WALTHAM - No one likes to mention the "r" word around the Celtics' practice facility. Coach Doc Rivers and executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge know the stigma attached to the word "rebuilding."
But anyone looking at the product on the parquet can't help but see that there is work to be done. TheCeltics not only need to rebuild for the future, but need to make something happen this season. One way to do that would be to regain the commitment to defense that appeared briefly at the beginning of the season.
To that end, Rivers conducted a remedial workout yesterday. Although practice lasted little more than an hour, the coaching staff crammed in a review of defensive fundamentals.
"We worked on a lot of defensive stuff," said Rivers. "I kind of went to some of the drills we did in training camp, just for our post defense and our pick-and-roll defense. That was good.
"Then we worked on some full-court press stuff. It was nothing new. We just need to keep working to keep getting better. It's rebuilding, refocusing, whatever you want to call it."
The Celtics will not be competitive without better defense, better rebounding, better chemistry, and better execution on offense. Anyone that believes that a 1-point win over Charlotte Friday night represented an improvement is delusional. Rivers, however, did take encouragement from holding the Bobcats to 89 points. He and the players know that number is only a start on a long road back to what they hope will be a playoff berth (postseason talk at this point being incredibly premature).
"We've got a long way to go," said Rivers. "I told you that before and after the game. But [the players] are looking at it like we have work to do, so we're focusing on it. I just want consistency and effort on defense. It doesn't mean we're going to be great defensively every night. But at least we're on the same page."
Added Paul Pierce, "I think we have to be more competitive on a more consistent basis. When we give up 100 points in four or five straight games, that's not being competitive at all. If we can continue to [keep teams below 100] and do it on a consistent basis, I think we'll be fine. It's about developing that competitiveness on the defensive end and not allowing teams to just come in and do whatever they want."
The Celtics, who have struggled with defensive rotations and switches, are allowing opponents to shoot 46 percent from the floor and average 101.4 points per game. In 7 of 11 games, the opposing team has scored more than 100. Rivers sees defensive improvement as a matter of effort and energy.
Still, going through fundamentals was necessary because some players do not have a clear understanding of what needs to be done. Whether that is a result of youth and inexperience or the coaching staff not communicating well enough remains a question for another day.
"When you have all 12 or 15 guys come to understand that [we have to compete consistently on defense], then we're going to get it," said Pierce. "But if you only have a third of the guys or three-quarters of the guys get it, then it's going to be hard."
It should come as no surprise that Mark Blount left immediately after practice and could not be reached for comment. The center did not play Friday night due to a coach's decision.
In the wake of that win, it may be easy to portray Blount as a major part of Boston's problems with defensive effort and energy. But his teammates, including Pierce, Ricky Davis, and Raef LaFrentz, are reluctant to heap blame on the 7-footer.
While Blount's rebounding statistics (3.6 per game) speak volumes, it is also clear that he and Rivers need to clear the air and resolve their differences.
"[Blount] was here and he practiced just like everybody else," said Rivers. "If he keeps working, eventually he'll be back on the floor. If he doesn't work, he won't be on the floor."
Rivers wants to stay with players who bring character and effort to the floor.
"Right now, we're going to play the guys who played last night," said Rivers. "Mark may play against Orlando [tomorrow night]. He may not. It will be what Mark does, not anything I do.
"We did what we did for a reason and Mark's going to have to work his way through it. I haven't talked to him. When he wants to have [a talk], he'll come in. Everything has to be his initiative right now."