Ainge and Rivers have some work to do to return to this place.
That’s because an 89-86 loss to their divisional foes made one thing clear: The Celtics need help and need it now.
After reeling off six-straight victories, Boston has now lost five straight. That includes defeats to the New Orleans Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons—a combined 41-86 record among them.
Needless to say, things are not going as planned for the Celtics this season.
Following a preseason full of hype and optimism, Boston sits at 20-22 after 42 games. The team is currently eighth in the Eastern Conference and seven games behind the Knicks in the Atlantic Division.
This is not the same team that many experts predicted to be a top-five contender in the league.
What exactly does Boston need before the upcoming Feb. 21 trade deadline?
Shopping Need No. 1: Bench Spark Plug
Over their current losing streak, the Celtics bench has averaged 31.6 points per game. While that number is decent, take away Jared Sullinger’s contributions and it drops to just 24.2 points per game.
That’s not going to get it done.
Sullinger—averaging 7.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game during the slump—has been the lone consistent force in Boston’s second unit. Courtney Lee is just recently turning it around, Jeff Green has been largely inconsistent and Leandro Barbosa is a whole other story.
But the biggest disappointment thus far has to be Jason Terry.
Terry was supposed to step in and become this year’s version of Eddie House. A key role-playing reserve player who provides a monumental boost to the team’s second unit with his three-point shooting and hustle.
So far, Terry has failed to meet either expectation.
In 42 games this season, the 13-year veteran is averaging 9.8 points, 2.3 assists and 1.9 rebounds per game in 28.1 minutes a night. His per-game mark in points is his worst since his rookie year, while his mark in assists is a career low.
But over his last 10 games—5.3 points per game on 37.3 percent shooting—Terry has been even worse. Not to mention his three-point shooting in the month of January (25.7 percent).
This was not the player Ainge wanted for three years.
But who’s available to fill this void?
One possible solution is Orlando Magic sixth-man J.J. Redick.
According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Celtics are very interested in the 28-year-old, and for good reason.
Redick is having a career year, averaging 14.9 points and 4.4 assists per game in 31.4 minutes a night—all serve as career highs. He’s also shooting 45.8 percent from the floor and 39.8 percent from three-point range.
But most importantly, when he performs, the team wins.
In 22 games where Redick posted an efficiency recap of 14 or more, Orlando is 13-9. In comparison, they’re 1-19 in the 20 games he has not. (via Hoopsstats.com)
In only his seventh year in the league, Redick has made massive strides this season. He’s looked more confident on the floor and has been aggressive with the ball in his hands.
Redick would be a great fit in Boston.
Shopping Need No. 2: Interior Toughness
Everyone and anyone who knows a thing about basketball can tell you that the Celtics’ interior defense is as soft as Snuggles the bear.
It’s not the nickname head coach Doc Rivers envisioned for his team. But it’s the one that they certainly deserve.
In years past, Boston featured imposing big men such as Kendrick Perkins, Al Jefferson, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal. All made attacking the hoop a daunting task for opposing players.
This season, all the Celtics have is Kevin Garnett.
However, at 36, Garnett is not the same intimidating rim protector he once was. Injuries and age have taken their toll, forcing him to pass the baton to somebody else.
Unfortunately, no one else on this team has stepped up to receive it.
Boston currently ranks in the bottom five in both rebounding (No. 29) and blocking (No. 26), while ranking No. 18 in opponent points in the paint (41.3 per game).
Over their last seven games, the Celtics have given up an average of 44 points in the paint per game. Opponents have totaled 46 points or more in the area in four of those.
Lately, those deficiencies have been making an impact.
On Tuesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving lit up the Celtics for 40 points on 16-of-24 shooting. That includes 11-of-17 shooting from within 15 feet.
Two days later, the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony did much of the same, scoring 28 points on 11-of-28 shooting. He was 8-of-16 from inside 15 feet.
Sure, overall, Boston’s defense is one of the best in the league. The team ranks in the top 10 in points allowed (No. 7), steals (No. 3) and turnovers forced (No. 4).
However, the Celtics’ interior vulnerability seems to outweigh all that, as they have now lost four straight games and nine of their last 15.
Luckily, there are a multitude of solutions out there.
The most obvious and low-risk solution is picking up free agent Kenyon Martin.
Just ask former Clippers GM Neil Olshey what he thought about Martin’s impact on the team:
We don’t win the Memphis series [without Martin] and we certainly wouldn’t have finished as high as fifth in the Western Conference without him. His ability to impact the game by guarding multiple positions, switching pick-and-rolls, blocking shots and protecting the rim was an element we really didn’t have and it made us unique.
Martin would also provide Sullinger with a helping hand on the offensive glass. He has a career average of 1.8 offensive rebounds per game.
But most importantly, Martin would likely only cost Boston the veteran’s minimum.
So why hasn’t Ainge been in contact with Martin yet?
It’s a matter that seriously boggles the mind.
Another name thrown around is Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith.
Smith has been a Celtics target for a while now. There were even rumors that the 27-year-old would be shipping up to Boston as recently as last June.
But with the recent dispute between the Hawks and Smith, now might be the best time to resume talks.
After being suspended by the team, Smith and his agent both made it clear that the forward was “frustrated” and stopped just short of demanding a trade.
However, several teams have since confirmed that they have been in talks with Atlanta regarding a possible deal for Smith.
That’s where Boston comes in.
Smith is certainly worth the demand.
Through 39 games, Smith has averaged 16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.3 blocks per game. He’s also shot 44.8 percent from the floor and 30.1 percent from three-point range.
Day-in and day-out, Smith has displayed the pure all-around talent could really benefit Boston.
The Charlotte Bobcats can attest to that, as Smith poured in 30 points in 38 minutes on Wednesday night, to go along with 13 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks.
Smith would give the Celtics the choice to utilize him at either forward position.
He could be just what Boston needs to turn its season around.
Finally, another option that many Celtics fans might detest is Pau Gasol.
Yes, he’s one of those hated Lakers. Sure, he’s having one of the worst seasons of his career.
But right now, with his selling point at an all-time low, he could easily become the best bargain of the trade deadline.
Through 29 games this season, Gasol is only averaging 12.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. His mark in points is a career low. In fact, it’s a full 4.7-point decrease from his previous low.
Furthermore, he’s also shooting at a career-worst 43.1 percent from the field. That’s a significant drop from the 50.1 percent he shot last season.
So what gives?
Simply put, his last two coaches have utilized Gasol completely wrong.
Just like you can’t turn an apple into an orange, or a cat into a dog, you cannot turn Gasol from a center into a power forward. It does not work.
However, he’s played all but five games over the last two seasons. As a result, he’s suffered.
Just take a look at his recent stats.
During the 2010-11 season, Gasol played 36 games at center and 46 at forward.
As a center, he averaged 19.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.1 blocks per game. As a forward, he only averaged 18.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 blocks per game.
In 2009-10, it was much of the same.
In 15 games at center, Gasol averaged 22.1 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.4 blocks per game. In 50 games at forward, he averaged 17.2 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 blocks per game.
The 2008-09 season also coincides.
In 32 games at center, Gasol averaged 20.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.2 blocks per game. In 49 games at forward, Gasol averaged 17.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 0.9 blocks per game.
We can keep going back, but I think that's enough to prove the point.
Gasol is by no means fading away. He just needs an opportunity to play somewhere he can be utilized at his most dominant position.
Grantland’s Bill Simmons seems to agree:
Pau is still an elite center. He shouldn't be playing 20 feet from basket. RT @shree_hari17 Why do u love Pau Gasol so much ?!?!?!?
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) January 20, 2013
Simmons goes on to put it all into perspective:
Remember when Team USA was double-teaming Earl Clark in the 2012 Gold Medal game and still couldn't stop him? Oh wait that was Pau Gasol.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) January 22, 2013
Gasol is a long way from being finished in the NBA.
If the Celtics were wise, they’d take a closer look into acquiring the struggling big man.
Summing It All Up
Essentially, Thursday night’s defeat to New York cemented Boston’s place as buyers during the trade deadline.
But that’s okay, as a solid majority believed that it would be in the team’s best interest to make a move.
The options are certainly there for the Celtics. It’s just a matter of how willing Ainge is to make a splash.
He did so a couple years back, swapping Green for Perkins, and it has completely backfired. One has to think that deal is still lingering in the back of Ainge’s mind.
So will Boston swing for the fences or square up for a sacrifice bunt?
Only time will tell. But it better be soon.
Last-minute shopping does not usually end up too well.
All stats used in this article are accurate as of January 24, 2013
Also check out: How the Celtics Can Re-Establish Themselves as Contenders