So when giving you, the readers, daily thoughts and insights on the Celtics' quest for an 18th championship banner, what better way than to ask you all directly for your help steering the conversation?
This isn't my column — it's yours. Thanks to everyone for your submissions to the first weekly Celtics mailbag. Without you, I'm just a guy clicking the refresh button on an empty mailbox.
Here's a smattering of the best questions you all sent in this week. Let's explore the Celtics' options at the trading deadline, their strategy as the playoffs draw closer, and the future of the franchise, among other topics.
1. What will Danny Ainge do at the trading deadline this year? The Celtics have some good young prospects this season with Avery Bradley, Luke Harangody and even Von Wafer, but with this season being the drive for Banner 18, does Ainge shop his young talent to pick up a veteran shooter for a bench role?
It's an interesting question, but it's one that's tough to answer without considering the Celtics' long-term future. Of course the Celtics want to win now, and Banner 18 could definitely be within their reach this June. But how much will unloading their youngsters really help? Avery Bradley, with all of 66 career NBA minutes to his name, is unlikely to have much trade value at this point. Luke Harangody's also a rookie, and he's more valuable to the Celtics as a developing player than a trade chip. Von Wafer's still working to rehabilitate his NBA image after leaving the States in the summer of 2009. All of these guys are likely better off stockpiled for the future than unloaded now.
You've got to give something up to get something. If the C's really want to add an impact player this February (and I'm not convinced that they do), then they've got to offer up a proven NBA commodity, like a Nate Robinson or maybe a Jermaine O'Neal.
2. What are your thoughts on the Celtics picking up another shooter, someone a team has to respect that can hit a 15- or 18-footer when other options break down? This would pull the defenses out of the paint and open space for Rajon Rondo to drive. What's your opinion on picking up a respectable shooter if he's available?
Good question, Doc — if that is your real name. I think it's likely that instead of looking for outside help, which would require breaking up his roster at midseason, Danny Ainge will try to fill that void from within. It's true that the Celtics' shooters are easy to contain when defenses disrespect Rajon Rondo from 15 feet, but there are two solutions to that problem that don't require a trade. One would be leaning on Delonte West more as a bench jump-shooter — West's return later this month will surely help the C's offensively. The other is simply developing Rondo. He's shown the potential to be a decent jump-shooter in brief flashes this season. With more work, he could become a serious mid-range threat.
3. Will the Celtics sign Rip Hamilton? And if so, who do you think will they give up?
You're not the first reader to bring up Richard Hamilton, and I'm sure you won't be the last. There are two ways the veteran Hamilton could possibly change hands this season — one being a buyout, the other being a trade. Unfortunately both look unlikely for the C's.
The problem with a buyout? The Pistons can't afford it. Yes, they've benched Rip for the last 12 games, and he obviously doesn't appear to be part of their future plans. But rather than drop a cool $20 million on getting rid of Rip now, the Pistons would rather shop him around, attempt to get something back, and save a little cash. A buyout would be too extreme, given the money still left on Rip's contract.
A trade is an option, but the Celtics aren't likely to be in the mix. Keep in mind that since they're over the salary cap, they have to make a deal with matching salaries on both sides. Hamilton makes $12.5 million a year. Unless you want to give up Paul Pierce or Ray Allen, the numbers don't check out.
4. Do you think Doc Rivers is thinking about resting Ray Allen and Paul Pierce strategically as the end of the season nears, even if (fingers crossed) they don't develop any real injuries?
Yes. And once again, I think this is where West comes in. West's absence has been really taxing for Ray, who's played 35.8 minutes per game this season, and Doc will probably look for every opportunity he can to cut those minutes back over the next couple of months.
But at the same time, this is somewhat of a double-edged sword. You don't want to take away too many minutes, because assuming these guys stay healthy, they're trying to establish their rhythm for the playoffs. You don't want to throw them off too much. If the C's record some blowout wins in February and March, they can give their starters a few 25- and 30-minute nights with the fourth quarter off. But beyond that, they don't want to cut back too far.
5. I think the 2011 Celtics are better than the 2008 Celtics, if healthy in June. What are your thoughts?
–LaughAtLebron, via Twitter
I'd say yes, although this is purely hypothetical. Ainge designed this team last summer knowing full well that not everyone would be healthy. He signed two O'Neals instead of one, for example, because he wanted as many contingency plans in place as possible.
This year's team is deeper and more experienced than any Ainge has built over his time in Boston, and the Big Three still have enough left in the tank to win a championship. So yes, they're better than the 2008 team in that respect. But at the same time, the injury risks are greater than ever before, so your "if" is a bigger "if" than ever.
6. How many more seasons do you see Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen together as Celtics? Will Doc Rivers move on?
Good question, and if you look at the C's contracts, I think you'll find a good answer — two. Including this season. Here's a list of the Celtics players currently under contract until the summer of 2012: Allen, Robinson, Jermaine O'Neal, Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O'Neal. That's the majority of their core group. After 2012, when all these guys come off the books, Ainge will have a decision to make. He'll have to choose either to remain in the hunt for a championship, or to rebuild around youth.
Or he can choose both. With Rondo, Glen Davis and maybe Kendrick Perkins as well, the C's will still have enough pieces to compete. Plus Pierce will be around through 2014, which is a nice plus. The C's may remain in the hunt for the next four years or more, but don't count on Ray and KG to stick around for all of it.
As for Doc, he's never had a point guard as good as Rondo. It wouldn't be surprising if the C's coach stuck around Boston for as long as his point guard did.
7. I'm really curious as to the Celtics' strategy to counter the Heat. Tony Allen played a huge role in slowing down LeBron James last year. The team has improved in many ways since last year, but I say the key to beating the Heat is slowing down LeBron and Dwyane Wade.
You're absolutely right that Tony Allen was a huge factor, and not just against LeBron. He was also big against Dwyane Wade in the Miami series, Vince Carter in the East finals against Orlando, and Kobe Bryant in the Finals. Losing him will mean a lot come playoff time.
But the C's also didn't have Marquis Daniels at full strength last season. Having Daniels healthy, confident and committed this year will help their bench a lot — he's playing better right now than at any point over his two years in Boston. Daniels, West, and the Celtics' starting wing guys will put in plenty of work to slow down LeBron and Wade. It worked in their first two regular-season matchups, didn't it?
And as for Chris Bosh, forget about it. KG can handle Bosh blindfolded.
8. Why won't people accept that Carmelo Anthony doesn't want to go to New Jersey? He doesn't want it. He won't sign there.
–Dan L., via Twitter
Sure, why not close out the mailbag with a little peripheral NBA chatter? The Carmelo Anthony debate may be putting most everyone to sleep by now, but I'm still finding it intriguing.
I think the Nuggets have to find a way to beg the Nets to make the Carmelo deal work. Remember, Carmelo doesn't want to make it all the way to this summer without a contract. He's terrified of the new labor agreement, and he'd much rather sign a whopping $65 million deal now before it's too late. So while he may say now that he wants to be a Knick, he might run out of bargaining power before the trade deadline. He wants to go somewhere, anywhere, where he can sign an extension, and the Nuggets want to unload him before the deadline so they can get something back.
It seems implausible now, but I still think a Carmelo-Nets deal between now and the deadline makes the most sense. We'll see.