The 2012-13 Boston Celtics were supposed to be a deeper, younger and an even more potent version of the club that took the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals just months earlier.
Instead, GM Danny Ainge's latest attempt to preserve Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett's championship window has fallen flat.
At present, the Celtics' downward spiral includes three consecutive defeats and seven losses in the last nine contests, a stretch dating back to Dec. 14. Two of the five wins the C's managed in December came against comparably discombobulated franchises: the unraveling Dallas Mavericks and Brooklyn Nets.
Celtics lost their 3 West Coast games by a combined 69 points.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) December 31, 2012
Needless to say, fans in Boston can't be blamed for cracking open that bubbly a few hours early on New Year's Eve.
It's not just that their team is losing, losing by a lot and losing by a lot to Sacramento. It's that their team is giving up 118 points to Sacramento. There's no silver lining here—this is the kind of thing that happens when a roster doesn't care.
KG's typically infectious energy has become an outlier. The rest of the Celtics either look old or disinterested, especially on the defensive end. From Kirk Goldsberry:
Awful west coast trip for the Celtics. Their defense is atrocious. Major problems when KG sits.— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) December 31, 2012
Even good teams hit the occasional rough patch. Doc Rivers understands this as well as anyone, and he need look no further than last season for proof that his Celtics can rebound from a painful start—a start that so ruffled Ainge's feathers that Ray Allen was as good as traded before the midseason trade deadline.
All the same, it's hard to believe these Celtics can just flip a switch when inspiration strikes. It's also hard to see how a healthier roster will make the difference (via CBSSports' Matt Moore):
Looking forward to seeing how Avery Bradley is going to help the Celtics at the rim. You know, because he won't. Less penetration, but still— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 28, 2012
Boston's problems are structural. This is fundamentally a team that was built to score, with a tweener forward like Jeff Green spacing and running the floor and a spark plug guard like Jason Terry creating his own shots so that Rajon Rondo could take a break from playmaking now and then.
The cold, hard truth is that the Celtics aren't nearly good enough on the offensive end to justify their neglected defense. It's an efficient offense, and it moves the ball well, but only two teams take (and make) fewer three-pointers per game. And, no team collects fewer offensive rebounds.
There's nothing fuzzy about this math. The Celtics don't generate enough scoring opportunities, and the opportunities they do generate are typically worth just two points. That's a formula for an offense ranked 17th in points scored.
Unless Ainge opts to do what he almost did last season—shaking up his roster with an eye toward Rondo's future—change will have to come from within.
Good time for a New Year's resolution or two, starting with: Play some defense.