9.17.2008

Question Marks and Competition

The Chicken Littles of Celtic Nation appear to be on vacation. Either that or they are saving their energy for the regular season. Either way, I think I’ll take advantage of this respite from the hue-and-cry to remind everyone of the value derived from competition.

The 1985-86 Boston Celtics weren’t really a work in progress, or at least they shouldn’t have been. After being on the losing end of a Laker thumping during the 1985 NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics retooled. It wasn’t clear that the Celtics had only a few gallons of gas left in the tank, but Red wasn’t taking any chances.

He traded Cedric Maxwell for Bill Walton, acquired Jerry Sichting for two second-round draft picks, and let Sly Williams, Rick Carlisle, David Thirdkill, and first round draft pick Sam Vincent fight it out for the final three spots on the roster.

Carlisle, Williams, and Vincent initially won the final three spots. Everyone figured they knew exactly how things would shake down for the rest of the roster. Choosing the primary rotational players was a no brainer. The starting five was etched in stone--Bird, McHale, Parish, Ainge, and DJ. The next three, most pundits believed, was equally predictable, Walton, Sichting, and slick shooting Scott Wedman.

Greg Kite occupied roster spot #9, and he wasn’t going anywhere.

Yet it didn’t all work out quite this smoothly.

Walton embarrassed himself on opening night. Wedman played so poorly at times that observers thought his career might be over. KC Jones became afraid to use his bench. After the Christmas-Day debacle against the Knicks, all of Celticdom officially hit the panic button.

Eventually, the Celtics would dump Sly Williams, after he missed a flight and blamed his poor play on hemorrhoids, and re-sign Thirdkill, who became a key role-player on both sides of the ball. By this time, Walton, Wedman and Sichting were rounding into form, and by mid-season, Pat Riley described the Celtics bench as one filled with "canons." The bench was so good, in fact, that Jones started the so-called "Green Team" (ie., the second unit; today the "Green Team" is the first unit) against the Bucks and won going away.

The point here is that a little competition is healthy.

Bringing in Sam Cassell introduces a level of discomfort amongst the troops. Sixteen players vying for 15 spots. Danny has also gone on record as saying he wouldn’t foreclose the possibility of adding a seventeenth player if he was a “playmaker, (meaning a guy who could make plays as opposed to a point guard).”

I’d rather have this situation than just bringing back the same 15 guys from last year (including Posey) and having the team go through the motions during camp and into the pre-season.

Competition is healthy. Adding new blood and fresh faces is healthy. It not only gives players incentive to play their best, but also enables coaches and management to weed out the bad seeds.

Who will be this year’s Sly Williams?

Our chances of answering that question intelligently are increased by competition.

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