2.19.2008

High Stakes Game of Chicken

Wink-wink. Nod-nod.

There are those amongst us who believe that when any Celtics official (Doc, Danny, Wyc, etc) publicly acknowledges a need to acquire either a back-up big or a back-up point guard, they usually do so with one hand in their pocket.

Why?

Their fingers are crossed.

How else do you explain the leisurely stroll management is taking to two crucial deadlines:

The 3 p.m., February 21, 2008 NBA Trade Deadline

and

The midnight, March 1, free agent waiver deadline.

One answer is there is no noise to be made on the trading front.

The Celtics don’t really have anyone they can trade, the argument goes, because they traded all of their spare parts last summer.

I buy into this argument, because, as much as everyone seems to hate Scal, he is an indispensable part of this team as long as the health of our big men remains a question mark going forward. Others would like to trade Tony Allen, presumably for Sam Cassell, but Tony Allen has really elevated his play over the last two months.

TA might not be a lock-down defender, but he is proving himself to be a damn good one (offensively, he is good enough, IMO).

Still, the total lack of any discussion on the trade front is a bit unsettling for a championship contender with two identifiable needs.

As for the free agent deadline, I suppose one might offer up the same argument. The Cs aren’t the ones doing the buying-out, they are the ones awaiting buyouts. So all they can do is sit quietly on the sidelines and see what happens.

Perhaps.

But what about existing players who are already free agents, such as PJ Brown?

The Celtics just concluded a week where the tallest healthy player on the floor was 6’7” Leon Powe. Brian Scalabrine remains out indefinitely with a groin pull. Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis, Scot Pollard, and Kevin Garnett will all return soon, or may have already returned last night (tonight as I write this).

But, come on, each one of those guys is best described as “iffy” in terms of dependable, healthy productivity down the stretch. Don’t we need to treat the recent rash of injuries to our bigs as a wake-up call to do something about a palpable need?

Yeah, we’re 41-9. But who cares. It’s how we end the season that counts, and sooner or later chances are increasing that playing Leon Powe for 40 minutes at the 5-spot probably won’t get it done.

Or maybe it will—at least in this high-stakes game of chicken.

There are two different strains of the chicken game being played.

The first game of chicken is waiting until the last possible moment before making a move. This is risky because if the best the Celtics can do is Gary Payton at the point and an NBDLer in the pivot, the question is should they have acted sooner in grabbing a Damon Stoudamire or a Chris Webber?

The second game of chicken is playing coy and self-satisfied with other teams.

“No, we’re not willing to offer up anything to get Sam Cassell or Tyronn Lue. We’re prepared to sit tight and do nothing, and if you buy out Sam or Tyronn, great. We’ll nab one of them then. If not, we have other options.”

I’m getting the feeling this is the posture taken by Danny Ainge and company.

It runs the same risks as the first game of chicken.

I don’t believe anyone is really willing to wait and do nothing, though.

Doc has said on more than one occasion that the team is thin at the big position as soon as anyone on the current roster gets injured.

Danny has conceded the team needs more of a traditional back-up point guard, though he qualifies that admission by saying it must be the right point guard.

Wycliffe Grousbeck has said he would be crazy to sit by idly when the team is this close to hanging another banner.

So everyone who counts seems to understand what is at stake and believes in one set of truths, but those same people are acting as if they believed in another set of truths, namely, “chill, dude, no big deal. It will all work out for the best, one way or another.”

That sounds like a high-stakes game of chicken to me.

UPDATE: Ok, maybe the Cassell rumors are heating up after all.

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