Grampa Celtic: Losing to Milwaukee More Palatable than Losing to Philly

May 1983

Only the most myopic Celtics follower could not see it coming.

The Celtics were fated to lose this season; the only question was when.

They were not right from day one of training camp until the final buzzer last Monday evening in Milwaukee. There were perfunctory triumphs over the have-nots mixed with occasional bursts of brilliance against the Big Boys, but the 1982-83 Celtics were never able to sustain anything.

Losing to the Bucks in four straight put an exclamation point on the season, to be sure, but does it really matter if the Celtics lost in four or seven?

Believe me, losing to Milwaukee is more palatable than losing to Philly. It is a far, far better thing the Celtics have done, however unwillingly. Further play would have been superfluous, since we long ago knew the score with this team.

The inner self-examination and the exterior probing has begun. Bill Fitch will stay, which is hardly news. Continuity is the hallmark of the franchise, and Red Auerbach is not about to dismiss a coach who has produced an average of 60 wins in his four seasons just because a number of the players don't like him. Red probably figures that's reason enough to keep him.

Red and Harry Mangurian look at Fitch and see more good than bad, although they are hardly unaware of his personality excesses and plan to monitor his modus operandi more closely next season.

Planning for the immediate future is very difficult. What, for example, should Fitch make of Cedric Maxwell, who might as well have mailed in his performance this season? If he's not going to be a major board threat and prime inside scoring threat, what good is he? He sure as hell isn't going to win any Horse games from 20 feet.

Next, what has gotten into Kevin McHale? Why has the zany irreverence of his rookie year turned into a boring prima donna routine, resulting in the desire of several teammates to use his head as a punching bag? Suffice to say that allowing McHale to exit via a lucrative free agent offer is no longer unthinkable in the eyes of management.

This, of course, is where Scott Wedman comes in. He is a player of stature, and his presence makes it easier to think about unloading one of the other forwards. There is no way the Celtics can think about having all three on the roster next season, and how it all shakes down will be fascinating to watch.

Unless there is a deal involving one of the aforementioned forwards for an established guard who can put the ball in the basket, the backcourt will consist of Quinn Buckner, Danny Ainge and Gerry Henderson, which will be fine with me.

Tiny Archibald has scowled for the last time in a Celtics' uniform (I realize I said the same thing in the spring of 1979). The very fact that three men will be fitting into three slots will be a bonus. The biggest technical problem with this team all season was that Fitch was unable to cram four professional guards into three available slots.

The Celtics still have a great center in Robert Parish, but questions exist concerning his health. The Celtics operated best in the last three years when Rick Robey was getting his steady 12-15 minutes a game. So I say hang onto Robey. He is no part of the problem and a large part of the solution.

There are, of course, no worries about Larry Bird. He is simply The Best, on and off the court. Priority No. 1 will be to sign him as soon as possible. Harry Mangurian is aware of Bird's value to this franchise and we can only hope that Bob Woolf will not play games during the negotiations in order to maximize the publicity value. The Celtics want to sign Bird as quickly as possible. Would that their interests coincided with Mr. Woolf's in this matter.

The X and O specifics of the Milwaukee defeat are not that important in the long run. Any rational adult should be able to accept losing to a worthy foe. But it was evident that the Bucks really did want it more, and that's very troubling. The Celtics can be outplayed, but they should never be out- cared.

So what matters now is the future. The Celtics must again construct a true T-E-A-M that blends talent with personality. They must recapture the public trust.

Mangurian has succeeded in talking Red out of retirement, which is fine, but I'm not at all certain Red retains enough enthusiasm and emotional energy to address himself properly to the task. He really does want out, and there is a lot of work to be done.

Like it or not, the Celtics are a prisoner of the organization's image and high standards. Let us hope that future members of the team care as much as the fans do. If this year's team had, it would still be playing.

(No, Larry, I don't mean you.)

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