Monday, April 24, 2006

After the buzzer

Before the season escapes your mind completely, let me quickly eulogize the 2005-'06 Boston Celtics by saying this: For a mediocre team, they were almost always entertaining, and they offset their failures by offering hope for the future in the form of several precocious and likeable young players. I'm already looking forward to next year, particularly if Danny Ainge finds a way to add Adam Morrison to his growing collection of Goofy White Guys. But before we this one in the archives, let's take a player-by-player look at what the past season delivered:

PAUL PIERCE (Key stats: 26.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.7 apg): Think he has "Redemption Song" in his iPod? . . . after the '04-'05 season concluded with his ugly meltdown against the Pacers in the playoffs, followed by a summer's worth of trade rumors, had to figure his days in green and white were numbered . . . instead, he countered with the best all-around season of a stellar if uneven career . . . and he did it all with a smile . . . truly a pleasure to watch this season, one of the top six or seven players in the league . . . so what changed? . . . could be maturity, could be the willingness to make the best of the situation, but most likely it's that he truly believes in and enjoys playing with his younger teammates . . . ability has never been in doubt . . . a true scorer with an uncanny knack for getting to the line . . . best rebounding 2-guard in the league, bar none . . . much more careful with the basketball than he was in his professional youth, and involves his teammates more . . . winning is important to him, and he deserves to play on a contending team . . . safe to say his No. 34 will eventually hang from the rafters.

DELONTE WEST (11.8 ppg, 4.6 apg): For much of the season, was the team's second-best all-around player . . . relentless defender, though he sometimes struggles with the quicker types . . . dead-eye lefty jump shooter who hit 38.7 percent from three and 48 percent overall, excellent for a guard . . . handled the point well enough, but isn't a true playmaker . . . a building block, though on a good club, might be best suited to being the third guard . . . apparently dipped into a leftover bottle of Dennis Johnson's orange hair dye . . . smart and serious on the court, charmingly nuts off of it, which makes him an extremely popular teammate.

WALLY SZCZERBIAK (With Celtics: 17.5 ppg): Adjusted to midseason trade from Wolves as well as could be expected, particularly considering he was often playing on one leg . . . meshed extremely well with Pierce, which was something of a surprise considering his clashes with alpha dog Kevin Garnett in Minnesota were legendary . . . makes you wonder if it was KG's fault all along . . . fantastic shooter and a better athlete than you think . . . can finish on the break and even occasionally finishes a slash to the hoop with a power dunk . . . articulate and dedicated, a true pro who should be a good role model for the Celtics' underclassmen . . . best thing you can say about his defense is that he tries . . . attempted to play through a knee injury, but Celtics prudently shut him down for season when they were eliminated . . . gives the Celtics a legitimate No. 2 scorer heading into next season.

AL JEFFERSON (7.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg) : Disappointed in his second season, though in fairness, expectations were off-the-charts high . . . after stellar performance against Pacers in last season's playoffs, stardom was expected in Year 2 . . . instead of turning into Elton Brand overnight, he played like what he is: a talented, raw 21-year-old with very little experience at a high level . . . he's the anti-Blount in the low post: his hands are basketball magnets, and his back-to-the-basket moves are straight out of the Kevin McHale Guide To Low-Post Play . . . his toughness was questioned after he was reluctant to play on a sprained ankle . . . on defense, he likes to take naps, or maybe have a sandwich, while waiting for the offense to get the ball back . . . soft-spoken, easy-going kid, you hope he doesn't become jaded . . . makes so many silly fouls, even Tommy Heinsohn admits they are legitimate calls . . . just a little patience.

RAEF LaFRENTZ (7.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg): Played in all 82 games, which should help him shed the injury-prone label . . . the burden of high expectations resulting from his ridiculous contract make it easy to label him an underachiever . . . if his salary were commensurate with his ability, it might be easier to accept him for what he is . . . a useful, if soft, power forward who can block a shot or drill a three but isn't going to go rebound-for-rebound with Ben Wallace. . . ideally. Jefferson and Perkins would relegate him to third big-man status.

KENDRICK PERKINS (5.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg): Vicious rebounder, improving shot blocker, sets a mean pick . . . works his tail off on defense, though the refs still give him little leeway . . . offensive game is still a work in progress . . . in the post, often looks like he's made up his mind what his move will be without reading his defender, which leads to some awkward moments . . . clearly possesses the desire to get the most out of his ability and is probably the most mature of all of the Celtics' young players, excluding four-year college player Gomes . . . has completely transformed his body from his doughy rookie season . . . high-end projection: somewhere between Rick Mahorn and Paul Silas . . . even if he falls short of that, he's got enough going for him already to be valuable to a good team.

RYAN GOMES (7.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg): C'mon, what's not to like? . . . smart, instinctive player with old-school sensibilities . . . plays like he's been in the league for 10 years . . . other than Pierce's world-class play, watching this kid was the reason to tune in night-in, night-out . . . owns so many savvy positioning tricks while rebounding that you'd swear he was related to Moses Malone . . . indictment of Doc that despite an impressive preseason, didn't get a chance to play until injuries gave the coach no choice. . . good enough shooter, and owns a Danny Manning-style collection of junk moves around the hoop . . . if teams were given a do-over on the 2005 Draft, second-round steal would go in the lottery . . . oh, and we were right for once . . . he's not the greatest athlete and may not be a star, but can't you picture him being a key role player on a championship contender?

ORIEN GREENE (3.2 ppg, 1.6 apg): There are some pluses to his game . . . has arms like an octopus, which makes him a potential lock-down defender at the point . . . also carries himself like a point guard, looking for teammates at the expense of his own offense . . . deft ballhander and sees the court well, particularly in feeding the post . . . you knew the minuses were coming, didn't you? . . . couldn't hit an 18-foot jumper if he were alone in the gym . . . occasionally too deferential to Pierce, almost to the point he'd lock in on him like Bledsoe did with Coates . . . there are a dozen guys just like him in the NBA, and another dozen in the NBDL, so he needs to commit to correcting his flaws or come up with compromising pictures of Ainge if he wants to stick around longterm.

GERALD GREEN (5.2 ppg in 31 games): As green as his name or the uniform he's wearing, but damn, does this kid have lightning in his legs . . . in limited playing time, threw down as many highlight film dunks as any Celtic since . . . well, who, Connor Henry? . . seriously, he might be the most athletic player the franchise has ever had . . . when he got significant playing time late in the season during the Celtics' Road to Secaucus, showed more offensive polish than we were led to believe he had, scoring 18 points in one game and 22 in another . . . just clueless defensively . . . couldn't guard Red Auerbach at this point . . . looks like the love child of Cuba Gooding Jr. and Teresa Witherspoon, which I'm pretty sure is a physical impossibility . . . immature to the point that Ainge went to the NBDL to babysit him at one point, but hell, he should be a freshman in college . . . if he wants to be great, he can be.

TONY ALLEN (7.2 ppg): Got a look at point guard late in the season, an experiment Bob Cousy quickly declared a mistake . . . then again, the Cooz said Chauncey Billups would never make it as a playmaker, either . . . after offseason knee surgery, took him a while to get his springboard hops back, and he played tentatively . . . seems legitimately pissed when his man scores on him, and he has all the defensive skills to go with the desire . . . subpar shooter for a 2-guard, but his form looked much improved, so maybe he'll come around . . . sketchy involvement in a nightclub shooting has the Celts brass crossing their fingers that he won't be playing in the Chicago Penal League for the next 5-10 years.

MICHAEL OLOWOKANDI (No key stats except for salary) : If you're okay with having no work ethic or self-respect, and if the idea of money for nothing appeals to you, well, becoming the modern day Pervis Ellison ain't such a bad life at all.

DAN DICKAU (3.3 ppg in 19 games): Quality shooter, adequate playmaker, but often the game seems too fast for him - and that was before he blew out his Achilles'.

BRIAN SCALABRINE (1.8 fouls per game): If Ainge really had to spend $15 million to feed his Tall, Pasty Redhead fetish in the offseason, he'd have been much better off signing Matt Bonner, a semi-local kid (the pride of Concord, N.H.) who, unlike Scalabrine, actually belongs in the league.

DWAYNE JONES (1.0 ppg): He's tall.