As if trying to put the 2012 calendar year in a nutshell, the Celtics this week produced one of their finest efforts of the 2012-13 season on Christmas Day in Brooklyn, only to be absolutely steamrolled by the streaking Clippers two nights later in Los Angeles. Yes, 2012 has been a nonstop roller coaster that somehow has been equal parts enjoyable (Boston's run to the cusp of the NBA Finals) and horrifying (all the regular-season inconsistencies; the Heat rallying to win the East).
Before we usher in 2013, let's take one last dive into the Celtics Mailbag and see how fans are feeling after the shellacking Boston endured Thursday (spoiler alert: they're not feeling good at all).
Q: Well, should the panic button be pressed? -- @RRP88 (via Twitter)
A: You guys know me by now; I'm not a panic-button guy. Are there concerning signs with this team? Absolutely. Is there any reason to believe Boston can't achieve its ultimate goal because of a 14-14 start? Absolutely not. What leaves me incredulous is how fast we forget recent history. The Celtics were 15-17 in a shortened season last year and ended up minutes from a trip to the NBA Finals. Boston went 27-27 down the stretch in 2010 and came within minutes of topping the Lakers in Game 7. For whatever reason, this team has no desire to make things easy on itself -- and maybe that cost the Celtics in both examples -- but this season simply sticks with the pattern. I love the (very vocal) group of fans begging for a major roster shake-up. Do you remember the last time that happened? Boston broke up its core in 2011, trading Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City, then got unceremoniously bounced in the second round of the playoffs. All we've heard from hindsighters is how important chemistry is and how Danny Ainge messed that one up. And so this team loses a game, and everyone wants to strap TNT to this thing. Trade players after a mere 28 games?! Fire the coach?! Are you kidding me with this stuff? It's preposterous. Everybody calm down, and let's talk at the All-Star break. [Steps down from soapbox.]
Q: Is this team the same after the trade deadline? -- @ASp0rtsAholic (via Twitter)
A: If the Celtics continue to underperform into February, Ainge probably will have to think hard about some sort of move. But outside of a need for another big man -- one who doesn't necessarily have to be acquired via the trade route -- I don't see a lot of obvious holes on this roster. I see a lot of inconsistency and underperformance, but the Celtics still have a deep and talented roster that -- if they can find any sort of consistency -- should be in the mix. Ainge & Co. saw the value of keeping the band together at the last trade deadline, and that might give them pause when considering any sort of larger overhaul this time around. Ultimately, the next month of play will force Boston's hand.
Q: I know the C's have gone through plenty of up-and-down stretches over the last few years, but this feels a little more bleak for some reason. Give me some reasons for optimism (assuming you can find any)? -- Bill (Hartford, Conn.)
A: Because time clouds our minds and we forget how bleak things felt before. If you could hop in Doc Rivers' hot tub time machine, there was pure despair as the Celtics stumbled to the finish line in 2010. Don't you remember everyone saying Kevin Garnett was toast last January as the Celtics struggled coming out of the lockout? This one might seem bleak because there hasn't been a sustained stretch of quality play and every time fans get excited about one quality effort, the Celtics have a letdown the next time out.
Q: Do you think the Celtics can win a championship as they are constructed now? I don't think they're even close. -- @FrenchLickNick (via Twitter)
A: I do. Maybe I'm swimming in a vat of green Kool-Aid over here, but there's enough pure talent that Boston absolutely can compete for a title. Can the Celtics win a championship playing this inconsistent brand of basketball? Of course not. But if they get this defense on track (Avery Bradley will aid that cause), get their rotation players to settle into defined roles (Bradley's return will have a trickle-down effect on the bench) and play to their potential, they are as good as anyone out there. I keep saying it, but I'll be floored if the Celtics and Lakers are not still standing in the conference finals. Talent and big-game experience make these two teams so incredibly dangerous, regardless of their early-season struggles.
Q: Hola, soy fans de los Boston, hace una par de años y me parece que esta temporada estamos pagando la edad de Garnett y Pierce, no tienen tanto ritmo como antes y a su ves Green y Lee no a colmado ninguna expectativa hasta ahora se depende mucho de los mas veteranos y ellos ya no son los de antes, y tambien me parece que Rondo se preocupa mas por tener su record de asistencias que por aportar puntos muchas veces penetra y en vez de marcar, asiste y hasta sorprende a sus compañeros que esperan que convierta y no que de tantas vueltas en una jugada. Saludos desde Cordoba, Argentina -- Javier (Cordoba, Argentina)
A: You know I don't speak Spanish. But I don't need Google Translate to tell me you're angry, Javier. Your indifference for punctuation hammers home a desire for the Celtics to start playing to their potential. I think a lot of Boston fans feel the same way and are likewise exasperated by the fact that there isn't one glaring area of concern for this team. Instead, it's the confluence of inconsistencies that keep holding this team down. Hang in there, bro. Or should I say: Aguanta ahí, hermano.
Q: It's obvious that the Celtics need to increase ball movement, so why all the 1-on-1 isolation plays? It's driving me insane. -- Baergo (Iowa City, Iowa)
A: The Celtics have a nasty habit of turning to hero ball when they find themselves struggling -- but this isn't a new problem. As Rivers summed it up after Thursday's loss to the Clippers: "I thought every single individual on our team wanted to beat [Los Angeles] and every individual tried to do it by themselves, instead of just playing the way we play." Boston had phenomenal ball movement in Brooklyn and emerged with one of its best wins of the season. Then it got sucked into attacking in isolation early against Los Angeles and found itself fighting from behind in one of its ugliest losses. To me, this is what Ainge is stressing when he talks about resolve. When a team encounters resistance, what does it do? Good teams stay the course and play their game. The Celtics got away from that Thursday. That might also be a microcosm for the season.
A: Rivers said before this trip that he wants to stay big when Bradley returns but admitted the team will mix Bass back into the starting lineup depending on matchups. I wouldn't be surprised if the Bradley-Bass lineup is the go-to pairing by the playoffs, but clearly the Celtics need Bass to pick up his play a bit in order for that to work. His defense has regressed since last season, and his shooting percentage has plummeted. Like Boston's other role players, he is struggling at the moment and needs a confidence jolt.
Q: What's up with Rajon Rondo? He seems like he's flat-out taken some games off. How can he say it's his team when he's not putting in 100 percent every night? -- Austin (Winter Park, Fla.)
A: It is somewhat staggering that five of his past six games have featured single-digit assists (Boston is 2-4 during that span). He hasn't had a real takeover effort lately (even his triple-double in Philly earlier this month was a loss in which he missed two chances to win the game), and you do have to wonder whether Rondo could try to put this team on his back for a stretch. I wouldn't go so far as to say he has taken games off; he simply hasn't left his stamp on them like we know he's capable of doing.
Q: At what point does Ainge pursue a defensive-minded veteran big? -- @DJMC25 (via Twitter)
A: Ever since Darko Milicic departed, the Celtics certainly have had their eyes open. But Ainge has maintained he's in no rush to add a long-term big, knowing that his best bet likely lies at the trade or waiver deadlines. This was hammered home by the addition of D-Leaguer Jarvis Varnado, who probably won't still be on the roster when contracts become fully guaranteed Jan. 10. It's more likely the Celtics will be content to muddle through with short-term solutions (10-day contracts?) until they hone in on the player who will be with them down the stretch. The question is whether they can make a big splash or whether they'll ultimately have to settle for a Ryan Hollins-like addition. Much of that will hinge on Boston's ability moving forward to avoid any other serious injuries, which would alter how the C's fill out the roster.
Q: Favorite hair product? -- @ScottIsaacs (via Twitter)
A: No way I was leaving this one on the timeline. The fauxhawk doesn't spike itself in the morning. I'm not picky: paste, putty, gel, tree sap. It all works.
Q: DeMarcus Cousins! DeMarcus Cousins! DEMARCUS COUSINS! -- Everybody (Everywhere)
A: If I had to guess, I'd say there were 8,734 questions involving Cousins in the 'bag this week. I get it: The Kings probably will be forced to move him, and the Celtics are an obvious match because of (1) their need for a big man and (2) the notion that a Kevin Garnett-led locker room could keep this kid's head on straight. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I don't think Sacramento can take pennies on the dollar for him, and I think Boston would be leery of parting with any combination that includes the likes of Jared Sullinger (tremendous attitude, big upside) or Bradley for him. Those are two potential pieces of Boston's future core for a player who hasn't shown an ability to stay focused. The talent is obvious, but is the risk worth the reward? Ultimately, the Kings probably will be seeking high draft picks in order to get full value given Cousins' ultra-reasonable contract figure.
Q: Isn't it still too early to really judge this team? Considering they don't have a major player in their rotation? Avery Bradley is not the answer on his own, but he moves all the other pieces to their proper places in the rotation. Ten games after his return (as a starter) will give us a clearer picture of this team. With him in the lineup we get faster, more athletic and deeper on the bench. Never mind the significant defensive upgrade he is over Jason Terry. A player like Bradley makes a big difference against a team like the Clippers, Bucks, and Rockets -- teams with very good guards. That in itself could add three wins to our record and we are not freaking out right now. -- Zel (Pittsburg, Calif.)
A: Look at this guy, all rational and stuff. Let's all laugh and point.