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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
FOURTH QUARTER WOES
PLEASE REFER TO MICROFILM FOR CHART DATA.
SPURS' 10-POINT LEAD GONE IN 62 SECONDS
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.
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.
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."
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
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
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.
NEW ORLEANS SITUATION IS A LOST CAUSE
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.
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.
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.
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
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
"It's pretty miserable," Wesley concluded.
LA IS WHERE THE SUNS SHINED
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.
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
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
Behind closed doors in Washington
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
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