It will not be easy for the Boston Celtics to cash in the winning ticket for the Andrew Wiggins—Jabari Parker sweepstakes. Even 14 games into the NBA regular season, the Celtics have shown signs of fight. This does not bode well for trying to earn the league’s worst record.
Winter Getting Warmer in Milwaukee
It all started off smoothly enough when the Celtics opened the season with a four game losing streak. Their home loss to the Milwaukee Bucks was a particularly important opportunity to empower the Bucks with a winning attitude and perhaps opt out of tanking the season.
But maybe this only served as a wake up call to the feeble Milwaukee franchise. They have now dropped seven of eight contests and their 2-8 record leads the Eastern Conference for team most likely to get the Andrew Wiggins ping pong ball.
Jazz Singing the Blues
After a 0-4 start to the season, the Celtics found a way to win against the impotent Utah Jazz. The contest was damaging in that it allowed the Jazz to pull ahead as the worst team in the NBA. The Jazz have come off a summer of unloading proven players to form their own curious version of rebuilding. They needed the loss to the Celtics to show that they were all in on Wiggins and Parker roulette.
The Jazz found a way to lose to the Celtics despite a heroic 28 points from their paper star, Gordon Hayward. It’s not likely the Jazz can expect him to morph into Kevin Durant and ride him to the playoffs. The Jazz have all but clinched pole position for their choice at the 2014 buffet of young college stars.
Celtics Streaks Sending Mixed Signals
The Celtics then rode their Jazz victory to an epic four-game winning streak capped by a buzzer-beating basket to defeat the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. Clearly, the Celtics were not tanking their season, not on the watch of fresh-faced Brad Stevens. The Celtics were fighting for the playoffs.
Fortunately for their lottery hopes, the Celtics woke up and dashed their winning ways with a home loss to the resurgent Charlotte Bobcats. They have now lost five games in a row, all by double digits, and they stand at 4-9 as one of the bottom five teams in the NBA. They are also staring at a likely loss as the title-contending 10-1 Indiana Pacers come to town.
Maybe the Celtics are a Jekyll and Hyde act that will do enough to contend for the playoffs but not be a serious bidder for college prospects Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Marcus Smart. Straddling the middle of the road could prove fatal.
Consider that the Celtics can randomly garner all-star performances from Jeff Green and Avery Bradley. This is dangerous for a team that needs to lose, sort of like sending up an injured Roy Hobbs to the plate. They could single-handedly wreck a loss.
Bradley is a feast or famine player but has now gained the confidence to be a respectable 44% shooter. He has contributed unexpected offense with 24 points in a game versus the Orlando Magic and 27 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Green started off the season looking like a candidate to be the new Paul Pierce, but he has since played more like Brian Scalabrine. Operation Tanking depends on Green playing more like the latter than the former. After all, he was the culprit responsible for nailing the bulls-eye on the Miami Heat dunk tank with his game winning three pointer.
Another cause for concern is the emergence of Jared Sullinger. It was one thing for Sully to drop 26 points against the Portland Trailblazers (Tanking fans can breathe a sigh of relief that this was still a loss). The most disturbing sign was Sully’s 17 rebounds versus the San Antonio Spurs. Could he be the second coming of Charles Barkley?
The Celtics have been playing hard under Brad Stevens, as evidenced by strong defensive efforts early on in the season. However, in the past four games they have yielded an average of 107 points. Shoddy defense will be necessary to move up the ladder for lottery prominence.
It’s also too early to discuss the return of Rajon Rondo. This can go either way. He could galvanize his team and lead a playoff charge as the superstar many expect him to be. Or he alone could sabotage team chemistry and cause discord with his younger teammates. Celtics fans can still hope.
Leprechauns Need to Return
The Celtics have had their share of misery the past three decades. Had Tiny Archibald not suffered an injury in the 1982 playoffs the Celtics could have conceivably won five straight titles. Of course Larry’s Bird’s back and Cedric Maxwell’s knee betrayed them in 1985.
The Celtics misery continued with the tragic deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis, which aged and derailed the proud franchise as the late 1980s turned into the bleak wasteland of the 1990s.
Even a 15-67 record in 1996-97 and two lottery picks could not land No. 1 pick Tim Duncan. The curse of tanking proved to be the Rick Pitino era, all the better forgotten for shamrock wearing fans in Beantown.
Even the Kevin Durant and Greg Oden draft of 2007 left the Celtics smoldering with a counterfeit pick. Mercifully, Minnesota general manager Kevin McHale dealt the Celtics a younger, motivated Kevin Garnett and a gift-wrapped NBA title.
So there are no guarantees just 14 games into the regular season. Uncertainty clouds the Celtics and their attempts to win games. Does it really pay off to win? Is losing indeed the formula for rebuilding the franchise?
It’s a long season until ping pong balls start hopping.