If only Mark Blount were the problem. But he's not. Far from it. The problem goes well beyond one player.
We have been conditioned by Celtics ownership, management, and even, to some extent, the players themselves to wait and wait. The party line is and has been: have patience and wait for the kids to develop. That line of thinking doesn't end with the wishful-thinking folks at Banner 17, either. A lot of national writers and broadcasters feel the same way.
But here's what I'm wondering, hours after the Celtics had to scrape and claw to earn a 1-point home victory over the Bobcats (another team that makes no bones about its mission statement -- wait a few years): Are the Celtics really getting any better?
At this juncture of, admittedly, a very long season, you can't even put this Celtics team up against last year's team, even before Antoine Walker returned. That was at least a .500 team. This year's team is worse. The Celtics have played two-thirds of their games at home, and four of those games, all victories, have come against teams with an aggregate record of 11-39. They are 1-3 in the other home games. They are 0-4 on the road. They are 0-6 in back-to-back situations.
This is progress? Does Tony Allen really mean that much to this team?
One thing Danny Ainge promised was to rebuild the Celtics into a younger, more athletic team. He has done that. He wanted the style of play to change. Mostly, that has happened. But I can't say for certain that he's really improved the talent base. Who can say? But he's trying to do what, I think it's safe to say, no one in NBA history has ever done: build a winning team with a large component of late first-round picks, second-picks, and middle-of-the-road free agents.
We keep hearing that in a couple of years, the kids will have developed and the Celtics will have a competitive team. I look down the road in two years and here are just a few of the things I see:
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker still with San Antonio.
The entire starting five of the Pistons still in Detroit.
Paul Pierce at the end of his contract if he hasn't been traded.
Brian Scalabrine in the third year of his five-year, $15 million deal.
You win with talent in the NBA; that is not exactly a news flash. But rarely, if ever, has the winning combination of talent come from players who were such low picks, players who, in the most ideal of situations, could be seen as complementary players. The highest-drafted player Ainge has chosen is Marcus Banks, No. 13. He's essentially been told he's no longer needed. Springfield-bound Al Jefferson was the 15th overall pick. The Celtics put enormous pressure on this kid to deliver this season -- he's on the cover of the media guide, for goodness sakes -- and he's a year-plus out of high school.
In two years, the Atlanta Hawks may well have a better talent base than the Celtics. I'm not so sure I wouldn't swap rosters with them right now. In two years, the Bobcats may have a better talent base.
The Chicago Bulls have four recent lottery picks around whom they are building -- Tyson Chandler, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, and Ben Gordon -- and will have millions this summer to use on free agents or facilitate trades. Yes, re-signing some of these guys might be an issue, but that's a good problem to have because it means there's inherent value there if you need to move someone.
Blount may be unhappy about his touches, but remember that Doc Rivers said that his idea of the way the Celtics offense should run is to make sure Blount and Raef LaFrentz get a lot of looks. Blount is never going to be a big rebounder. The one year he did rebound, there was no LaFrentz, and Walter McCarty was a power forward. Someone had to get the rebounds.
Maybe, just maybe, Blount sees where this is all going. You can love and embrace the kids and drink all the Tommy Juice you want, but at the end of the day, the Celtics are what they are. Right now, they are not a very good team, and if you're waiting for everything to click and jell, well, remember: patience is indeed a virtue.
CLIPPINGS MAY COME BACK TO HAUNT
When my preseason predictions came out, I had the Clippers where I always have them (out of the action and playoffs). That prompted an interesting e-mail from a Clippers fan named Bob Hellman.
"You could not be more wrong about the Clippers this year," he wrote. "You seem to be unaware and just joining the easy 'they're still the Clippers' mentality.' Sacramento, Dallas, they used to be joke teams also. And this year, Sacramento will be a joke again.
"Just keep your eye on [the Clippers] this year ... this is not the same joke team they have been for the last 20 years. Don't say I didn't tell you."
So far, Hellman is eerily on target. But I wasn't the only one who wondered. Sports Illustrated had the Clippers down in the Western Conference. And Elton Brand had his doubts as well.
"When we lost Bobby Simmons and Marko [Jaric], I was definitely upset about it," reports Brand, the Clippers' franchise forward. "I was saying to myself, 'This is going to be another terrible year.' But then we got Sam [Cassell] and Cat [Cuttino Mobley] and things seem to be working out."
Indeed they do. The Clippers (9-3) are atop the Pacific Division by a healthy margin, are undefeated at home (one of those being a victory over the Lakers), and Brand is making a strong case for starting in the All-Star Game. But Brand says the major reason for the turnaround is Cassell.
"He's been huge for us," Brand said. "He makes big plays and he's a veteran in the backcourt."
The Clippers haven't had this kind of record at this point of the season since they moved to Southern California from Buffalo in the late 1970s. And they've started strong despite getting nothing from the injured Shaun Livingston, the redshirt rookie who is supposed to be the real deal.
"We heard all the preseason predictions and we didn't mind," Brand said. "Year in and year out, we haven't gotten the job done here."
Mr. Hellman also may be right about the Kings (6-7). Call it the Reef Curse, but we may have to add another year to Shareef Abdur-Rahim's quest to cash a playoff check. While the Clippers are on top of the Pacific, the Kings are near the bottom.
NEW YORK COULD BE GOING 'OLD SCHOOL'
The Knicks have shown interest in bringing aboard Adrian Griffin. The ex-Celtic, who earned the moniker "Old School" when making his NBA debut in Boston, is a man without a team.
His former agent, Frank Catapano, said the Bulls, for whom Griffin played last season, had told him there would be an offer, but one never arrived.
"I must have talked to every team in the league and I thought three or four were close," said Catapano, who stopped representing Griffin two weeks ago. "It's hard to figure out. I think he could help any team in the league."
Griffin appeared in 69 games for Chicago last season. It was his fourth NBA stop, the others being Boston, Dallas, and Houston.
Catapano also reports that a couple of other clients (and ex-Celtics) have found work overseas: Chris Herren is playing in Tehran, of all places, while Wayne Turner is playing in Belgium for Charelroi.