NBA PM: Celtics Still Believe They Can Contend
It’s easy to second-guess yourself in the world of professional sports, and for Boston Celtics President Danny Ainge it might even become a habit. At the NBA trade deadline last season Ainge was strongly considering breaking up his aging ball club, looking toward the future by moving out some of the older components. After he decided not to do that, the veteran-laden Celtics made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals and nearly got past the eventual-champion Miami HEAT. That inspired a new level of confidence in Boston’s older crew and, aside from Ray Allen, Ainge brought them back for another tour.
Despite Allen’s departure, the Celtics looked stacked coming into the season with newcomers Jason Terry and Courtney Lee in the backcourt. Now, some 23 games into the 2012-13 season, the Celtics are just a game over .500 and it looks like perhaps keeping the band together might not have been the right move. Paul Pierce is averaging better than 19 points per game, but shooting just 41 percent from the field, Kevin Garnett is putting up just 15.7 points a night and the Celtics are getting run on their current 0-3 road trip.
Still, there is hope that once Avery Bradley gets healthy the Celtics will right the ship, and the ever-optimistic “Jet” Terry is always the first to inspire hope in his team and their fans.
“I feel that we have a great team, we got tons of talent, it is just a matter of us putting it together and coming together collectively for long stretches of time,” Terry tells HOOPSWORLD. “Consistency is our big problem right now. We won two games, lost one, won two and so now we need to string together some wins and get our confidence up. Once we get our confidence up, start hitting on all cylinders, Avery Bradley hopefully comes back who is a big part of this team and we will be a championship contender.”
It is precisely that optimism in the face of adversity that has made Terry such a welcome addition in the eyes of Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.
“He’s been great, he’s been good for us,” Rivers tells HOOPSWORLD. “He is going to be even better when we are whole and we don’t have to lean on him as much. I think I’ve played him too many minutes, honestly. Off the court, before we get on the court, just having him in our locker room is fantastic. He’s a sunshine-bringer. There’s guys when they walk in the building they just bring sunshine to the team, that’s Jason, ‘whatever you need coach.’ It’s pretty nice.”
One of the real issues for Boston early on has been the substantial overhaul of the roster. Sure, Garnett and Pierce are still in place, but Jeff Green is back after missing the bulk of last season, Lee and Terry join a host of new faces that includes Leandro Barbosa, Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo and Chris Wilcox. Few players are as familiar with the process of working in new faces as Terry, who saw the roster around him in Dallas undergo major changes every year.
“I have been through some roster overhauls with Dallas and it’s always tough,” says Terry. “This is the part of the season it tests you; it tests your toughness because you haven’t been together and the teams that have are playing well. Those teams are playing well right now and you look at the standings and you get a little disappointed, but you can’t lose confidence because you know in this room you have a makeup of world champions, young athletic guys that can get the job done and that can compete with any team in this league. We are going to remain confident, stay upbeat, stay positive and know that it is a process.”
“It does take time, honestly, and it’s disappointing,” agrees Rivers. “I think we have eight or nine new players, I don’t know how many we have, but it’s a lot of them and quite honestly some of them aren’t playing as well as we want them to play yet. Some of that is them and some of that is our system, and we’ve just got to keep tweaking and get it right until we get on a roll. The most important part of us is that we only won two games in a row at one point in a year and we have to be better than that.”
An 82-game season is full of ups and downs, and many of Terry’s 50-win Dallas teams struggled early on. He understands that there is time for Boston to right the ship and start climbing the standings.
“No question, it’s a long season,” says Terry. “If you look at the standings right now there are only one or two teams playing exceptionally well. The HEAT, the Knicks… Brooklyn had a great start, but they are starting to taper of a little bit, so it’s wide open and it’s been like that. I like the competitive nature of both conferences now, the West and the East. It’s no longer where the West is the power, the East is just as strong and the Celtics are going to be a team to reckon with.”
As much as Dirk Nowitzki was the visible leader in Dallas, in the locker room it was largely Terry who lead the Mavericks from a verbal perspective. He doesn’t feel as much pressure to do that with Boston, sharing the leadership role with the other veterans on the team.
“We all kind of try to lead by example, but at the same time when you have guys like KG, Paul, [Rajon] Rondo – you feed off them and we mesh well together and it’s great. Again, we are all champions and champions fight, they fight ’til the end, so every night we step on the floor we are going to give it our all and it’s not going to be an easy win for any team in this league.”
Terry was a leader on the Mavericks team that took out the Miami HEAT in the 2011 NBA Finals, and that feat is a big part of why the Celtics saw him as a potential key to getting past that same Miami team this season. Still, there may be a little bit of unfinished business for Jet back in Dallas once his playing days are through. There is no question his #31 belongs in the rafters of American Airlines Center, where he helped deliver the only championship in Mavericks history.
“Hopefully, in the near future, sooner or later it will be up,” says Terry. “It’s more for the fans than it is for me. What I did for that organization… I poured my heart out every night I stepped on the floor. It’s like what Josh Hamilton said, you know now he’s with the Los Angeles Angels and he was like, ‘Every night I went out it was for the fans,” and that’s how I feel.”
The Celtics may be struggling right now, but with Jason Terry in the mix they are sure to get on track soon. He has inspired great things from lesser teammates, and with the talent around him in Boston the Celtics are sure to make some noise come playoff time.
Rip Hamilton On The Block?
Free agency is a tricky animal, with some pieces looking like a great fit on paper and then failing to yield fruit in reality. The Chicago Bulls have faced that situation twice in recent years, first with Carlos Boozer and then with Rip Hamilton. Both were supposed to be foundational pieces of a championship dynasty, yet neither has been consistently good for the team.
League sources indicate that veteran shooting guard Richard Hamilton has been offered in trade scenarios, efforts that could intensity (sic) as the Feb. 21 trade deadline nears.
With a minimal guarantee on a team option for next season, Hamilton’s salary is in essence an expiring contract, which could make him attractive to teams looking to add scoring punch near the deadline.
The Bulls’ current payroll of $73,548,450 stands $3,241,450 above the luxury tax threshold. But penalties are assessed based on team payrolls at season’s end. The Bulls never have paid the luxury tax.
Part of the issue, of course, is that Hamilton is no longer the All-Star-caliber guard he was earlier in his career, and while he could serve as a capable backcourt companion to Derrick Rose, he is not someone the Bulls can lean on as a consistent scoring leader. He has also suffered through his own series of injuries, struggling to stay healthy throughout his short tenure with Chicago. With Rose’s return coming sooner rather than later, the Bulls have other backcourt options like Nate Robinson, who spent time at the two last night and was a force to be reckoned with offensively, who could possibly prove to be more valuable than Hamilton, especially since getting Hamilton’s salary off the books would help the Bulls avoid paying luxury tax.
Nowitzki Nearing Return?
It all sounded good in theory. As the Dallas Mavericks welcomed a stage full of new faces prior to the start of the 2012-13 NBA season, it seemed to make some degree of sense that a team full of castoffs, having much to prove, could compete for a championship alongside Dirk Nowitzki.
To be clear, however, that only seemed even remotely plausible if Nowitzki were healthy and doing his usual MVP-like damage to the opposition. Elton Brand, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman and Darren Collison, in particular, looked like a solid supporting cast for the best European player to ever set foot on an NBA court.
Sadly, a knee issue claimed Nowitzki early in preseason and the team has been without him ever since. In his absence, Mayo has shown that he can score with the best of them, but the rest of the team has struggled through additional injuries, massive bouts of inconsistency, and the 12-13 Mavs have had a hard time keeping their heads above .500.
Today the Mavericks and their fans got some good news, as Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas reports that Nowitzki participated in his first full practice today since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. That doesn’t mean the Mavs’ leader will be back right away, but it does mean the end is in sight for Dallas.
The good news for the Mavs is that despite their struggles and their current position of 11th in the Western Conference, a number of Western teams are struggling to hit their stride, and the difference between where they currently sit and the West’s sixth seed is a mere half game. There’s plenty of time for Dirk to get back up to speed and bring his latest round of new teammates to respectability before playoff time.
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