When Philadelphia 76ers swingman Evan Turner's contorting floater dripped through the net at the buzzer on Wednesday night, sending the Boston Celtics to a heartbreaking loss -- their fourth straight and 19th in the past 22 games -- you could hear an audible groan from a TD Garden crowd that then went silent.
Maybe that's why I heard my phone buzzing. It was a stream of messages from my closest friends, who I would classify as die-hard Celtics fans (maybe even season-ticket holders who happily donated their tickets to the Basement Bowl to Seats for Soldiers). One wrote simply, "Perfect game."
The insinuation, and we've discussed this before, is this: Many Celtics fans are perfectly content to watch this transitioning team play hard, be entertaining, nurture the development of young players, and -- most importantly -- lose. The more defeats, the better potential for a higher draft pick that can help the team avoid defeats in future seasons.
Some of you are reading this and you are reddening through your green-and-white face paint. "Those aren't real fans!" Actually, they are. They get it. If Turner's floater rolls off the rim, those same friends probably snap their fingers, then revel in having been thoroughly entertained for two hours. It's a win-win for them regardless of the outcome, but especially when the Celtics lose.
It'd be easier if this season wasn't so darn screwy. The Celtics flip-flopped with Philadelphia and now own the third-worst record in basketball through Wednesday's action. Unfathomably, Boston is just as close to a playoff berth (5½ games) as it is to owning the worst record in the NBA.
Even Brad Stevens admitted last week that "it's a unique year in the East. To think that we would be that close to a playoff spot is pretty ridiculous considering what our record is."
Celtics fans remain conflicted. There are those who bristle at the notion of paying top dollar to attend games that -- like Tuesday in New York -- can get ugly in a hurry. Others understand the balance and try to keep their eyes on what Boston is building toward.
That's where we start the latest edition of the Celtics Mailbag:
Q: Is it hard for Danny Ainge to watch these games without hoping the Celtics will lose and get a Top 5 pick? I keep telling my 8-year-old that the Celts need a franchise player out of this draft, so losing games while developing Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and Avery Bradley is for the greater good. Agree? -- Joe (Oxford, Conn.)
A: The Celtics do not fear winning. They've been scorned by the ping-pong balls in the past and they've positioned themselves such that they are not solely reliant on a top draft pick to help accelerate this rebuilding process. There are a lot of good habits that develop from winning games, especially tight ones. So, again, if Michael Carter-Williams gets called for a carry and the Celtics escape with a victory on Wednesday night, I think Ainge & Co. are celebrating a big night from Sullinger and a clutch late-game tip-in from Kris Humphries that helped secure a win that would ease some of the stress on players who so desperately want to end these losing ways.
And it's important to stress here, too, that the idea that the Celtics are tanking is completely irrational. You've got Brad Stevens wearing a trench in front of the Boston bench as he shuttles players in and out, going offense-defense in the final minutes while trying to give the Celtics their best chance of winning by generating favorable matchups. Boston doesn't have to try to lose games, it happens on its own.
A: Fun story about this: Back before Rondo returned to full-contact practices, the Celtics were coming off a win with a rare off day to follow. Humphries, as he often does, was trying to corral some teammates for an off-day non-basketball workout. Rondo was trying to compromise, but Humphries wanted an earlier-than-desired start time. Rondo ended the conversation by saying, "You're going to be my teammate for what, two or three more years? There's plenty of time [to engage in workout challenges]." Now, I don't think Rondo had any inside info, and this was back when Humphries couldn't find consistent minutes off the bench. But I absolutely think that the Celtics would entertain the idea of holding onto Humphries through the trade deadline (barring a team tripping over itself to give some combination of expiring deals and valuable picks). I think the Celtics would love to find a number somewhere south of the $12 million Humphries is making now to bring him back for future seasons as an energy guy off the bench. A young, crowded frontcourt lacking pure size could add a layer of difficulty to that, but Humphries is a valuable asset (and veteran presence) at the right price. And, at worst, he's $12 million coming off the books.
Q: Does giving Rondo the captain's 'C' mean the Celtics are not trading him anytime soon? -- @chKraft/Ian (via Twitter)
A: I hate having to use a "never say never" qualifier, particularly when there's virtually no scenario I can fathom in which a team would meet the Celtics' high price tag for Rondo's services before Feb. 20. But, yes, the captain acknowledgment only cements that notion to me. You don't throw that title around here without being committed to your guy long-term (Pervis Ellison's one-year captaincy in 1997-98, notwithstanding). I think the Celtics will do everything in their power to keep Rondo around at a reasonable pay rate moving forward.
Q: How much is too much for Avery Bradley? He's a good player, and I love the chemistry he brings to the team, but there has to be one team out there willing to overpay him, right? Where will Ainge stop as far as Bradley and his salary? -- Nathaniel (Lake Forest, Ill.)
A: The rumor milll suggested the Celtics were willing to go as high as four years, $24 million to extend his rookie pact. The whispers suggested he was looking more toward $8 million per season. Can the two sides find a harmonious middle ground this offseason with Bradley now set to become a restricted free agent? How the Bradley-Rondo combination, when healthy, performs later this season could help answer that. Of the players on the current roster, Bradley is one of the guys this armchair GM would be willing to spend on (but Bradley's future could also hinge on who the Celtics add in the draft).
Q: Are Phil Pressey or Vitor Faverani in the long-term plans for the Celtics? With the slew of draft picks coming up, will Ainge be looking at point guard prospects? It seems like Fav could be a quality backup center, eventually, if he develops. But what about Colton Iverson coming back from Turkey? -- Finn (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
A: Faverani's second-year salary is guaranteed (and cheap at $2 million), which makes it likely he sticks around (unless he's used as filler in a trade). Pressey's salary is nonguaranteed, but the potential he's shown lately seems to suggest it would be criminal not to keep him around at $816,482. Iverson's future likely hinges on how stocked the Celtics' frontcourt is (judge what you can on his Turkish adventure with his overseas game log).
Q: There are clearly some planted commenters in your blog. They may be an outside company or whatever. But I'm bailing if they stick around. Thanks, man. -- Sean (Los Angeles, Calif.)
A: MOM! How many times do I have to tell you to stay out of the comments section.
Q: Brad S. is the worse coach I have every seen fire him now. -- Colton (Springfield, Ore.)
A: I hear his grammar is terrible, too.
Q: Chris, you are excellent. Love reading anything you write. Will follow you on Twitter. Do me a favor, get your haircut and have another picture taken for your profile mug shot! -- Phil (South Yarmouth, Mass.)
A: MOM! I said no mailbag submissions either.
Q: How BAD is this year's Celtics compared to previous awful teams? Historically, are we on pace to have one of the worst seasons? -- @MaxBirdsey/ (via Twitter)
A: Well, at their current .313 winning percentage, the Celtics are on pace for the third-worst record in team history with only the 2006-07 Celtics (24-58, .293 winning percentage) and the 1996-97 Celtics (15-67, .183) worse. When you consider the strength of the conference, this would be among the bottom-feeders. But one thing I thought of while watching Wednesday's loss: Man it's really tough to lose 18 in a row like that 2007 team did.
Q: Could seeing that ovation for Paul and KG make Boston more attractive for stars in the future? -- @rsharry35/Ryan (via Twitter)
A: Interesting thought, the notion that "Hey, those fans get it!" certainly will resonate to some. But let's face it, the biggest draws in the league are (1) Money; (2) Contending for a title; (3) Money; (4) Warm weather; and (5) Money.
Q: You haven't mentioned Jeff Green yet. -- Chris (Auburn, Mass.)
A: Oh, really? Well, that's certainly not from a lack of questions from readers at wit's end with his inconsistency. We talked a lot of Green in our last 'bag; and will probably do plenty more in the coming weeks.