This week's Celtics Mailbag finds readers doing a lot of finger-pointing in regards to Boston's recent struggles and offering plenty of ideas on how to reshape the roster with the trade deadline now less than a month away.
Q: Has this team just given up on attacking the rim? Every shot is a jumper and no one even tries to post up. Kevin Garnett has become nothing more than a jump shooter. I love what he brings on the defensive end, but he doesn't want any part of posting up or even attacking the basket anymore. Do you think this team will live and die by the jump shot in the playoffs? -- Jason (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
A: The Celtics take 22 shots per game at the rim, according to HoopData (a number that actually surprised me by being just seventh worst in the league). Boston is dead last, however, in shots from 3 to 9 feet -- at 7.4 per game, which is less than half of the league-high 15.5 shots that the Pacers average from that range. Yes, it's clear that for much of the past two seasons the Celtics have lived off an ability to convert a high percentage of jumpers. I do think it's a big reason for their offensive inconsistencies, particularly because by not going to the basket the team is also not generating easy points at the free throw line. Will those woes linger into the postseason? It's hard to imagine the team completely reinventing itself at this point.
Q: This guy Jermaine O'Neal has the same timing as Bill Russell ... the actual 78-year-old Bill Russell. -- Tommy Heinsohn (Next to Mike)
A: I'm a documented Jermaine O'Neal apologist because I'm a geek for a guy who can block shots and take charges the way he does. But O'Neal is so battered from giving up his body that he simply can't stay on the floor. My biggest concern with that is the continuity among the first unit (and the trickle-down effect with the reserves). I've long wondered if the team would be better off bringing O'Neal off the bench. When (or if?) this team is healthy, I think one of the post-All-Star break changes they need to re-explore is shuffling Brandon Bass or Chris Wilcox into the starting lineup. (Wilcox might make more sense, to give him time with Rajon Rondo and still have Bass as an energy boost off the bench to relieve KG after five minutes.) I still think O'Neal can help this team, but I simply wonder if he could be better utilized off the bench -- which maybe eases the loss when he's dinged up for a game or two.
Q: Maybe the problem is the coach. The C's have a lot of good players but Doc Rivers doesn't find a way to make them play together. -- Jason (Switzerland)
A: I know we love to play the blame game when things are not going well, but to point fingers at the coach seems slightly desperate to me. Yes, it's on Rivers to make this thing work, but I find it hard to fault him for things like committing turnovers, allowing dribble penetration and a general aversion to rebounding at both ends of the floor. That's on the players. The injuries are working against Boston right now and the sheer amount of lineups that Rivers has already been forced to use speaks volumes about how depleted the roster has been. I think health could go a long way toward curing much of what ails this team.
Q: When will they get rid of Danny Ainge? He is a terrible GM. While other teams are getting impact players from the draft (i.e Norris Cole and MarShon Brooks), we have Avery Bradley, JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, who don't contribute. What is the deal? Not to mention free agents like Sasha Pavlovic, Marquis Daniels and Keyon Dooling are all busts. Get rid of them and let's get some players that can help. -- Brandon (Atlanta)
A: First Rivers, now Ainge is getting his share of venom from mailbaggers (and, truth be told, we had to edit Brandon's email a bit because he brought just pure rage). As with Rivers, I'll defend Ainge a bit here, noting that Bradley is really emerging this season (especially when he gets extended minutes), while I think both Johnson and Moore are showing they have bright futures (particularly for where they were picked). It's too easy to use one-dimensional players like Brooks as an example of a missed opportunity. For every Brooks who gets thrust into an advantageous situation (and most certainly took advantage of it), there's a Jordan Hamilton, picked one spot in front of Johnson, who's played a mere 49 minutes this season. As for free agents like Pavlovic and Daniels, it's hard when forced to work with nothing but veteran minimum deals. Yes, the team expected more out of those two, but they haven't been able to put it together consistently. We'll give Dooling some time coming back from injuries, but the Celtics clearly need more offense from him if he's going to play the 2 exclusively.
Q: Are there any free agents out there that the C's can sign right now that can make a difference without Danny Ainge having to make a desperate move like he did last year with Kendrick Perkins? -- Drew (Peabody, Mass.)
A: If a player is unemployed at the moment, there's probably a reason for that. I don't think a street free agent is the answer to Boston's problems. There almost certainly will be some tempting names on the buyout scrapheap, but as we saw last year with Carlos Arroyo and Troy Murphy, those rarely work out. What's more, the overall lack of practice time this season will make it even more difficult for players acquired on the fly to integrate into their new team. All of which continues to suggest that if the Celtics are to make a postseason run, they might find it in their best interest to sit tight with what they have and maybe make a minor move to provide a small jolt while hoping to stir up competition at the end of the bench.
Q: Since the Celtics are over the cap, does that mean that if they make a trade, they have to still stay at the same salary level with the contracts they get back, or can they go over the cap? Can they just sign any free agent out there and pay the luxury tax as well? -- Kevin (Newton, Mass.)
A: Like all trades, the money has to match up fairly closely (teams can take back a little more based on trade rules). So yes, the Celtics could take on additional salary and push their luxury tax bill a little bit higher. Same goes for free agents -- Boston could swallow a guaranteed deal to create roster space, but it can still offer any free agent only a minimum deal, and that number gets added to an already bloated salary total. (With around $79 million committed right now, the Celtics are on the hook for about a $9 million luxury tax bill in having to pay dollar-for-dollar over the threshold.)
Q: Chris, I think it's time for Danny Ainge to wave the white flag. With a record of 15-16 at the moment and with injuries and erratic play plaguing this team, he has to start thinking about the future. What would you consider the breaking point where Danny looks at his cards and realizes it's time to fold? -- Andy (Reston, Va.)
A: So here's the thing: Even if Ainge ultimately decides that this team just doesn't have a chance to be a true contender, that doesn't guarantee there are moves out there that can be made to improve this team in future seasons. Even if a contender lusts after Ray Allen or Kevin Garnett, those teams are not going to give up much for what amounts to a playoff rental. Is it worth an unsightly end to the Big Three era to bring back a late first-round pick (if you can even fetch that)? If this team comes out of the All-Star break and even with full health (or as close to that as they can get) cannot play consistent ball, Ainge will most certainly be tempted to start the turnover process, but it has to be worthwhile to the team. Otherwise, it might truly be best just to ride it out with what he has, even if this thing bottoms out.
Q: Lots of trade talks, blow the team up, etc. Isn't Boston better off dropping into this year's lottery instead? Top 10 pick, cap room, Rondo and the Big 3 at potentially discounted prices next year might be one step back, but steps forward, no? -- Shaun (Melbourne, Australia)
A: The East is so terrible, I'm simply not sure the Celtics could even stumble their way into the lottery (even if teams like Cleveland and Detroit have shown potential to challenge for a final seed, including topping Boston in recent action). But in general, simply staying the course has its advantages. Boston maintains the financial flexibility it's worked so hard to ensure this coming offseason; can still explore bringing back Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett at team-friendly deals; and will have two first-round picks to operate with (including the Clippers' pick from the Kendrick Perkins trade).
Q: Ainge should trade Bradley, Moore and a second-round pick to Minnesota for JJ Barea for Rondo's birthday present. And Ainge should make a trade during All-Star weekend to get Shannon Brown in Boston by trading Keyon Dooling and Marquis Daniels to Phoenix. -- Devonte (Parts Unknown)
A: Meet Devonte Grayson, who has an assortment of Twitter handles (most notably "@KIDPRINCE22" and "@TRUTHBC") and posts in our comments section under the name GHILL71. I believe him to be a well-intentioned Celtics fan who very much enjoys offering outlandish trade proposals (and then, kinda hilariously, sends them to anyone who will listen on Twitter, including, often, the players themselves). I love this kid's energy. I love his spirit. I love the fact that he often gives specific dates for these trades to occur. Some commenters get a little frustrated with his proposals, but he seems harmless. If he was an actual NBA general manager, it would take just two weeks before the entire league looked as if it had held a fantasy draft.
Q: Following up on Peter May's article on Rondo for Deron Williams. I used the trade machine to pull off a rare four-team deal involving the Nets, Grizzlies, Celtics and Clippers that could actually help all teams. Here are the results: The Nets get Rondo to solidify the PG spot for three years; at a reasonable price, they can build around him and Brook Lopez, or use Lopez in another deal to land a big man like Pau Gasol. The Clippers get Ray Allen to provide that veteran shooting guard to complement Blake Griffin and Chris Paul; he basically fills the role Chauncey Billups had and immediately pushes the Clips to the front of the Western Conference. The Grizzlies pick up Eric Bledsoe and Mo Williams. Williams has to be included for the salary issue, but could also provide the offense that Tony Allen and Mike Conley can't, while Bledsoe gives them a viable backup point guard to push Conley. They are also only giving up guys in the last year of contracts, so getting something is better than nothing. The Celtics pick up Deron, O.J. Mayo and Marreese Speights. Deron and Mayo can provide that much-needed offensive boost that the team needs. In a three-guard rotation with Bradley, we have solid production and youth. Speights adds another defensive big with better offensive potential than Stiemsma. A starting five of D-Will, Mayo, Pierce, Garnett and Speights with JO, Wilcox, Bass, Pietrus and Bradley in the rotation could be dangerous. -- Dan (Dover, N.H.)
A: Have I introduced you to my friend Devonte? (I'm kidding but, hey, the first four-team blockbuster in the inbox means it's officially trade season.)
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.