Odds and Ends


It's better to look ahead these days if you're a Celtics fan. It's much more preferable than trying to remember the 40-something-win teams of 2001-02 and 2002-03, let alone the Glory Days.

The 2004-05 Celtics are rebuilding. They don't want to say it, but that's what they're doing. All you have to do is watch.

   The good news is that there appears to be a good reason to look ahead. The bad news is that the "precious present," as Rick Pitino liked to call it, might become a casualty along the way. In some ways, it already has. And that can be a slippery slope.

"You do feel at times," said coach Doc Rivers, "as if you're walking on that edge."

I get the feeling that if Danny Ainge were put on the stand, he would admit to not minding a bit if the team went 30-52 this season so long as Al Jefferson, Tony Allen, and Delonte West all got significant minutes and played well. The reason he can't say it publicly, or consciously allow it to happen, is that he runs the risk of losing Paul Pierce and the other veterans in the process.

And the Celtics need both groups to succeed, which is the current dilemma for Rivers. He needs the veterans. But he also needs to develop the kids. What generally happens in those situations is that the team takes a few hits for the supposed greater good down the road.

But we don't know how long that road is and whether the Celtics, even with the kids playing, will ever get there.

"If these kids weren't good, we wouldn't be playing them," Rivers said. "Paul Pierce can see what I see. It's a gamble that he and the rest of the veterans will accept because they can see where we're going. I do like the direction of the team. If I didn't think that these guys could play and be real good, then it would be horrible. These kids can play. They just don't know how to play."

But they will get plenty of opportunities to find out. We've seen enough of Jefferson and Allen that we want to see more. West looks promising as well, provided he can stay healthy and isn't another Marcus Camby. But Rivers said he won't play the kids simply to give them court time.

"They still have to do it right," he said. "You can't put them out there and let them make mistakes that are going to lose games. Yeah, they're talented. But you have to earn it. You have to do it right."

Case in point: Allen. He had three hellacious plays in Thursday's Portland game; all of them were "SportsCenter" material. Fans see those and they salivate. They want to see more and more. In a roundabout way, those kinds of things put the Celtics on the radar screen, albeit briefly, but sometimes for all the wrong reasons.

"Tony has a 'SportsCenter' highlight every game," Rivers said. "But 'SportsCenter' doesn't show the plays he misses. You don't see the lost assignments, the missed switches. But the coach sees them. The other players see them. And if you don't sub him after that, you lose everyone."

The biggest issue Rivers has with everyone, old and new alike, is getting them to "do things right." (At least he doesn't say "the right way." Didn't Larry Brown copyright that last year?) The kids are learning things for the first time, so they know no other way, at least from an NBA standpoint.

As for the veterans, it's different. And, occasionally, difficult.

"I'm sure it's tough for them," said Rivers. "A lot of them are set in their ways and they're being told, 'No, it's not that way.' Sometimes it gets touchy. They don't want to hear my whistle and be told to do it a certain way. But you've got to stick with what you think is right."

Rivers doesn't want to lose. He's a coach. Those L's go on his resume, not on Ainge's.

"You still want to win," he said. "You don't want to lose. I can understand some of the veterans saying, 'How long is this going to take? Am I going to be around to see it?' But I do think they see the light."




Last Thursday night in Houston, we saw Exhibit A of why NBA coaches never, ever, ever get comfortable with a lead until the horn sounds and his team has more points than the other guys.

Tracy McGrady scored an astonishing 13 points in 35 seconds to bring the Rockets back from a 10-point deficit in the final 62 seconds for a 1-point victory over the Spurs. McGrady made four 3-pointers in those 35 seconds; one of them became a 4-point play when McGrady got Tim Duncan, a.k.a. The Big Fundamental, to fall for an upfake at the 3-point line. McGrady's final 3-pointer, coming with 1.7 seconds left after a San Antonio turnover, won the game.

"I've seen close to 3,000 games in 40 years and I'd put that at the top of my list as far as individual performances go," said longtime Rockets radio voice Jim Foley. "I still think I dreamt it."

Foley said he and broadcast partner Gene Peterson were discussing a recent team golf outing as the game wound down. But they soon realized they had better get back to the game. San Antonio also led by 8 with 44 seconds left, by 7 with 31 seconds left, and by 5 with 16 seconds left. The Spurs even made their free throws down the stretch and still lost. When asked for an explanation, coach Gregg Popovich said, "How the hell do I know?"

Doc Rivers was watching the game in the locker room before the Celtics-Portland game and turned off the TV with 65 seconds left. "I saw the score later on the scoreboard and I said to myself, 'Must be a mistake,' " said Rivers.

The big unknown: Can the comeback jump-start the struggling Rockets? The schedule gives them that chance. Houston is in a stretch in which it plays 9 of 10 at home, and six of the 10 opponents have losing records. The only road game in the stretch is at Charlotte.


Is there a more hapless, pathetic cabal right now than the New Orleans Hornets? Byron Scott's ravaged group has played nine home games and lost them all. After Friday night's loss in New Jersey, the Hornets dipped to 1-17. In the good old days of the Eastern Conference, they'd be talking playoffs with that record. But out West, it's hopeless.

"I was talking to [assistant coach] Darrell Walker the other day," said guard David Wesley, "and I told him, 'If Vegas had had this [horrible start] on the board, I'd have bet everything I owned.' It's very disappointing. Very, very disappointing.

"The sad thing is that we're playing hard, but just well enough to lose. Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don't know."

Wesley has some experience with ugly seasons; he was on the 1996-97 championship-driven Celtics who won 15 games.

"I'd almost forgotten about that," he laughed. "But just like this year, that year we had guys banged up. I remember being on the same court with Steve Hamer, Nate Driggers, guys who weren't even in the league the next year."

The Hornets' injuries are overwhelming. Jamal Mashburn (right knee) is out for the year. Jamaal Magliore (fractured right ring finger) is out until 2005. Baron Davis (back, disk) is weeks away, as is Rodney Rogers (left knee). The Hornets needed league approval to add a fourth body to their injured list.

"It's pretty miserable," Wesley concluded.


How about those Suns? The surprise Pacific Division leaders vaporized the Lakers with a 15-0 run in a 3:45 span last Wednesday to turn a 13-point deficit into a 2-point lead. The Suns eventually won the game, 113-110, only their second against the Lakers in their last 11 visits to the Staples Center. The other, last year, should not have counted, as it came when Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Horace Grant were all out. The Suns also put together a 21-0 run the night before the Lakers game in a win over the Warriors and also had an 18-0 run in a game last month against the Clippers.

Imbalance of power

With the Celtics' loss in Portland Thursday night, here was the depressing tally of East vs. West as of Friday morning: 36-72. The Atlantic Division was 11-29 against the West, the Central was 14-24, and the Southeast was 11-19. The big losers were the Sixers (0-7 against the West) and Nets (1-8), while surprising Orlando had a 6-2 mark, which includes a season sweep of the Utah Jazz for just the second time in franchise history. The first was in 1993-94, the year Penny Hardaway joined Shaq in Orlando. The Magic, Cavs (3-2), and Pistons (6-3) were the only teams with winning records against the Western Conference.

Losers' bracket

With the Atlantic Division looking more and more mediocre by the day, you wonder whether any of the five teams will win more than it loses. Yes, there has been a division winner with a losing record. The last was the 1975-76 Milwaukee Bucks, who went 38-44 and still won the Midwest Division by two games over the Pistons. (The Bucks had the same record the year before and finished last in the division.) The two teams met in a best-of-three first-round playoff series, with the Pistons prevailing. But perhaps the best sub-.500 NBA story is the 1980-81 Rockets, who went 40-42 and made it to the NBA Finals, losing to the Celtics in six games.

Meet the new boss

Kobe is at it again. He went on the radio and basically told Malone that the Mailman wouldn't necessarily be welcome back on his team. That's right, Jerry Buss may attend NBA Board of Governors meetings, but Kobe really runs the Lakers these days. Here's one sampling of his thinking, as stated in the interview: "I mean, you can't sit up here and speculate for the remainder of the season whether or not he is going to come back . . . It's not really fair to hold [Malone's potential return] over the guys' heads who are here . . . They are giving me 110 percent." They are giving me 110 percent? Reached in Arkansas by Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke, Malone said he was "blindsided" by Bryant's remarks. "The bottom line is, Kobe Bryant doesn't want me to play for him, and it's his team," Malone said. "You've got to be wanted and he doesn't want me there." There you have it. And Malone was one of Bryant's few friends on the team who didn't allow himself to get caught up in a lot of the Shaq-Kobe nonsense. But when asked specifically about the exit of O'Neal, Malone said, "I don't want to throw daggers at anyone, but I would have quit my job before I traded Shaquille O'Neal. I would have been unemployed before I would trade him. That's all I'll say."

Behind closed doors in Washington

There's an intriguing passage in the new book, "Let Me Tell You A Story," by Red Auerbach and John Feinstein. And it has nothing to do with Red or the Celtics. One of Red's regular dining partners in Washington is agent Rob Ades, who represented Mike Jarvis when Jarvis was being considered for the Wizards coaching job in 2000 by Michael Jordan. According to the book, Jordan at first was willing to pay Jarvis $1 million a year. Ades asked for $4 million a year for seven years, which angered Jordan. Then Ades went on to mention that another of his clients, Jeff Van Gundy, had just signed a sweet deal with New York, but he didn't expect a rookie like Jarvis to get Van Gundy money. Jordan then exploded, saying, "Don't you ever mention that [expletive] name in my office." Guess we know how Michael feels about the former Knicks and current Rockets coach. As for Jarvis, Jordan eventually increased his offer to $1.8 million a year for three years. Ades said Jarvis would not settle for less than four years, and the deal never happened. The man Jordan eventually hired, Leonard Hamilton, was also an Ades client. But after what happened in the Jarvis negotiations, Hamilton, with Ades's blessing, got someone else to represent him in negotiations with Jordan. Hamilton lasted one year.

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