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The Inbounds: How Danny Ainge created the FrankenCeltics monster

Jul 23, 2012, 10:20 AM EST

Boston Celtics' Pierce and Garnett react when the team was called for a technical foul against the Chicago Bulls during NBA basketball game in Chicago Reuters

Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

As Boston entered last year’s playoffs, they were favored against the Hawks. The biggest reason for that, despite what anyone would tell you, is that they are the Celtics. That’s it. You know how in the College Football Top 25 the same teams are placed at the top and given the benefit of the doubt, traditional powers whose weaknesses are overlooked because of their historical significance? Yeah, that happens in the NBA as well, it just happens when playoff prediction time comes knocking. It’s inconceivable that the Celtics could be toppled by the Hawks, unless the Hawks had a transcendent superstar. The Hawks do not (with apologies to Nets fans who likely believe otherwise). And so the Celtics were heavily favored, based mostly on the fact that they’re the Celtics. In truth, the Hawks matched up exceptionally well at full strength. They had more depth, they had fewer weaknesses in the starting construct, and they could run, which the Celtics tend to act like they love for about a quarter, just enough to convince you not to do it anymore so their legs don’t have to sustain a full game of it.

But of course, as was the pattern for most of the playoffs, everything went wrong for the Hawks, and everything that the Celtics needed to make go right for themselves, they did.

Do not be confused. The Celtics did not beat the Hawks because they were lucky, but they were granted some things which helped, like any team that succeeds in the playoffs does. Much was made of Al Horford‘s injury, but the Hawks missing Zaza Pachulia was as much of a factor. They had legitimate centers to throw at the Celtics to hurt them where they were weak: at true center. But injuries rendered that incapable. The Celtics had their own injuries. Ray Allen, Jeff Green, Paul Pierce was playing through a sprained MCL. But the specific absences for the Hawks gave Boston the strategic edges it needed, and they took full advantage of it. They advanced.

Philadelphia actually managed to push Boston to seven games. They, of course, should never have been there in the first place, but Derrick Rose tore his ACL and like the Celtics throughout the playoffs, the Sixers made the plays to take advantage of Rose’s absence and win the series. But in a Game 7, the Sixers needed a hot shooting night from a terrible offense. It just didn’t break for them. You can’t say the Sixers outplayed Boston, because when Boston was engaged like in Game 5, it wasn’t close. The Sixers played well for spurts but not nearly enough.

And then they pushed Miami. I bought it hook line and sinker after Game 5. I thought Miami had once again folded up shop, that they were through, and that Boston was going to the Finals, proving everyone wrong. That they’re not too old, they are too good, and they are a championship-worthy team, despite all evidence to the contrary from Christmas Day through Game 7 of the Sixers series.

And then LeBron James destroyed the building and took a souvenir with him.

But in that there were definitely signs that the Celtics were running out of gas. Allen’s cuts weren’t fast enough. Pierce mostly limped through that series, outside of his burst of swag in Game 5. And in Game 6 and 7, even the mighty Garnett, the playoffs MVP for two rounds, was slow to rotate, unable to get up the floor, winded, and you could tell, beaten.

So this would be the end, right? The Celtics would slide quietly into the grave, and perhaps make the playoffs next year and fade into irrelevance like Detroit did, eventually being ousted in blowouts in an empty building in the first round. Or they’d save their dignity and commit to a rebuilding project. That’s how it would end. That’s how these things end.

————————————————–

And then Danny Ainge donned a white lab coat, stuck an antenna to the ceiling of TD Garden, whipped out Wyc Grousbeck’s checkbook and made himself the FrankenCeltics monster. Brought back from the dead, half alive, half dead, stitched together with loose parts and molting tissue, a beast capable of destroying the countryside or stumbling off a cliff. Make no mistake, Ainge has created a monster, and there’s little way to tell how the Celtics will fit into the NBA landscape next season.

There’s a growing sentiment of “these Celtics aren’t old anymore” from their fanbase, which is, of course, nonsense. Kevin Garnett will still be their primary weapon at both ends of the floor. Paul Pierce could recover from the MCL sprain and be fine, but that won’t change the fact that age has started to tilt his game toward the breaking point. Their biggest offseason addition, Jason Terry, will be 35 at the start of next season. This team is still old.

It’s just also young.

Well, OK. Young-er.

Rajon Rondo is 26, no longer a pup. Jeff Green is 26, and we’re still hoping to discover a moment of maturation where he becomes whatever it is that he’s supposed to be.  Courtney Lee, 26, Brandon Bass, 27, Jason Collins, 33. But there are young guys. The rooks, obviously, Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, and Avery Bardley at just 22 at the start of next season. Ainge has tacked together a veteran team of pro’s pros with a young and versatile team, mixed with big shot makers and athletic perimeter players. It’s mixing, maybe not the best of both worlds, but on nights it will seem like it.

And it’s allowed a high level of optimism to roam Beantown about next season. The problems with last year’s team (depth, versatility, and size) have been addressed through the draft and free agency. Ray Allen was “replaced” with Jason Terry. (Note: It’s an odd thing to say they replaced Allen with Terry. Terry is capable of scoring more with the ball, but is also not as efficient of a shooter, even last season when Allen had bone spurs in his ankles and suffered with his age, Terry also seemed to head off the cliff a bit with the Mavericks. It’s maybe an upgrade, but not at the same role.) They got the guys who were out who supposedly were missing from last year’s playoff run that would have been key contributors (Green, Wilcox).

But if we look past shamrock-colored glasses, what do we actually see of this monster Ainge has brought to life?

It’s going to be scary good at times, and an abject mess at others.

More of the former than the latter.

Experience matters in the NBA, and those teams tend to win. The Heat were the first team in a while whose core isn’t necessarily “old” to win the title. Those teams can usually topple others because their execution is sharper, their will stronger, their focus more resolute. And the Celtics have that. They won’t be missing guys who know how to close out a playoff series or hit the big shot. They won’t be missing defenders who understand system and don’t have to just rely on their bodies. But they also have those other players, the ones who can get out and run. For the first time, Rajon Rondo has the wheel and an engine to motor with. Green, Lee, Bradley, even the older Wilcox all can create mayhem in transition with Rondo whipping passes. The Celtics can produce offense in different ways than just throwing their opponent into the alley puddles and hoping they land a body blow, which was their offense last season.

They have the components to absolutely wreck teams. They can rest the starters when they need to and let the kids run, they can bring back the vets if things seem to be getting out of hand. Pierce and Garnett are still going to have throwback nights. But Boston’s not dependent on them every single night.

They can win without the old guys.

But they’ll win a lot of games because of the old guys.

When Garnett gets upset at people talking about him being old, he’s confused. He is old, in NBA terms, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a top-five player in the league last season. Factoring both ends, it’s hard to say he wasn’t. But he no longer has to be that great, every single game, for Boston to win.

This team may not be better than Indiana or Chicago next season. It is not better than the Heat. Its title chances are slim. But then, they were slimmer last season, and they were one quarter away from the Finals. The run is not over for the Big th….. oops. The Big Two Plus Rondo. This monster that Ainge has put together may not be invincible. But it’s not a bit character, either, a side plot. This thing’s going to have to be dealt with.

And if you want to kill it, you better bring more than pitchforks and fire.

  1. liljere24 - Jul 23, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    That was possibly the most brutal article to read thar you have ever written. You pretty much state the celtics are a beast team in your headline then trash them in the article. You make the worst comparisons ever for a sports writer. Focus more on writing a solid, to the point article instead of trying to be clever to make us laugh. I do not get how you think that combination of athleticisim and veterans they have isn’t good? That’s a pretty damn good combination. Rondo isn’t a pup? He’s 26!!!!!! Pitchforks and fire? Really?

  2. dls612 - Jul 23, 2012 at 10:53 AM

    Who’s scared? Miami? Gonna put them out of there misery once and for all! The monster killer (LeBron)!!

  3. giselleisasucubus - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    I have to agree with lil, that post was all over the place. BTW, Matt, you are wrong about this team being “old”. As you said yourself, they can win with the young core they built and the guys in their mid-30’s will win some games too. It’s funny, reading this made me feel like you realize how strong this team looks but don’t want to admit it. They are considerably better than Indiana, Chicago (Rose is out until January, and he won’t be normal for a year) and to say the Heat are better w/out a game being played is just ignorant. This team is going to be dominant on defense and they will run a lot. Boston will win at least 57 games next year.

  4. skinsfanwill - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    I think Green will be a problem for Lebron. He is just as big and has a good post game. Paul Pierce certainly can’t even be a distraction to Lebron. Too old and too dang slow. This Boston team will compete and give everyone problems. And I’m a Heat fan. I don’t see anyone in the West winning a title for a long time. Defense wins chips, and the East has it all.

    • dls612 - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:48 AM

      What! Slap yourself!

    • miamatt - Jul 23, 2012 at 12:13 PM

      Did you just say that Jeff Green will be a problem for Lebron? Did you actually just say Green is “just as big (as Lebron) and has a post game”???

      The only problems Jeff Green causes are for those who rely on him.

      I actually think he could help the Celtics this year, but c’mon.

  5. phaden27 - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:08 AM

    Apparently you don’t want to infuse an old roster with younger talent and another vet. I mean after all it might speed up the rebuilding process or GASP get rid of it so when the old guys retire so you have new players to step into their shoes.
    Welcome to the Inbounds, where Matt Moore goes off on a tangent then does a little editing and throws it up on PBT. I’m literally jelly.

  6. ninjasports - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:10 AM

    The Celts will obviously be in the picture but they won’t be able to beat the likes of the Heat, Lakers, OKC, etc to get over the hump and win another title.

    • jamesbmckay - Jul 23, 2012 at 3:41 PM

      We were 8 mins from the Finals, and would have already been there if the Wade face-rake of Rondo had been called, and now we get Bradley, Green and Wilcox back from injuries, add Terry and Lee, and have a great draft and we “won’t be able to beat the likes of….”…What the hell are you smoking ace, as I want some! We lost Judas and replaced him with Terry & Lee. Younger, both good 3-pt shooters and both are better defensively. You must be a Heat fan. Looking forward to our ruining your ring ceremony and our guards shutting down Judas! Go Cs…

      • ninjasports - Jul 23, 2012 at 6:25 PM

        I am actually a Magic fan and fortunately for me we have no ring ceremony for you guys to ruin. However, the Heat will likely stomp out the Celtics older line-up over a seven-game series. Hate to break it to you.

      • bozosforall - Jul 24, 2012 at 12:19 AM

        Judas? Typical Boston fan trashing someone who helped his team win that lone title in the last quarter century. Loyalty? Not in (Has)BeenTown.

  7. dgbk - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    the rondo isnt a pup line is reaching for something negative. i have never heard any1 describe chris paul (27) or deron williams (28) as not being pups. ppl tend to say two great pgs entering their prime. i guess the 26 yr old rondo is showing signs of being old and breaking down though.

    • nepatriots128154 - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:31 AM

      Rondo has always been in the Big 3’s shadow, though. Since ’08 it’s always been “The Big 3 and Rondo the young centerpiece.” Paul and Williams were drafted #4 and #3, respectively, while Rondo was drafted 21st overall. While they may be similar in skill, Paul/Williams have always been the focus and centerpieces of their team, while Rondo was the little brother/4th wheel.

      The pup line just stems from the fact that Rondo has always had a different perception around him due to the team he was drafted on (full of prideful, HOF bound veterans) and his draft position.

      • dgbk - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:53 AM

        The line before the Rondo line is , “Jason Terry, will be 35 at the start of next season. This team is still old. It’s just also young.Well, OK. Young-er.”

        While what you are saying is true as far as being in the shadow of the big 3. I think the post was not discussing that at all. Rondo is mentioned with a few other mid 20 players bass green lee and before the rookies and bradley all the “pups.” Meaning to me that he is not old lilke Terry KG and pierce but not quite young. ppl hardly discuss CP3 age when they are gushing over his skills. If the worse thing that can be said in a article is a player is no longer in his early 20’s why mention it?

  8. limonadamas - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    I don’t know… Celtics fans may disagree, but it seems to me that the only great acquisition this offseason was Courtney Lee (to replace Pietrus). Collins and Stiemsma is a wash. Terry’s falling off (I’d personally much rather have Ray). Jeff Green’s coming back, true, but he’s never put it all together, especially on defense.

    Rondo and Bradley are exciting and still on the rise… and the rooks may surprise. But other than that, everyone else in the core is in a holding pattern and the Big Two are in decline. To me, the Celts will be exciting and interesting to watch, but ultimately not that different from this past season in terms of tier. But who knows? They have a puncher’s chance to make it far in the playoffs, as well as a great coach.

    • missmd07 - Jul 23, 2012 at 12:08 PM

      From what I’ve read, I think their thought was to bring in Terry for the 6th man role that Ray didn’t want. Terry can create his own shot of the bench thus less minutes for Rondo the creator. This is me speculating but maybe Terry will run the point sometimes since Rondo doesn’t have a true backup (Rondo needs a true backup IMO). If Ray had accepted their offer, he would start. Bradley will be out until January to recover from his double shoulder surgery. Ray and Bradley would have to share minutes if he stayed (Bradley for defense). Now, Courtney Lee is the shooting guard (more like Ray’s replacement not Pietrus; Pietrus should have been Pierce backup since he never had one) until Bradley returns and will share SG minutes with Bradley. I don’t know how this log jam is going to work but I’m sure Doc will figure it out. They may still need someone else at SF (Pietrus, maybe?). Green will backup Pierce but I don’t know if Kris Joseph will get a chance to contribute. Pierce hasn’t had anyone to back him up at SF in a while. Danny wants KG and Paul to play less minutes to keep them fresh. This team still doesn’t have a true center and rebounding will still be a huge issue. I think if they stay healthy they’ll be good but I don’t think they can get pass the Heat. I’m a Celtics fan. I could be wrong on all this. Please correct me if I am.

    • r3conklin - Jul 24, 2012 at 1:15 AM

      Ray Allen was god awful last year, and was a one man wrecking crew in the playoffs. Game 4 against the 76ers was an extreme example of how much better the team was with Bradley, even with shoulder problems. Both players were 2-6 from the field and 1-3 from 3 point range. Bradley got to the line a bit more, and Allen got a couple more rebounds. Bradley played 27 minutes. Allen played 31. Both played a good amount of time with Rondo/Pierce/Garnett, who all played about 40 minutes. Somehow Bradley’s +/- was +12 while Allen’s was -24! I know +/- isn’t perfect, but that’s a 36 point swing. If the Celtics had kept Allen Doc would have kept giving him minutes, which would have been a disaster. I’m overjoyed that he will be burdening the Heat next year.

  9. juanandonly24 - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    Some of you guys are insanely harsh….oh wait you’re all probably Boston fans. I forget that anytime anyone says anything bad about the Celtics, they go into self-defense mode and preach about how they’ll be SO much better this year.

    • liljere24 - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:59 AM

      I think all fans defend their team. Nothing wrong with it. I could care less if I get a ton of thumbs down on my comment. Moore was wrong in the article and was literally making no sense. The celtics will be better, hands down. I’ll defend my team even when they suck

      • juanandonly24 - Jul 23, 2012 at 12:10 PM

        Dude, did you not read the article? The only bad things he said was they that Garnett and Pierce are old (which is true) and that the Heat are better (which is also true.) I disagree that either Indiana or Chcago will be better than the Celtics, but other than that he completely praised them and Danny Ainge for patching up all of the holes they had on that roster. He even used crappy metaphors to compare your team to an iconic monster, and the overall tone of the article was completely positive towards the C’s.

  10. ezmac58 - Jul 23, 2012 at 12:14 PM

    Anyone who doesn’t think that the Celtics are improved doesn’t know a lot about basketball. Getting Avery Bradley and Jeff Green back is big enough. Had they been healthy the certainly could have beat the heat. Add Terry, Lee, Sully, Wilcox, Fab, and Collins and the Celts have upgraded immensely. With that bench Dic can rest KG and Paul all season.

  11. miamatt - Jul 23, 2012 at 12:20 PM

    Yesterday I post a comment on the Jason Collins signing that includes “The C’s keep getting back up like Jason Voorhees”, and today there’s an article that calls for breaking out the pitchforks to fight the dreaded Frakenceltic…. Hmmmmmm….

  12. GT - Jul 23, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    What executive or team has had a better offseason than Ainge and the C’s? Bottom line is they improved, to what degree will be show when the season begins, but it could be quite significant and they made the ECF last season…

    As a C’s fan, I’m just thankful Danny found a way when other teams probably would have just kept going backwards and then shoot for the lottery.

  13. bleedgreen15 - Jul 23, 2012 at 1:13 PM

    No mention of one of the top 5 coaches in the league?

  14. kinggw - Jul 23, 2012 at 2:04 PM

    Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, Jason Collins, Fab Melo, Jared Sullinger.

    Those are the players the C’s brought in this offseason. There are a few solid contributors in that group, but its debatable if any of them are real difference makers.

    They brought back Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, and Chris Wilcox. Again, you have some decent players but none of them are going to put Boston over the top.

    Add all of those players to Rondo and two superstars who are past their prime at 35 and 36 years old respectively and what do you have? You definitely have an interesting mix of players, what you don’t have is a contender. Boston fans and some of the media need to be honest about what the C’s are. They are a middle of the road team just like they were last season. Their playoff run was fools gold. I understand why Ainge fought the urge to rebuild, that doesnt mean he made the right decision. I know C’s fans don’t want to hear it, but they’ll be lucky to make it out of the 1st round.

  15. misterdreamer119 - Jul 23, 2012 at 2:25 PM

    The article is both praising and slightly dissing the Celtics. The writer used a smart tactic. Celtics fans will focus on the negative part of the article, Celtics haters will focus on the parts that praise the Cs and the debate begins. This is what they do on First Take. Skip takes one side Smith argues the other side and you have a show.

    My take on the Celtics. I bet the champion Heats fans are concerned about the Celtics new roster. One little injury to the often injured Wade and the tables turn. Spoelstra admitted that the Celtics are the team that pushed the Heats to new heights of execution and grit. The Thunders were overwhelmed by the Heats. The Celtics will never be overwhelmed by the Heats. I bet Pat Riley is concerned too.

  16. chicagofan - Jul 23, 2012 at 6:29 PM

    As a Celtics season ticket holder, I hope you are right and I agree that the Celts are better with their additions than last yr. I believe they can beat Miami but the question is how much better will Miami get with Ray and Rashard Lewis–if he stops underachieving, Miami will be tougher to beat but if he is his usual self the Celts will upset them. Courtney Lee can become a star in Boston and will make them fun to watch.

    • misterdreamer119 - Jul 24, 2012 at 12:28 PM

      They’re always fun to watch. Defense baby, plus Rondo’s passing.

  17. lameasish - Jul 23, 2012 at 7:24 PM

    You Boston fans are too much sometimes, you only took the heat to 7 games because bosh was out for a while and wade was injured, hence his off season surgery. The 76ers almost beat you. Boston has the worst fans, I cannot wait till next season so I can watch your team get smacked by the heat, that’s if you can make the east finals. Get off these boards and go sing some gay ass song like you do at Fenway, u guys are wicked awesome..

    • chicagofan - Jul 24, 2012 at 6:36 AM

      Dude or dudette, the Celtics lost Green, Wilcox at the start of the season and Avery Bradley in the playoffs and were tied 73-73 going into the 4th qtr of game 7 with the mighty Heat . Bosh missed those games but so did these Celts and the Heat could have injuries next yr also. I am a Bull’s fan #1 but live in MA and you can hate the Boston fans but you have to give props to Doc Rivers and the Celtics for giving us Bball fans a competitive team to love or hate.

  18. j0esixpack - Jul 23, 2012 at 9:42 PM

    Great read. Good column idea!

    No Celtics fan is kidding themselves that this is 2007.

    Neither Garnett nor Pierce are in their prime. But Garnett certainly showed that he can still take over a game when he needs to – especially if others can play their roles.

    Team depth was a weakness last year – and they nearly beat the Heat despite it.

    Now depth may very well be this team’s strength, assuming these guys find they can play well together.

    No doubt the Celtics were running on fumes by Game 7 – but even then they played the Heat tougher than OKC did. Give that same team some added depth and talent, as Ainge did this offseason almost like a magician, and I suspect you’d have seen a very different outcome.

    So no one is raising Banner 18 yet but you can’t fault Celtics fans for being happy with what has become a surprisingly positive offseason.

  19. bozosforall - Jul 24, 2012 at 12:23 AM

    Typical Puh C’s fans crying here. Biggest crybaby fan base in Boston’s, hands down.

  20. r3conklin - Jul 24, 2012 at 12:54 AM

    I’m not sure why people are so sure that the Heat are significantly better than the Celtics. The Eastern Conference finals really could have gone either way. Maybe the Heat improved a bit in the off season, but I think the Celtics have improved by a lot. Although the Heat’s “big three” maybe younger than the Celtics “big three” they have added a lot of old washed up players to their roster. They may not need much from them, but I think adding that type of player is a mistake. One that the Celtics have made in the past. Additionally Dwayne Wade isn’t much younger than Pierce (he is older than PP was after the 2008 title) and has been injured frequently throughout his career. He is also more reliant on his athleticism, which could fade at any time.

    Let’s also remember that the Celtics were one of the best teams in the league after the all-star break (including multiple blow out wins over the Heat). When Avery Bradley was starting they were vastly more efficient on both ends of the floor. I would say that losing Ray Allen was addition by subtraction. He was killing the Celtics for almost two years. His occasional heroics and past history seem to be all that anyone can remember. I thought they should have gotten rid of him two years ago. If the OJ Mayo deal had gone through the Celtics might be hanging banner 18.

    Anyway, although I get annoyed at the assertion that the Heat are far and away the beast of the east, which is supported by no logic argument or evidence, I am also happy that the Celtics will be underrated and written off, again. That’s when they’re at their best.

    • Kurt Helin - Jul 24, 2012 at 1:31 AM

      The argument isn’t that the Celtics didn’t improve, but that they were not as close as the ECF suggested. Remember, Bosh missed five games and the Heat won the two he played despite injury. Wade was dragging around a knee that needed surgery. Allen and Rashard Lewis are nice, but the real argument is that a healthier Heat team is dramatically better than the one that just won a title.

      • j0esixpack - Jul 24, 2012 at 9:41 AM

        Kurt – you might want to look into this story further.

        Rumor has it that the Celtics played SEVEN games without Bradley, other key players were playing through injuries and went through an entire season without Jeff Green.

        You seemed to have overlooked those minor facts, implying that a full strength Celtics team took an injured Heat team to the brink.

        If you keep telling half the story some fans might think that you have a bias.

        Admitted everything for the Celtics is going to come down to health next season – but the added depth is going to help KEEP their key players fresher and healthier through the season and are going to be contributing much more than last year’s bench.

      • misterdreamer119 - Jul 24, 2012 at 12:32 PM

        Yes point taken but Bradley was hurt and he was the best perimeter defender. Ray Allen both ankles hurt, Pierce knee, Steisma foot injury come on dood. Both teams had injuries.

  21. naterich21 - Jul 25, 2012 at 1:11 AM

    I think this Celtics team will be very comparable to last years Spurs.

    Except Rondo at the helm is more dangerous than Parker

  22. j0esixpack - Oct 3, 2012 at 8:10 PM

    This article still holds up as very good analysis as we approach the season.

    A good read by Matt Moore.

    Health is the key for the Celtics, like any team.

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