All it takes is a little drama to fill up the mailbag. The letters were sparse during Boston's six-game winning streak earlier this month and now the sack is overflowing after Doc Rivers' postgame outburst in Detroit on Sunday. Turns out Doc's not the only one who's angry. Let's rip it open and get straight to the panic and rage:
Q: I don't know what to do with these guys anymore. I give up. Let's trade them all. -- Doc (Boston)
A: Did Doc Rivers get your attention Sunday night? Imagine being one of his players. As I wrote after Rivers' outburst, I don't think his goal is to blow the roster up -- Boston's decision-makers have been far too patient during the team's roller-coaster ride to simply jump to that extreme. But the old way clearly wasn't working, so Rivers dipped into the coach's toolbox and went with the oft-unused threat approach. Rivers so infrequently goes this route that it's a pretty strong indication of how livid he is with the lack of consistency from his team, particularly with how the Celtics have approached games. With his outburst, Rivers essentially put the ball in the players' court: You want to keep this group together, show it. If you don't, Boston's brass will be forced to make changes.
Q: A big trade is the answer. -- @nedj3 (via Twitter)
A: It's not. In fact, it's the worst-case scenario. It's an admittance of failure for the front office (in terms of offseason roster assemblage), the coaching staff (unable to get the team to play to its potential) and the players. Championship-caliber teams don't blow things up at midseason to turn things around that season; it's a move for the future and admittance that the team simply could not -- and would not -- turn things around that season. The Celtics might ultimately decide they need to shake things up a bit and trade away a player or two (think the Eddie House-for-Nate Robinson swap in 2010), but the idea of anything grander than that is a terrible sign for the 2012-13 campaign.
Q: Anyone in particular come to mind when Doc erupted? -- @CjEuLnTICS (via Twitter)
A: Everyone. I thought this spoke volumes: Amidst their six-game winning streak, the Celtics didn't have a single player nominated for Player of the Week honors. Why? Because they played their most inspired ball when they got varied contributions, particularly from the bench, and leaned on their defense. I think you can make the case that every single player on this team is underperforming, outside of maybe rookie Jared Sullinger, who has exceeded even the loftiest of expectations. It's easy to point at the likes of Brandon Bass and Jason Terry, who are unquestionably the biggest underperformers at the moment, but that doesn't absolve the rest of the team. Paul Pierce is in a shooting funk; Kevin Garnett has been outplayed during this three-game losing streak; Rajon Rondo turned the ball over nine times on Sunday; and Boston's bench has already lost some of its recently discovered swagger. The Celtics need more from everybody on their roster.
Q: What has to happen for Danny Ainge to consider breaking it up? -- @FredWFA (via Twitter)
A: I think the team needs to bottom out. That would mean something like coming out with zero intensity on Tuesday in Cleveland, then getting manhandled by the Knicks on Thursday on national TV. Not sure you could sit idle after watching that. Essentially the Celtics have been challenged by their coach and Boston needs to see an immediate response. That doesn't necessarily mean they need to rip off a winning streak starting Tuesday, but this team does need to play with more energy and consistency. But to detonate this thing, I think Ainge needs to be convinced this team absolutely cannot be a contender with its current parts and that a more minor change wouldn't provide enough of a jolt to do that.
Q: Would an angry Doc Rivers be willing to trade Paul Pierce? -- @TheZanTrain (via Twitter)
A: Again, no big trade is likely high on the desire list for Boston's front office -- particularly not one involving the captain and face of the franchise. But if the right deal came along -- for any player -- the Celtics would have to consider it if their struggles continue, right? Pierce is an intriguing situation: He's making $16.8 million this season, which could make him a key piece in any swap that involves taking back a high-salary player. Pierce is scheduled to make $15.3 million next season, but only $5 million of that is guaranteed. Pierce is marred in a bad shooting slump now, leaving some observers disenchanted at the moment, but his numbers remain on par with last season when he was an All-Star. The gut says that Boston wouldn't trade Pierce and it's unclear how other teams even perceive his value at age 35. But if he gets you in the conversation for a younger All-Star-caliber player, don't you have to listen? That's true with anyone on the roster.
Q: What is the Celtics' identity and what should other teams fear most about the C's? -- @marcusv34 (via Twitter)
A: This is the problem, right? The Celtics really don't have an identity. We thought we saw one forming with their inspired defense and team-wide contributions during the start of that six-game win streak. But that's already eroded. Opposing teams have little to fear about a 20-20 team that plays down to -- and often loses to -- inferior competition. You know what teams fear most out of Boston right now? The C's potential. The Celtics have this amazing potential to be a true juggernaut in a less-than-imposing Eastern Conference, but they've shown no signs of being able to actually sustain the level of play that would allow them to be such. So teams show up at TD Garden and don't even blink because those banners in the rafters are not helping these Celtics.
Q: I think Doc should be mad at himself. -- @trubygreen (via Twitter)
A: No doubt that Rivers shoulders some of the blame here. There's been a very vocal cluster in our comments section that believes Rivers is as much at fault as anyone for this team's struggles. Fair or not, any time a team underperforms, it often falls back on the coach. Rivers admitted himself that he hasn't done enough with this team and it's on him to find out what will bring out the consistency he so desperately desires. Rivers is clearly going a different direction with his inspiration technique with Sunday's outburst, and it's somewhat fascinating to see how it will be received by his team.
Q: The Celtics probably could have used me this season, huh? -- Darko Milicic (Novi Sad, Serbia)
A: I'm not going to suggest the Celtics would have been impervious to these season-long struggles if they had Milicic, but I think it's pretty inarguable that he would have helped, particularly given their size woes at the moment. There was a lot to like about his potential in the preseason, and his presence wouldn't have left the Celtics with such a dire need to add another big man. Alas, we'll never know how it all would have played out. I know Leandro Barbosa has denied he requested a trade, but on the heels of the Milicic situation, I chuckle at the potential image of Ainge double-bolting the Celtics' locker room doors and telling Barbosa he's not going anywhere. Clearly, the Celtics know the value of depth, even if those players have to navigate sporadic playing time when the team is fully healthy (rare as that may be).
Q: Who is Doc angrier with: Jeff Green or Brandon Bass? -- @gfmorris (via Twitter)
A: Again, I don't necessarily think it's one player or one issue with this team. If it were that easy, there would be no reason to call out the team as a whole. No, Boston's troubles run much deeper. But while we're here, let's talk about Bass for a moment. Coming off a rock-solid 2011-12 season with Boston, Bass made the absolute right decision to opt out of the final year of his contract. He then probably took a discount to sign a three-year, $19.4 million deal with the Celtics. But his decline is rather astounding. He's shooting 45 percent from the floor, but what's worse is he looks downright timid to put up shots at times, which isn't Bass at all. Compounding matters, Bass' defensive rebound rate is down 1.5 percent from last season and his turnover rate is up nearly 3 percent. Bass has had a lot of noticeably poor defensive rotations (or lack thereof) and he's really struggling as a one-on-one defender (allowing 1.026 points per play in spot-up situations and 0.894 points per play in isolation, both ranking in the 39th percentile or worse, according to Synergy Sports data). Bottom line is the Celtics need more from Bass, particularly with him spending so much time with the first unit. Speaking of people angry at Green and Bass
Q: Which Celtic will refund my League Pass? I bought it believing this was going to be a great season and am now out $180 while going blind from the horrific play. Actually, can Green, Bass and Terry just split the bill? Please forward this to them. -- Jamison (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
A: They've certainly got enough cash to cover the bill. There was a combined $71.3 million in total salary commitment to those three players this offseason. That probably didn't make you feel much better. Might I suggest adopting a Western Conference team as a diversion?
Q: What is the likelihood that Jason Terry was a part of the group of underachieving players that Doc was referring to in his heated postgame interview? -- La Franchiza (Hudson, Mass.)
A: I'd say about 1,000 percent, give or take a percentage point. Again, there's virtually no one who was spared from Doc's wrath after that game, but Terry is certainly a chief offender. Let's start with the positives: Terry is the consummate pro, a fantastic locker room presence and he's never shied away from accountability. In fact, I almost feel bad for him because on Friday night he hit some big shots down the stretch against the Bulls, then Marco Belinelli made that ridiculous fadeaway (over Terry, no less) to win the game and Terry doesn't get the postgame attention that could have stoked his confidence. But confidence really isn't an issue for Terry, so it's astounding that he continues to struggle to the level he has. Yes, he was put in a tough spot being thrust into the starting role at the start of the season, but he's been back in the bench role this month and he's shooting 39.3 percent while averaging 6.1 points over 22.3 minutes per game in 10 appearances in January. That's not nearly the bench spark Boston was expecting. You can't help but think Terry will eventually emerge, but we haven't seen a whole lot of his trademark JET pose lately and that's a concern, particularly at age 35. And we didn't really talk about his defense. Let's just move on
Q: Do you see a fire sale coming? -- @XUTHUNDERCATS (via Twitter)
A: I don't. I think Rivers got his message across. I'd be floored if this team doesn't respond. I'm not saying you won't see any activity before the trade deadline. This team might still need a shake-up just to keep them on their toes -- and there's clearly still a need for a big man -- but I just don't see the value in blowing this thing up. Boston will not get solid value for its underperforming players and it's unlikely any large-scale move would benefit it this season. There's a reason Rivers and Ainge have been patient to this point: It's in Boston's best interest to weather the storm if it can find consistency in the end. The potential is tantalizing and it has to be maddening to the front office, players and fans that it hasn't been sustained. There's still a whole half of a season remaining, but this is a monster week for Boston. It could dictate not just how the rest of this season plays out, but the future direction of the franchise, as well.