Let's explore some of the options.
Thanks to everyone who submitted questions this week. Please do keep 'em coming — this column is nothing without your contributions.
1. It seems clear that the Celtics' bench is not solid for a championship contender, looking at the benches of San Antonio, Miami and even Dallas. The Celtics need depth. Will we see a trade?
This question is being thrown around more and more these days, as the recent injuries to Shaquille O'Neal and Marquis Daniels have further weakened Doc's bench to the point where a change might be necessary. But at the moment, the onus for that change isn't on Danny Ainge — it's on Brian McKeon, the team's physician.
If the C's medical staff is able to get Shaq, Daniels, Semih Erden and Jermaine O'Neal all back in action before the playoffs, then the C's will have the deepest bench in the game. All the teams you named have solid second units, especially the Spurs, but the C's have the potential to be even deeper and even better. They just need to get their guys healthy. If the C's do try to engineer a trade this month, what will they give up? They'd have to sacrifice bench depth to get bench depth. There's not a lot of demand for your draft picks when you're picking at No. 29 or thereabouts.
2. It would be interesting to see if the Celtics pick up another perimeter defender. Losing Tony Allen really hurt — the guy couldn't shoot, but he played great defense against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade last year. I think Miami is our biggest threat this year, even more than the Lakers.
If the C's do make a trade this month, then I agree, a perimeter defender will be their primary target on the block. But it's difficult for Ainge to make a decision just yet, because he doesn't yet know how serious Daniels' condition will be going forward. Ainge said Sunday after Daniels' spinal cord injury that he was "fine" and had control of all his extremities, but it's still really difficult to iron out an exact timetable. If Daniels is back in March, then he's your guy; if not, then a trade might become necessary.
Ainge said Wednesday that he'd know more about Daniels' condition next week. Until then, he's a bit hamstrung with making a trade.
If worst comes to worst, the C's still have Delonte West off the bench to defend smaller perimeter scorers like Wade, and Paul Pierce is known for playing tons of playoff minutes, so he'll do the bulk of the work against the LeBron James types.
3. No one could have predicted the scary injury to Marquis Daniels, and I wish him all the best. Life and health always transcend sport. From a basketball perspective, however, Quis has never played a full season without missing significant time to injury. Why, then, would the Celtics go into the season without more depth at the 3? Wouldn't someone like Shane Battier be a perfect fit for the C's? What would it take for the Celtics to get Battier? Are there other available 3s that the C's could go after?
Kudos to you, Skip, on pinpointing a name the C's could realistically pursue. Shane Battier is a good idea for a lot of reasons — he's a great defender, he's the consummate team player, and he's realistically gettable since the Rockets are in a bit of a rebuilding mode now.
Battier would undoubtedly help the C's. It's no coincidence that every team he lands on, wins. The guy knows how to set his ego aside and play team basketball. But here's the catch — with the C's over the salary cap, and Battier making almost $7.4 million in his final season, they would need to work out a deal with equal value going to the Rockets. You know what that means? The C's might have to offer up Jermaine O'Neal.
Who hangs up on that call? The Rockets don't have much of a future with an injury-prone 32-year-old big man, since they're trying to build around their young talent. And what about the C's — can they afford to give away some of their big man depth, knowing that it might win them a championship?
In a vacuum, Battier would be a great fit in Boston. But figuring out the logistics to get him here is really, really difficult.
4. Why isn't Luke Harangody playing more often?
Excellent question. I'm not gonna lie — I've often wondered the same thing myself. Especially now, with Daniels injured, Luke Harangody might be the right guy to step in and take some of his minutes. He's a good spot-up shooter from anywhere on the floor, and he's a little undersized to play power forward, so Doc might want to give him a trial run at playing the three.
There are two problems, though — one, Harangody's not the quickest guy in the world, so there are a lot of bad matchups out there for him defensively, and two, Doc Rivers has always been a bit conservative about giving major minutes to rookies. Remember, not even Glen Davis or Kendrick Perkins was a real contributor in year one. It takes time to grow into Doc's system.
I think Harangody will see a few minutes here and there over the course of the next month. But don't expect him to become a regular rotation guy this season.
5. How is Delonte West's rehab coming along? With the Marquis Daniels injury, how anxious are the C's to get Delonte back on the court?
Delonte's rehab has been excellent. He's had the cast off of his right wrist for a couple of weeks now, and he's currently working on strengthening the arm again and getting his basketball instincts back. He did a complete full-contact practice for the first time on Wednesday afternoon, which means he's getting close to being able to play.
West himself says he's confident he could come back right away; Doc disagrees, and wants to give him a couple of weeks. Usually, the coaches win these arguments.
While Daniels' injury has been a big blow to the Celtics' bench, they're not about to rush Delonte back out of necessity — they're only going to let him play when he's ready, Until then, Von Wafer will assume the bulk of Delonte's minutes.
6. Considering all the injuries, is Danny Ainge getting ready to call Rasheed Wallace?
I've been trying to resist this question all season, but it's getting tougher and tougher. The C's are getting really short on big men, and Rasheed Wallace is a guy who could step in and play 15 minutes tonight if necessary. He's still seen milling around the Celtics' locker room and practice facility now and then, so you can tell there's still some interest there.
Then again, the C's already have the full 15 players on their roster, so there's no room for Sheed at the moment. Just last month, Ainge elected to fully guarantee West and Wafer for the rest of the season, so those guys aren't going anywhere. If they wanted to free up room for Sheed, the C's would have to engineer some kind of two-for-one trade that trimmed their roster down. Difficult, but not impossible.
Just think! Only two months of Sheed would be perfect. The odds of him going over the technical foul limit in that short a time would be slim to none.
7. I read an article asking whether Ray Allen's number should be retired as a Celtic. What do you think?
That's tough. Given the Celtics' rich history and tradition, they haven't been known to dole out retired numbers to guys with short stints in Boston. Usually if you see a jersey up in the Garden rafters, it's because a player was around for 10 years or more.
There are exceptions, of course. Cedric Maxwell was only a Celtic for eight years, but he was a Finals MVP. Dennis Johnson was around for seven, but he was the point guard for a team that won two championships. Ed Macauley was in Boston for six, but he was a part of the trade that brought in the legendary Bill Russell. Then there's Reggie Lewis — that's another category altogether.
Assuming Ray Allen plays to the end of his current two-year contract in Boston and walks away in the summer of 2012, that would only be five years in green. Not exactly retired-number material. When you think of the other guys above, you think of the Celtics. With Ray, he's equal parts Buck and SuperSonic as well. It's definitely a close call, since Ray helped bring a championship to Boston, but he's probably fighting a losing battle.
8. How does Kevin Garnett feel about the "dirty player" label that certain coaches and players around the league have stamped on him?
I'd say it depends on who's doing the stamping. Kevin Garnett came out earlier this season and declared that he was done with "nobodies" — he's tired of getting into petty squabbles with no-name players. It's not worth his time. So with the majority of the allegations out there, KG's perfectly happy to ignore them and just play basketball.
He rarely makes exceptions, but a notable one came back in December when he apologized to Nuggets coach George Karl for the "cancer patient" comment allegedly leveled against Charlie Villanueva. KG does have a human side, and he's willing to atone for his sins when necessary. But for the most part, he just wants to block out the distractions and play ball. He could care less what others say.
9. What do you think of the "biased refs" accusations? Do you think referees be should be reprimanded, punished or replaced when they begin to develop prejudices toward certain players or teams? The first thing I check when a game starts is the refs, not the opposing lineup, and that can't be a good thing.
Rule of thumb: 99 percent of the time, accusations of referee "bias" come from fans who are plenty biased themselves.
Referees are human, and they make plenty of mistakes. Just as players sometimes miss layups, the officials mess up sometimes too. But it's very difficult to prove that a ref has a consistent pattern of making calls for or against a certain player or team. Usually, it's random chance when a few bad calls in a row victimize one side.
There are a lot of external factors that can influence you into thinking a ref is biased. There's the crowd noise, there's the players' demonstrative protests, and so on and so forth. But we're all better off blocking all that out. Don't worry about the refs — watch the players, because they're putting on quite a show.