Tuesday, April 03, 2007

What a difference a day makes. Yeah, I went out on a limb and said I wanted Ohio State to take down the tyrant last night, and it kind of, sort of didn't happen. OK, Ohio State was soundly beaten and Florida became the first repeat champion since Duke in 92. But things could be worse.

As painful as it is to backtrack from that pronouncement, it must have hurt Bill Simmons just a bit more to eat his words from Monday's Basketball Blog. The Sports Guy actually said that he could live with Joakim Noah on the Celtics, should they miss the Oden-Durant sweepstakes and wind up with the number 3 pick in this year's draft. After all, I don't claim to be a basketball junkie, a devotee of good basketball and I don't get paid for this.

I may not watch 300 basketball games a year, but I could see what Simmons apparently missed. Noah is going to an NBA team, who will waste high pick and a considerable sum to learn a painful lesson. I almost feel guilty for writing what I am about to write in the wake of that tender scene where he ran into the crowd and climbed row after row to see his mother (which is just a bit creepy). But Noah's game has to progress quite a bit to be considered fatally flawed.

First off, he can't create his own shot, which is only so much of a problem since he's not a very good shooter. Have you seen him dribble the ball? He moves like a newborn caribou on ice. I don't think he's quick enough on the defensive end to make it at the next level. He's just not athletic enough to make it, and he's not big enough to offset his limitations.

He was a very good college big man, but the thing about that is the road to organizational hell at the next level is paved with the remains of guys who were tall but not tall enough, quick but not quick enough, big but not big enough, tough but not tough enough. That's Joakim Noah.

I guess if I had to compare him to any current or former NBA players (and it's hard, what with the fact that he's biracial and ethnic sensitivity is the order of the day), I'd go with Udonis Haslem or maybe Danny Ferry. There is an outside chance that he might turn out to be a serviceable power forward, if he goes to a team that has a solid center. But that doesn't seem very likely.

His performance in yesterday's game was more indicative of his NBA potential than any of his other tournament games. Oden was the only NBA ready big man he's faced, and it wasn't even close. Noah's not ready for prime time.

I really don't want to hear about how well he played against other teams in the tournament. None of the guys Noah faced in the first few rounds has much of a chance at the next level. So what if he ruled the court like a man against boys in the Butler game? That's what he was. No one on Butler was over 6-7, and when the starters got into foul trouble, Noah had 6 inches on his man. It's not particularly impressive to dominate under those circumstances.

For a little while, part of me wanted to see the Celtics draft Noah. Getting him will hasten the end of the Ainge era, or at least it ought to, since the team would not improve significantly. Of course that presumes that Banner 17 wants to field a winning team and isn't in the basketball business for a tax dodge, which might not be the case. Plus Ainge must have compromising photos in his possession. How else can you explain his bulletproof status?

But then I got to thinking, and I realized that there is only a small chance I can become a Celtics fan again, even if Ainge goes. I don't care for Banner 17 as an ownership group. My brother had season tickets through his business up until the Walker trade. When they hadn't renewed after the trade, Wyc placed a call to the company. Wyc gave the party line about how the team could improve and how the ceiling with Toine had been reached.

Now, the Celtics may have reached their ceiling in 01-02. But the team has not shown any signs of mounting a playoff run without Antoine. There is a considerable body of evidence to show that they're a lot worse without him than they were with him. Not only is this team a poorly constructed loser, it's also in salary cap jail. Yes, they're not as far over the cap as the Knicks. But there was a time when more was expected of the Celtics franchise.

I might find a way to overlook Banner 17 if this team were remotely likable. Paul Pierce is a whining, overrated bust. His defining moment as a Celtic will most likely end up being that playoff meltdown at the end of game six against Indiana in 2004-2005. That cost the Celtics the series (they were up 3-2, and the team, with the exception of Walker, failed to show in game 7). He wonders why he doesn't have more endorsements? Maybe if he had more charisma or delivered when it really mattered with any consistency (let's not forget that he fell to the Celtics after a memorable 0-11 from the field in his final NCAA game), he'd get more money.

I just don't see much future for the young players. I think Al Jefferson and Delonte West are as good now as they'll ever be. Don't forget, a high profile pick will take time and shots away from the "pieces" already in place. Ryan Gomes is a tweener. Rondo can't shoot. Telfair is a bust who will never live down that terrible trade which sent a much better player to Portland. So what if Gerald Green won the Dunk Contest? At the end of his career, he may have a resume full of dunk contest victories but very little in terms of more tangible accomplishments.

Throw Noah into that mix, and in the short run it should cost Ainge and Rivers their jobs. Unfortunately, the Celtics will be stuck with him for a few more years after that. But if the team ends up with pick three and they take Noah, and the plan is to keep Ainge and Rivers long term, there's only one way to go. Noah should have his choice on a night in and night out basis of any of the retired jerseys for his number.

I think the Celtics are getting close to forfeiting the right to celebrate their legacy. Instead of fielding this travesty of a team, they might as well let Noah wear number 6 for a game or two, then 33 or 15 or 18. Hell, I don't think Cowens is very busy these days, he could be forced to convey Noah around the city (or at least around the TD Banknorth Facility) in a rickshaw. Maybe Havlicheck could wash his car every day.

For what they've done to this organization since they purchased the team, Banner 17 would have been only slightly more disrespectful to everything Red stood for had they gone the Jeremy Bentham route and preserved his remains for permanent display in the vestibule of the stadium.

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