I feel like I’m rooting for one of those old man teams in the local rec league. You know, a group of old dudes that still think they’re in their primes, lugging their old bones up and down the court and getting bending over to tie their shoe laces. Kevin Garnett – hip flexor, out at least 2 games. Jermaine O’Neal, practicing on gimpy knees and boy, you know what that means. (Translation: JO will go against the Pistons, but will be a no-show for the two games after that.) Brandon Bass and his fluid-filled left knee will take a seat, and who the hell knows when he’ll be back. Mickael Pietrus, more knee problems, more time on the bench.
That group would make on hell of an Olympic wheelchair hoops team. London 2012, here they come!
I know, I’m being too hard on these guys. It sucks getting old, and what’s happening to their bodies right now is what happens to all guys who get up there in age. It happens. Old guys just don’t do the stress of professional sports very well. Their bodies break down. Bass and Pietrus aren’t exactly in that category at this point in their careers, but JO and KG definitely qualify as long-in-the-tooth, NBA-style. And when you start piling up the minutes, and the games come at a greater rate of frequency, then there’s usually a knee or a hip to deal with.
Problem is, Danny Ainge knew this was coming. It’s happened before, it will happen again. Instead of standing pat on Kendrick Perkins and giving it a go last season, Ainge decided to go in a different direction. That way he doesn’t lose Perk at the end of the season and walk away empty handed. What Ainge should have done, IMHO, was stand pat with the hand he was dealt. Yeah, Perk may walk in that scenario. Probably will, there’s just too much money left on the table if he doesn’t. But by trading the brute force of a Perkins for the powder puff presence of Nenad Krstic, Ainge essentially chopped the legs out from under his aging Big Three. Last season was the last realistic chance this group had of winning a championship. By trading Perk, Ainge was folding his hand and planning for the future. A post Big Three future.
And in the process, he’s more than willing to put a tantalizingly competitive product on the floor in 2011-12. Good enough to look like they might, maybe, sort-of have a chance if the planets and the stars all align and the Mayans turn out to be wrong about the whole world-ending thing. But when the injuries start to pile up, limiting players from Keyon Dooling to Rajon Rondo to Chris Wilcox and now Garnett, then that’s when this Madoff-style shell game starts to fall apart.
The Celtics just can’t hope to compete for anything other than a 6-8 seed in the playoffs this season. Maybe a 5, but I’d say that’s stretching it a bit. And if the Big Three were a dying patient, is that how you think they’d really want to go out? On life support? No. Don’t think so. They’d want to go out with dignity. As in, last year should have been the final realistic push. Keep Perkins, make a different tweak or two, and see where that takes you. Instead, we have the Dallas Mavericks winning the NBA Championship. We have Perk in an OKC Thunder uniform. We have nothing in Krstic, and a giant question mark in Jeff Green.
Oh, and now we have this season.
Another year older, in a lockout-shortened year with compressed games and even more demands on the body. And with that comes what we have now. Guys who can’t stay healthy, guys who can’t stay on the floor.
And credit Doc Rivers for juggling this team and doing something productive with it. He’s doing his best to keep this team in the playoff mix and out of the 7-8 slots. If the Celtics end up in one of those slots, he knows the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls will be waiting. And he knows the Celtics won’t be able to escape the first round without a Herculean effort.
But I won’t leave you without a silver lining. The injuries provide a chance for players like Avery Bradley, E’Twaun Moore and JuJuan Johnson to step up and seize their opportunity. Doc and Danny can evaluate what they have, determine who is worth keeping and building around, and determine who might make the best trade chips. So hopefully some good will come from what is shaping up to be a dreadful season.
It’s just a shame that the Big Three have to go out like this.