The Boston Celtics aren't going anywhere—in a bad way.
Originally, their struggles were considered temporary. Only last season they began the lockout-truncated year 9-10 before finishing out 30-17 and laying claim to a top-four finish in the Eastern Conference.
But this isn't last year.
Though additions such as Jason Terry and Courtney Lee were supposed to improve Boston's stature, they have done little to vanquish the concerns surrounding the team's unbalanced roster. If anything, they—along with the rest of this squad—have only facilitated its demise.
And now, nearly halfway through the season, it's become clear that this version of the Celtics is here to stay, that a complete turnaround just isn't in the cards.
Because this isn't the same team we watched last year. This isn't the same team that allowed a league-best 98.2 points per 100 possessions or forced the fourth-highest number of turnovers. It's a different one.
A much different one.
Boston is currently allowing 104.9 points per 100 possessions, 18th-best in the Association. That, in itself, is cause enough to hit the panic.
Had the Celtics lost a wealth of key players, such declination would at least be explainable. The most valued commodity they lost, however, was Ray Allen. He wasn't a vital cog in their defensive machine. Boston actually allowed fewer points per 100 possessions with him off the floor.
Are we to blame Allen's absence for Rajon Rondo's defensive shortcomings as well? Considered an elite defender, Rondo's impact on the Celtics' defense has been nonexistent.
The team is relinquishing 1.8 more points more per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Rondo's also allowing (per 82games.com) opposing point guards to post a PER of 15.1 per 48 minutes while he's on the floor, up from the 10.7 he held them to last year.
Worst of all, Rondo (via Jessica Camerato of CSNNE.com) knows it:
"We're not playing it (defense)," the point guard said following the Celtics loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. "I don't know (why). We've just got to try to take it one step at a time. It starts with me so I've just got to hold myself more accountable."
"Just our trust, our trust isn't there," he said. "When we do make a mistake, we don't make up for one another. In the past, a guy may be off the dribble or a guy might have an open shot, a guy might run from no matter where and cover up and contest the shot. Right now, we're just standing watching our guys take open looks."
That "trust" factor Rondo touches upon is huge. More than 30 games into the season, the Celtics should "trust" one another. No excuses.
But they don't, and they are now relying on the 36-year-old Kevin Garnett to lead their defensive charge more than ever.
How much so?
To the point where Boston is playing unprecedentedly bad defense without him on the floor.
With Garnett on the hardwood, the Celtics are allowing 99.5 points per 100 possessions. If they were able to sustain such a number, that would give them the third-highest rating in the league behind the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies.
Yet they don't. That number actually climbs. A lot.
When Garnett sits down, Boston hands over 113.5 points per 100 possessions, exceeding the worst mark in the league of 111 (Charlotte Bobcats) by 2.5 points.
And that's ridiculous. Partly because such a fallout from one player is ridiculous, but mostly because the Celtics are aware of it and have yet ascertain a solution.
Remember, going on 37, playing Garnett 40 or more minutes a night is absurd—and something that Doc Rivers isn't going to do. Just like the rest of the team, Rondo included, isn't keen on playing defense.
They don't appear to set on playing efficient offense either.
Because you have an offense run by a purported star floor general in Rondo. This team shouldn't be near the bottom in offensive execution, nor should it be running at the 17th-highest rate in the league.
Terry and Lee's acquisitions were supposed to help strengthen the tempo of Boston's offense. Rondo likes to run, and alongside aging veterans like Paul Pierce and Garnett, that just wasn't possible. Lee and Terry were supposed to make him more dangerous, make him feel more at home. But they haven't.
If anything, Rondo is a little worse for wear with this supporting cast. Last season, the Celtics were scoring 104.4 points per 100 possessions with their floor general in the lineup. This season, however, that number has fallen to 102.9.
A huge difference?
Not at all. But it's still less. But let's put it in an even broader context. With Rondo on the floor last season, Boston's offense was better by 7.7 points per 100 possessions. This year, though, it's just dropping 1.8 points more.
What does that say about the potential of this offense? Better yet, what does that say about Rondo's potential within this offense?
The Celtics' pieces just don't fit. Rondo is playing within an offense that doesn't meet the needs of his skill set, while the team is being led by a floor general who doesn't fit the bill for their pace-crippling style.
And it's the same story, different side of the ball on defense. Garnett isn't just the only one rotating or paying attention to the weak side; he's the only one yielding results.
Where are the Celtics supposed to go from here? How are they supposed to improve upon their bottom-ranked rebounding and deficient offense and defense? How can they fix so many problems in one season?
And barring an unforeseen mid-season personnel overhaul, they won't.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 3, 2012.