Can the C's win a championship again? Can they even come close? Heck, can they even get out of the first round of the playoffs? What if they don't? Is this the end of the world as we know it?
So many questions, so little time. But let's get to a few of your inquiries about the state of the C's as the postseason draws closer. There's a lot to talk about.
Thanks to everyone who sent in questions. I always appreciate the input, and I'll try to get to as many of you as possible.
I'm very worried about the Celtics' lack of consistency lately. I guess keeping the energy and intensity level high was Kendrick Perkins' greatest contribution to the team. Without him, do you really think the C's can overcome this recent slump and go deep come playoff time? Any chances of raising Banner 18 this year?
I think that's a very smart observation, Marcel. Perk was indeed known around the Celtics' locker room as a tough, hard-working guy who was always honest about where the team stood. If they needed more energy, he said so; if they needed more intensity, ditto. His work ethic got the Celtics through a lot of tough times.
That said, I absolutely do think the Celtics still have a chance this year. Once playoff time rolls around, the Celtics have a core group of four guys they can count on to bring the intensity back. Right now, the team's veteran leaders look a little tired and a little unfocused, but there's nothing like Round 1, Game 1 to bring you back.
Banner 18 won't be easy, with the Lakers, Spurs, Bulls and Heat all standing in the Celtics' way. But they're definitely still in the mix.
Do you think fatigue is the reason the Celtics have been struggling, or are they just playing down to their competition?
–bigvig10, via Twitter
A little of both, definitely. Kevin Garnett recently rejected the idea that fatigue is the problem, saying that everyone has fatigue, both the Celtics and their opponents, so that can't be an excuse. But let's face it — the C's are older than everyone else. Their bodies aren't built to withstand the rigors of an 82-game season. So fatigue is definitely playing a role, whether KG admits it or not.
But playing down to the competition is a factor, too. For two recent examples, look at the Pacers and Bobcats games of the past week — both lesser teams, both easily winnable games, and the Celtics got double-digit leads early in both. If it was Game 7 of the Finals against the Lakers, they probably would have kept the intensity up and finished those wins, but instead, they slacked off.
Perhaps that won't happen anymore in the playoffs.
Without Perkins' big scowling face under the basket, the Celtics are giving up lots of baseline baskets and driving layups. They can't defend the in-and-out game. It's hard to win in April and May when you can't get a stop, so do you think this will change in time for the playoffs?
I do, and I can think of two big reasons why. They're both seven feet tall and named O'Neal.
The Celtics need a true defensive-minded center who can protect the rim and block shots. They haven't had that since Perk left a month ago. Jermaine O'Neal has the potential to be that guy right away. When he gets back (which he's expected to on Thursday night, against the Spurs), you should see an immediate impact. Suddenly, it won't be so easy to score inside on the C's anymore.
Shaquille O'Neal will help too, to a lesser extent. Having a 325-pound body around to clog up the middle will no doubt be a factor.
How much do you think the O'Neals will really help? It's the offense that's been really awful, not the defense.
You're definitely right, Glenn, that the offense has been the main problem lately. The Celtics just went through a stretch of 10 straight games under 100 points. In eight of the 10, they were under 90.
Both O'Neals will help offensively, though. Shaq will start because he's the more offensively potent of the two centers — he may be 39 and fossilizing, but he can still command a double-team in the low post. He's one of the great post scorers of all time, and he still shows it in short bursts. He had a lot of 10- and 12-point first quarters earlier this season, and he's no doubt saving a few more for the playoffs.
Jermaine O'Neal doesn't pack the same scoring punch that Shaq does, but he can still help in his own right. Think of him as a Perk-like offensive player — setting hard picks and screens, keeping the ball moving unselfishly and only occasionally looking for his own shot when he's wide open.
If the Celtics were to bring back Tony Allen, what would be his biggest contribution to this team?
Easy — he'd be their defensive stopper. Around this time last spring, Doc Rivers decided to stick with T.A. for the postseason because he'd really blossomed as an elite wing defender. Doc saw T.A. as the key to locking down all the top wing scorers in the playoffs — Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant. And for the most part, he was right.
That's why Doc and Danny Ainge campaigned hard last July to keep T.A. around, and they were ultimately shocked and saddened when he spurned them for the Memphis Grizzlies. T.A. isn't an easy player to replace.
In fact, the Celtics still haven't fully replaced him. Think about it — if the Celtics make the NBA Finals and find themselves in another rematch with the Lakers, who comes off the bench and gives lockdown defense on Kobe? Maybe Delonte West, but he's a little small. Maybe Jeff Green, but he might not have the quickness to guard an elite two-guard. The Celtics could really use T.A. right about now. Too bad he signed a three-year deal with the Grizzlies last summer.
How are the Celtics adjusting to the former Thunder players? Is the coach content to have the new players on the team?
That's a tough one because Doc, just like everyone else, has a place in his heart for Kendrick Perkins. Even the coach still hasn't totally gotten over losing his longtime big man.
But everyone in that locker room is a professional, and that being the case, they're ready to go to war this postseason with the guys they have. Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic are fitting in slowly but surely. Basketball-wise, there's a lot to like about both of them. Doc has praised both Green's athleticism and energy, and Krstic's good hands and scoring instincts.
Even if the Celtics do miss their old teammates, they're learning to adjust to the new guys. It's a gradual process.
Come playoff time, who do you think will play a bigger role off the bench — Glen Davis, or Jeff Green?
Glen Davis. Green will give the Celtics valuable minutes in the playoffs, being able to spell both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for long stretches in the second and third quarters. But Big Baby has a chance to be part of the C's crunch-time unit this spring.
It wouldn't be a bit surprising if the Celtics closed games in the playoffs with Baby as their primary center. You don't want Shaquille O'Neal in that role, because you don't want him at the free-throw line in the late minutes, and you don't want Jermaine, because he might be a liability offensively. Baby may be a bit undersized, but he's a strong candidate to be the Celtics' center in the final minutes. He's always been a strong energy guy in the fourth quarter, and now's his chance to prove it in the postseason.
That said, you could easily see a couple of 20-point outbursts from Green, the seventh man. Both guys are important.
What will happen if the Celtics can't even reach the Finals, let alone win it all? Are the Big Three going to be split up? Are Jeff Green and Big Baby going to be re-signed? Is Doc Rivers coming back — and if not, who will be the coach? I ask because the way the Celtics are playing is too scary to watch.
That is a lot of questions. It's also a lot of panic that I think might be a bit premature.
Winning a championship right now is definitely the goal with this team, and they're definitely capable of getting it done. But if they don't? That doesn't mean anything drastic has to happen. The C's still have the pieces in place to try again next year. I don't think you see the Big Three split up until 2012, since that's when KG and Ray's contracts expire. And as long as those two guys are around, you'll probably see Doc around, too.
I also expect Danny Ainge to strongly pursue both Green and Davis in free agency this summer. I think both want to stay, but there's the obvious caveat that this is a business, and nothing's ever certain.
The X-factor in all of this? A potential lockout. If part of next season gets wiped out, this becomes a very difficult question to answer. Although it's been suggested that if we do miss a couple months, that will only make Doc more likely to stay, since he gets a nice vacation to spend with his family. Can't argue with that.
I saw a report that the Knicks would be OK with trading Amare Stoudemire or Carmelo Anthony for Dwight Howard. I believe the Celtics will be in the running too, but do we have a chance against offers like that? Do you see the Celtics trying to trade for Howard, or sign him?
I read that too, TJ. And while I do think the Celtics have interest in Howard (because who doesn't?), I don't think there's any chance of them getting him in a trade.
The Magic will only trade Howard between now and the summer of 2012 if they can get back star-caliber talent that helps them win in the immediate future. Amare and Carmelo would qualify as such. Nothing the Celtics are offering would. Even the daring Danny Ainge isn't offering up KG for Howard at the trade deadline next year. That's a little too crazy.
The Celtics' only hope to get Howard is to wait until July 2012 and try to grab him in free agency. And that's not altogether impossible — the Celtics have $39 million in payroll coming off the books that summer between KG, Ray and the two O'Neals, and they've got to spend that money somewhere. A post-2012 starting five of Howard, Big Baby, Jeff Green, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo would be mighty interesting.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. At the moment, it's still 2011, and the Celtics still have a championship to win.