What's next for the C's?
But, most importantly, they run the risk of missing the playoffs for the first time in six years.
It was an outcome that seemed improbable, following season-ending injuries to both point guard Rajon Rondo and rookie Jared Sullinger. However, in seven games since, the Celtics have yet to suffer defeat.
But while team morale may be running high, Boston would be wise to remain grounded. The last three times the team won consecutive games it would fall victim to slides of three, four and six games.
Consistency is obviously not one of the Celtics’ strong suits.
Fortunately, the trade deadline offers up a chance for GM Danny Ainge to change that.
But whether or not he does is the question that’s on everybody’s mind.
What the Celtics Will Do
Immediately following Rondo’s injury, when supporters and analysts alike were crying for change, Ainge pleaded patience as head coach Doc Rivers tried to forge a winning side with the remaining players on the squad. (per Boston Herald’s Mark Murphy)
I’m not going to bring someone in now who is just going to sit on the bench. We could sign a couple players to minimum contracts, but that’s all we can do right now. We have to see whether someone becomes available through trade or free agency who can actually crack our rotation.
Right now I’m looking to give the guys we have a chance to play. Then we’ll see what happens in the next few weeks.
Since then, Boston has won a season-high seven-straight games.
That does not necessarily scream out “make a blockbuster move,” now does it?
Another talking point has been the Celtics’ lack of depth at the point guard position.
Besides Rondo, the team also has Jason Terry, Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee and Leandro Barbosa as guards. However, although Terry has spent extended playing time at the position, only Rondo can be considered a true point guard.
But don’t expect that news to alarm Ainge, as he has no intention of seeking out a replacement for Rondo “right now.”(per ESPN Boston’s Greg Payne)
"Well, not right now. There’s a lot of reasons why we’re not just jumping out and doing something right now," Ainge told WEII. "I mean, there really is nobody that you’re going to find to replace Rondo, obviously, through trade or through free-agent acquisition at this time of year with our [financial] inflexibility. But I think that we like the guys [we have]. I mean, [Leandro] Barbosa’s been dying for a chance to play and Jason Terry and Avery [Bradley] playing some more point position. I think all of those guys are looking for an opportunity, so I think it’s a chance for us to see those guys play without Rondo play and just see what they’re capable of doing."
So far, those guys have only impressed.
In the seven games since Rondo’s injury, Boston has averaged 25.6 assists per game. That’s a solid increase over the 23.2 per game it averaged with Rondo.
Furthermore, Terry has stepped up significantly in Rondo’s absence, averaging 13.6 points and 3.4 assists per game over his last five games. He’s also shooting 54.3 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc.
With Rondo expected back by the beginning of next season, it all adds up to the fact that the Celtics really have no urgency to bring in another point guard.
So what exactly should we expect Ainge to do?
What Boston does need is a big man.
According to CSN Bay Area’s Rich Bucher, the Celtics might be willing to part with Lee in order to make that happen. However, while Lee has been great on defense, his offensive numbers—7.6 PPG on 46.4 percent shooting—haven’t really dazzled.
One has to wonder just how much the team could get back in exchange for Lee.
The most likely route Ainge will take is free agency.
Boston has already been in touch with former No. 1 pick Greg Oden, while others such as Kenyon Martin and Erick Dampier are around as well.
As of now, it seems as if Ainge will be fine with not making too much noise during the deadline.
However, as seen in recent years, Ainge certainly has a tendency to surprise with some of his moves.
What the Celtics Should Do
Winning might soften the blow, but sooner or later the Celtics' deficiencies will catch up with them.
However, Ainge can ensure that does not happen by being aggressive before the trade deadline.
As I have stated throughout the season, Boston has been dominated inside the paint night-in and night-out. It’s a problem that’s only gotten worse in the absence of Sullinger.
Through 50 games, the Celtics rank in the bottom five of the league in rebounding (No. 29), opponent rebounding (No. 26) and blocks (No. 26). They also rank No. 18 in opponent points in the paint.
Over their last seven games these numbers have only gotten worse.
During that span, opponents have averaged 47.3 rebounds (13.9 offensive) and 48.6 points in the paint per game. That’s a solid increase over Boston’s per-game averages of 43.1 rebounds (11.2 offensive) and 42 points in the paint allowed with Sullinger.
The Nuggets out-rebounded Boston (65-51) while completely owning the battle for points in the paint (62-30). Both aspects came into play during Denver’s game-tying possession at the end of regulation.
It’s a problem that just does not seem to be going away for the Celtics.
So how can it be addressed?
Bringing in Oden would surely be a step in the right direction. However, he’s only expected to be back on the court at the beginning of next season.
Boston can’t afford to wait that long.
Smith, who is averaging 16.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, would be a perfect fit in the Celtics’ frontcourt. His 2.2 blocks per game would also pay dividends on the defensive end of the floor. Not to mention, the two have been previously linked together as recently as last June.
Another weakness for Boston is its three-point shooting.
Thus far this season, the Celtics have shot 33.5 percent from distance. That’s good enough to be ranked No. 28 in the league.
The solution could be Orlando Magic sharpshooter J.J. Redick.
According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, Boston has its eye set on the former Duke standout.
Size obviously Celts' priority if they do deal before Feb. 21 trade deadline but word is they hope to work way into Redick mix if they can— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 25, 2013
On the season, Redick has averaged 15.3 points and 4.5 assists per game through 46 games. He is shooting at a 45.2 percent clip from the field and 39.9 percent from three-point range.
He could also prove beneficial for a Celtics team that is currently lacking any production from the shooting guard position.
With these moves, Boston would directly address two major weaknesses.
It could be the moves that take it from playoff contender to championship contender.
Summing It All Up
We can believe whatever rumor we want to believe. But at the end of the day, the final say belongs to Ainge and Ainge alone.
Over the offseason he made numerous moves that were supposed to have an immediate impact on the Celtics’ success this season. Although it has not seemed to pay too many dividends as of yet, it’s only been a little more than halfway through the season.
Who can blame Ainge for wanting to stick it out?
But there lies the issue.
Ainge’s apparent lack of desire to make a move seems to stem more from stubborn pride than it does from Boston not needing any added help to achieve prolonged success.
With the team winning seven-straight, don’t expect that hesitation to become any less.
Maybe winning right now could actually be the worst thing to happen for the team.
Then again, only time will tell.
Also check out: Grading Each Celtics Player's Performance Since Rondo's Injury