Bloggers Talk: Boston Celtics

The Nets get to host one of the East’s elite tonight, and to walk us through the experience is an elite blogger, a personal favorite of mine, Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub.

NAS: The big knock on the Celtics before the season started was whether or not their older star players could stay healthy when it matters most. With recent injuries to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, are you starting to worry about a rerun of last season’s finish?

I’ve been worried all year long. You never really stop worrying about it. The funny thing about following a team like Boston obsessively is that you get wrapped up in every game, in the development of the team and its individual players, and you forget the fact that the whole season could become effectively meaningless with a single player injury. But this is the reality when the only goal is to win a title.

It’s tough to blog about a miserable team like New Jersey. But at least you get to enjoy those little daily developments without worrying that one wrong break can ruin the entire season.
NAS: I know one of your ongoing concerns for the Celtics is the amount of minutes per game the “Big three” and Rajon Rondo play. How has Doc Rivers been about resting his starters and using his bench more?

Doc has been very disciplined with Kevin Garnett all season, playing him about 31 minutes per game. And he was good about keeping minutes down for Rondo, Pierce and Ray Allen until injuries to Marquis Daniels (who played most of the back-up point guard minutes) and Paul Pierce decimated the ranks of the C’s wing people/ball-handlers. Rondo has played more than 40 minutes in eight games since Dec. 22; he’s played more than 40 minutes just 24 times in his regular season career, and a third of those games have been in the last three weeks.

It all peaked Monday night, when (after Doc Rivers was ejected), Tom Thibodeau, the C’s lead assistant, played the same five players (Perk-Davis-Rondo-Pierce-Allen) the final 18 minutes of the game, and four starters played at least 42 minutes.

NAS: What are some of the potential needs for the Celtics as the trade deadline approaches. Who do you think might fit those needs?

The Celtics now have a free roster spot after waiving Lester Hudson last week, and the speculation is (obviously) that Ainge intends to use that spot in a 2-for-1 or 3-for-2 player trade. I won’t belabor the point here, but it won’t be easy for the C’s to add a significant piece without giving up Glen Davis or a draft pick in the process. They don’t have a large expiring deal like Cleveland has in Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Instead, the C’s have a lot of smaller expiring deals linked to players with little or questionable basketball talent (Scal, Tony Allen, Shelden Williams, J.R. Giddens) or players expected to play a key role on the team (Marquis Daniels). Finding a deal that works will be tough.

That said, the C’s could add a useful player making $5-$6 million per year by packaging Scalabrine and Tony Allen. Depending on how borderline playoff teams like Chicago, New Orleans, New York and others fare in the next few weeks, guys like James Posey, John Salmons, Tyrus Thomas and others could be made available, especially for teams looking to get under the luxury tax.

The most frequently mentioned possible trade target continues to be Andres Nocioni of Sacramento. But the Hornets-Kings deal struck Monday (involving Hilton Armstrong going to Sacramento) complicates that scenario a bit.

NAS: Last week, you wrote a piece about our old friend Brian Scalabrine where you look at his advanced stats and conclude he may be one of the worst players getting regular minutes in the NBA (how he beats Rafer Alston is beyond me). Do you have any theories about the decline in his performance? Is there any justification for him to get minutes in Boston going forward?

Well, your old pal Scal scored 9 points on 3-of-4 shooting Monday against the Hawks, so he’s back! He also pulled down a season-high five boards. To put this in perspective, Scal had scored just eight points combined in his last 14 games before Monday’s explosion. He played mostly because Rasheed Wallace was out with some unknown foot injury.

And that’s the justification for him getting minutes—health issues. As for the decline in his play, I don’t think it’s anything mysterious. He’s a marginal NBA player. Marginal NBA players generally perform poorly.