|With the 12th pick the Boston Celtics select Al Harrington, SF, 6-8, St. Patricks HS. The Celtics are represented by Ellie Cutler.|
I. TEAM HISTORY
What a difference a year makes. The laughing stocks of the '96-'97 season gained some respectability, as the Celts improved their record from 15-67 to 36-46 this past year. Teams took them seriously. And, other players were suddenly interested in playing for the Celtics. Not bad for the team that lost the Duncan Sweeps (a pain that only grew worse as the season progressed - I knew he was good but this is ridiculous!).
Year one of Rick Pitino's 5-year plan went as advertised. He promised an energized team who would entertain and show up to play every night. On those counts, he delivered. The Celtics topped the NBA in forcing turnovers and also finished first in steals. On the other hand, they had no interior defense, again. You'd think between the Southeast Expressway and the Big Dig that some of the lane congestion in Boston could make it into the Fleet Center.
Pitino is not afraid to pull the trigger, and we were certainly entertained by the myriad of trades that happened. His rule is to always get someone of value, so if they don't work out you can turn around and trade them to someone else. The work it takes to get in "Pitino shape" was not everyone's cup of tea. Eric Williams showed up reportedly out-of-shape and not ready to work, and was packed off to Denver, where he promptly tore an ACL. After seeing half the team on IV fluids following one practice, Chris Mills decided it wasn't for him either, so off he went to the Knicks for Walter McCarty, Scott Brooks, Dontae Jones, and a great young power player named John Thomas. Brooks was soon gone, Jones spent the season as the designated phantom injury in Roster Roulette, and Thomas was traded to Toronto in a later deal. (Toronto wouldn't make the deal without him, which was too bad - Thomas is a tough player with a nice skill set. With limited minutes, he always had more than his share of rebounds, blocks, and steals.)
In February, they were finally able to dump Chauncey Billups. He wasn't worth the 3rd pick, but Mercer turned out to be way worth the 6th, so it all evened out. Anyway, they shipped Billups to Toronto to complain about his taxes, and acquired Kenny Anderson (Portland -> Toronto), Popeye Jones and Zan Tabak. Unfortunately, John Thomas was part of the deal. Also bidding adieu to Boston were Dee Brown (the last Celtic to play with Bird), and Roy Rogers. Dee had his good years in Boston, but the last few were not among them. His attitude never got that much better, and it was best for all concerned that he get some new scenery. I was happy that he was making good contributions for Toronto (I scooped him for some late-season 3-pointers on my fantasy team). Popeye Jones was on the IR, but if he can come back next year and play like he did in Dallas, the Boston paint might not remain the league's biggest pushover. Haven't seen enough of Tabak - he may stick around next year or he may be gone to make cap room (see Capology).
Other season highlights: Robert Parish's number was retired at halftime of the game vs. the Indiana Pacers -- Coach Larry Bird's first trip to Boston. I loved Larry the coach! It's been wonderful to see him in action again - we've missed him a lot over the past five years (and if ratings are any consideration, so did the rest of the hoops-watching world). We're seeing other sides of him now, the humor, the coaching smarts, the natty suits. I love what he did with Jalen Rose. I read today that Indiana may be interested in Sprewell. Makes sense to me - could you imagine Spree trying anything like that with Bird? I don't *think* so.
Biggest team needs: another scorer, a strong center, and a solid, starting-caliber forward.
II. BY POSITION:
CENTER (DeClerq, Knight, Ellison, Tabak):
The biggest hole. The C's had flat-out terrible post defense. Teams scored at will against them. Why? Part of it is that their style doesn't call for players camping out in the paint. They double and rotate a lot. Still, the lane was like a deserted country road. Andrew DeClerq did well, but is not a consistent front-line player. He had some good games, but for all his skills, opponents still owned the paint and the boards. Travis Knight turned out not to be such a great idea after all. Although, I think he would be a great bench player. He can play 4 and 5 and runs the floor well. Pervis was injured, as usual. Zan Tabak arrived too late to see much of him, but the Cs may keep him around to see what he can do next season.
Of course the big talk is of signing Matt Geiger. They have to dump some cap to do that, and the lockout may interfere. If so, they'll likely stay with Tabak and Popeye for the time being. They won't get any help here from the draft, unless they could trade down and take Olowokandi, and to do that they'd have to give up Mercer or Walker. So it's got to come from trades or free agency. Geiger is out there, and Ike Austin, and my personal fave, Theo Ratliffe! Theo would fit in perfectly on a Pitino team. Not just a defensive specialist anymore, he had some nice scoring nights with Philly (and more blocks than anyone except Mutombo, and Bradley on a good day).
FORWARD (Walker, McCarty, Bowen, Minor, Dontae Jones, Popeye Jones):
Antoine Walker is the main man here. He wrapped up his first All-Star season by finishing 5th in the league in scoring, tied for 7th in rebounds, all career bests. He also had fewer bone-head plays this year. He needs some help to spread out the scoring load and he needs to up his shooting percentage (enter Kenny Anderson!) . He also needs someone else to take over at PF. The big question on him is that the Cs need to sign him this summer to a long-term contract, or he'll be a free agent the following year. Will they open the vault for 'Toine? I like Antoine, but he's a long way from the maturity needed to win in the post-season. Of course, with the Cs 5-year plan, he could get there eventually. He's a hot dog, but it comes from the right place - he has a good heart, loves to play, and cares about winning. For all Walker's rebounding , there were still problems keeping opponents out from under the basket .
Walter McCarty became a fan favorite, blossoming into Tommy Heinsohn's favorite player (Walllterrr!) He was a great addition at forward. Tremendously athletic, great jumper, hands, timing, shot-blocker, and hustler supreme. Not a great shooter, but can hit the three on occasion and take it to the hoop. McCarty got his share of rebounds and blocks, but again, didn't keep opponents out of the key. Good bench man - we still need a good SF. Greg Minor and Bruce Bowen both spent time at the 3-spot. Minor is nothing special. He can shoot the mid-range jumper, and Pitino likes him, but it's hard to swallow the paternity publicity around here, and Minor should be packaged up with one of the big salaries and shipped out. Bruce (Who?) Bowen needs to improve his shooting, though his D was among the best on the team, and Pitino loves him.
Dontae Jones will be gone. For a tough guy, he spends too much time away from the basket, and Pitino wasn't impressed with his flurry of 3-pointers late in the season. I love Popeye and if he can play like he did in Dallas (he was on IR when we got him from Toronto), that would really pick up the interior D. Reggie Hanson was a late-season roster-filler - a Kentucky veteran who could step into the system. Pitino didn't give him much chance, though, and I wouldn't expect to see him around next year.
Point Guard: Barros, Anderson, Mercer, Edney
We loved the Kenny Anderson trade. Billups didn't fit, he just didn't seem to have what it takes in the PG dept. I never liked his game. Neither did Bob Cousey -- how many times did we hear him say "Chauncey has to learn not to go up in the air unless he knows what he's going to do" - which of course he didn't. It was telling to see the difference in the team once Anderson arrived and took the reins on the floor. In his debut he got 19 points, three rebounds, four assists and two steals. The team was just so much better with him on the floor - the spacing, the confidence - we're looking forward to having him for a full season, and hoping his knee(s) hold up. It will be interesting to see if he can help keep Walker under control. It made a real difference having a veteran on the floor, so it wasn't all coming from Pitino on the sidelines.
Dana Barros had a good year. With Billups all over the map, Dana ended up a starter much of the time, which didn't showcase his microwave abilities. Still a solid player who would be a valuable third guard. Tyus Edney didn't play much, but I have more confidence in him than Pitino does, and wish he'd get more minutes. Doesn't seem too likely with Anderson on board and Barros staying (too short). Look for him to be part of a deal somewhere, esp. if we can pick up a guard in the second round (there'll be a lot of decent players down there this year).
Ron Mercer was terrific - better than I thought. Pitino knew what he was doing with that pick. Among rookies, Mercer ranked 3rd with 15.3 points per game, second in steals with 1.56 steals per game, and 4th in free throws at .839 (which says something about the FT shooting of that draft class, like Derek Anderson). A good shooter and defender, plays with poise, all-rookie team, and only going to get better. We haven't had a 2 guard this good since Reggie Lewis. Greg Minor played at the 2 periodically, and is a good shooter, and Dana Barros also played the two (with Billups at 6-3, he could afford to, with a shorter Anderson we'll see). We could use another big guard.
Pitino made good on all his promises thus far, and the Cs really responded to the job he did. I think he's the right guy for this young team -- even though he yells (John Calipari is the one whose loud mouth is going to lose him players). Thing is, his system is so specific, that many players either won't get it (too confusing), or won't want to (too hard), so the pool of potential player additions is smaller. And, it requires a lot of direction from Pitino - a far cry from KC Jones (or even Bird). I think it's ok for now, and in five years when Rick moves upstairs (part of his contract), the team will be mature enough to hand over to someone else.
Cs need to free up some room to re-sign Walker and to go shopping for a center. Current free agents include Popeye Jones, Zan Tabak, and Ty Edney . They may decided to keep Tabak and Jones for a year rather than signing a Geiger or Austin. If they had a snowball's chance of landing Ratliffe or Gugliotta, that would be a different story. They might package some players and try to dump some contracts at the same time (Knight, though I still think he could be a good fit here, and Ellison). They could trade up in the draft (one rumor was Mercer and #10 to Vancouver for #2 to get Olowokandi). They could trade the pick, period. Of course, the possible lockout will greatly affect the free agent sweeps. Freebies they could be interested in: Matt Geiger, Tom Gugliotta, Jason Caffey, Ike Austin, Antonio McDyess, Theo Ratliffe, Othella Harrington.
Good size, good tools, good potential, quick, and can score. Worth a look at #10.
Pitino and Chris Wallace have to hope the rules will change to give rookies at least a 5-year rather than a 3-year contract. That said, picking up a HS kid who would, in a few years of college be a possible #1 pick, is a smart way to get the best value for #10. Kind of like how they picked Bird. Pitino is looking for someone who can start in the front court. At #10, that's going to be an SF.
Rashard Lewis, Bonzi Wells, Corey Benjamin, Matt Harpring. I would be surprised to see them take a big player at #10. I'm thinking that Traylor may pan out, but I don't know if he'll have the mobility for Pitino's system. I'm not personally that impressed with Mohammed (Tubby Smith subbed him out for Magliore on every defensive rotation in crunch time of the NCAA title game), and who wants to risk a Felton Spencer, Eric Montross, Joe Kleine (all drafted 6 or later). Pitino has been quoted as saying he wants to draft someone who can start in the frontcourt. They could use a good SF. Look for them to take the BPA (which actually could be a guard). They also have a second round pick (38), and with the depth in this year's draft could pull themselves a decent player out of that bunch (ie Jason Williams, Rafer Alston, Anthony Parker, Charles Jones, Winfred Walton).
|Craig Simpson - Usenet Draft Commissioner|