The world champion Boston Celtics took a big hit on the free agency front this summery, losing James Posey to the New Orleans Hornets. What did they lose in James Posey?
The experience of a veteran who has now won two championship rings. A gritty and versatile defender whose hands are extremely active in the passing lanes. Nails knows how to draw a charge and grab a rebound when it counts. Most importantly, Nails was, well, nails when they needed him most, hitting innumerable free throws and three-pointers down the stretch when games hung in the balance.
What didn’t we lose with Posey?
Posey will turn 32 in January. Last year Posey was already moving up and down the court a little bit like Antoine Walker, which is to say like an old man. Thirty-two is late, late prime for a basketball player, and that is being charitable. Pose will be missed, but remember what all of Celticdom said after the Atlanta series: We must get younger and more athletic.
Speaking of athleticism, Posey was no Eric Fernstein or John Bagley when it comes to athletic ability. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure JR Giddens and Bill Walker represent an upgrade over Pose athletically speaking, as does Tony Allen. It's a pretty safe bet that Giddens, Walker, and Allen will be more explosive than Posey as well, explosiveness being a byproduct of athletic ability.
Replacing Pose by Committee
The common response to this point on GnashingofTeeth.com, er, I mean on Celtics messages boards, is that Boston would have had Giddens, Walker, and Allen even if they would have kept Posey. Yes this is true for Walker and Giddens, and maybe even true for Allen (but probably not). Regardless, the thing to keep in mind here is PT. How much PT would Giddens, Walker and Allen have received had Posey been here? Now that Posey is gone, his minutes will be replaced by younger, more athletic wings. So regardless of who would have been on the roster, the meaningful barometer is who is playing the minutes.
The third thing we didn’t lose when Posey bolted to the Big Easy is a viable mid-range game. Posey had no mid-range game whatsoever, and rarely drove to the hoop. Messrs. Walker, Giddens, and Allen are the anti-Posey in this regard, particularly on the driving to the hoop front. Getting your own shot and driving to the hoop helps get the opponent into foul trouble, and it keeps the defense honest when the defense is focused on guarding the perimeter.
The final thing we didn’t lose was a lockdown defender. As good as James Posey was, he was not a lock-down defender. Watch the playoff tapes again. The guy Posey was guarding blew past him on any number of occasions. Posey won his share of defensive battles, and was certainly not afraid to mix it up in the trenches. But giving Posey a defensive assignment did not guarantee that 1) his man would not get the ball; 2) his man would not get his shot off; 3) his man would not drive past him.
Versatility and Length
So the loss of Posey may hurt us on some fronts, but may help us on others. The proof will be in the pudding, as they say. The thing I liked most about Posey was his versatility on defense. He could defend a point guard like Chauncey or a seven-footer like Dirk, and guard them both effectively. This gave Doc great flexibility.
It’s unclear whether the committee of wings will be able to replace Posey’s skills in this area. Darius Miles has some length that Doc could put to use against the Dirks and Gasols of the world, and the hope is the other three can guard smaller players.
It’s certainly an open question. In the end, I like the fact that we have multiple guys who will be asked to step up, thereby increasing the chances that any one of them might do just that. It also doesn't hurt to have defensive guru Tom Thibodeau returning as Assistant Head Coach and KG returning to quarterback the defense.