Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The other day I was reading one of the articles Shira Springer wrote on the upcoming NBA Draft. This quote from Cory Brewer struck me as kind of funny:

It reminded me of the film School for Scoundrels. In it, Billy Bob Thornton's character asks his students if they own any self-help books. He then proceeds to inform them that they cannot help themselves because their selves suck. So good luck improving your offense, Cory Brewer, but you might have been better served to find a good offensive player to help you. Self reliance only works if your self doesn't suck.

I think that scene from School for Scoundrels also applies to the Boston Celtics. To be fair, the Celtics have their work cut out for them before they can accurately be said to suck, that's how bad they were last season. But now the Cs have the fifth overall pick in what some people think is a loaded draft. They have young players and expiring contracts. They should be able to help themselves, right?

First, I still don't believe that this draft is loaded. I agree with most people that there isn't a big drop-off in terms of talent between the guys projected to go at three and those projected to go at 17 in the various mock drafts. That doesn't mean the draft is loaded, that means that there are a lot of half-decent players who probably will earn superstar money and never manage to become superstars. Maybe that's what Boston fans want now, an overachieving hustler who will shine for a few years before flaming out, like Kevin Youkilis. But only a moron would give a guy like that the guaranteed money due to be paid the fifth overall pick in this year's NBA draft.

And one can never get around the fact that this ownership group and management team have proven themselves manifestly incapable of producing a winning basketball team. Lest we forget that the Celtics were coming off back-to-back trips to the playoffs when they came on the scene and now apparently tanked games down the stretch. Just say that to yourself: "The Boston Celtics lost games deliberately to improve their draft stock." It hurts, doesn't it?

Danny Ainge, who ought to know better (and would, if he had an IQ approaching room temperature) having played for the Celtics is clearly not the right man for the job. Under his watch, the Celtics have become such a mess that Kevin Garnett threatened to sit rather than be traded to Boston. And when the proposed four team trade that would have sent Garnett to the Lakers was announced, it would have ended with the Celtics giving up the 5th pick and Al Jefferson to get Jermaine O'Neal.

Can you imagine that? Giving up a guy who was good for nearly 17 points and 10 rebounds a night and a top 5 pick for an older player who will might get you 22 and 10? Don't get me wrong, I still think that Al Jefferson's trade value will never be higher. He'll never be as big a part of an NBA offense as he was for the Celtics this season. He's just not good enough. But that doesn't mean they should give him away to help other teams get better.

Of course, for what it's worth, Ainge has come out and said that the team intends to hold on to that fifth pick. That's a frightening thought. Ainge has done some serious damage to this team for years to come, maybe a generation. Boston is on the high road to becoming the new Dallas Mavericks, in the bad 1990s version rather than the bad we have a great regular season team with no guts and an owner who makes the Joaquin Phoenix version of Commodus look like a model of restraint and decorum of contemporary vintage.

The funny thing is that every one I talked to about that trade before the report came across the wire that it was rejected believed it. No one was particularly surprised that a team got the shaft in a multi-team deal and it was the Celtics. 25 years ago and beyond that would have been a scandal, now it's a go figure situation. Ainge can't help the Celtics. Nor can the Celtics help themselves. The culture of mediocrity runs too deep.

I think this isn't a bigger story in Boston because Boston fans are morons. It's not because the Pats and Sox have forced the Celtics out of the limelight. It's because in the years between 1957 and 1991, the Celtics provided their fans with an embarrassment of riches. The teams were so good, so deep and so competitive that the fans never needed to bother understanding why a basketball team wins and loses. It was enough that they were the Celtics and they very nearly always won.

Now the NBA stinks. And the Celtics are worse. But it doesn't bother the fans because the average fan doesn't understand basketball. They just want to see dunks and buzzer-beaters. It matters very little that other plays have to be made to set up the dunk and the buzzer-beater. It also doesn't matter that every fan who booed Antoine Walker when he played for the Celtics and thought the team would be better if they ran every play through Paul Pierce could not have been more wrong. Boston fans just want to be diverted for a few minutes and given a venue where 18,000 can (and 14,000 do) gather to chant "Yankees Suck" and feel strong for 3 hours.

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