Commentary

Looking forward to a full C's squad

When will KG return? West? Perkins? Fans' hopes (and expectations) are rising

Updated: January 6, 2011, 3:55 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

Welcome to the first Celtics Mailbag of the new calendar year. We put our letter sack on the shelf during the holidays, so it was fun to dive back in and see the gamut of emotions displayed by readers from the tail end of Boston's 14-game winning streak to the Christmas Day loss in Orlando to the all-out freak out over Kevin Garnett's injury in late December.

Yes, there's rarely a dull moment with these Celtics, and this week is no exception. In the middle of a stretch that features six games in eight days, Boston has ripped off three straight wins, including Wednesday's fingernail-chomping triumph over a San Antonio team with the best record in basketball.

As the midpoint of the season inches closer (Boston's 41st game is Jan. 19 against Detroit, even if the All-Star break isn't for another month -- and 13 games -- after that), let's dive into the bag:

Q: Is it wrong that I rooted for the Spurs to tie the game just so it would go to overtime and Rajon Rondo could get a chance to break Scott Skiles' NBA record of 30 assists in a game? I still wanted the C's to win, I just wanted the record to be held by the best pure point guard in the game today. -- Jason (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)

[+] EnlargeJermaine O'Neal
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireAfter injury setbacks, Jermaine O'Neal seems to be leaning on his defense until he finds his rhythm on offense.

A: Even though there was really no reason for the Celtics to nearly fumble that game away in the closing moments, I don't think many would have been upset to see five more minutes of basketball between two very good teams. That was a fun game to watch, and the Garden certainly had a playoff-type atmosphere for a showdown of the two teams with the best records in basketball.

I won't lie. When Rondo got assist No. 20 with about 90 seconds to go in the third quarter, I started wondering if he might put another charge into Bob Cousy's team record of 28 assists. But it might have been even more enthralling to watch Rondo step up to the challenge and drain perimeter jumpers against a sagging defense (read more HERE). My only concern with overtime would have been a whopping 48-minute night for Rondo, who is still overcoming ankle, foot and hamstring issues.

Q: Can we expect any offense coming from Jermaine O'Neal? Or just solid defense? -- Dave (Portsmouth, N.H.)

A: Over his last five games, O'Neal is averaging 5.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks over 21.7 minutes per game. It's clear there's some rust after sitting out 19 games because of lingering left knee soreness. I think we're going to see O'Neal lean on his defense until he gets comfortable and finds that rhythm on the floor (remember, too, he missed much of the preseason). When that happens, we'll see an uptick in offensive production. He's actually shooting 71.4 percent around the basket, which is encouraging, but he's still finding his shot further away from the hoop. Once he gets that mid-range going, it'll provide a nice boost to that second unit.

Q: So this Celtics team is very deep. Do the Celtics make any trades this season, or do they just wait it out and make moves in the offseason? I'm very happy with this team. -- Ed (Beltsville, Md.)

A: I think Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge shares your optimism about this roster. That much was confirmed when the team held onto Von Wafer (and Delonte West) Wednesday, guaranteeing their minimum contracts for the rest of the season. That doesn't mean Boston won't make a move -- be it a free-agent signing or trade -- later in the year, but for now they're committing to this 15-man roster. When I examine potential trades, I'm not sure there's an obvious need, either. If this team gets healthy, you're almost more likely to have logjams than holes to plug. Plus, the Celtics just don't have a lot of tradable pieces. (Glen Davis may be the most attractive contract, but he's made himself indispensable.)

Q: With Avery Bradley still so green (pun intended) and Rondo just playing so many minutes, is there any chance that the C's would go after a true veteran point guard before the trade deadline? -- KWAPT (Brighton, Mass.)

A: Seems like we've been asking this question for three straight years -- and understandably so. I think a healthy West solves all of Boston's backup point guard troubles. As Celtics coach Doc Rivers has pointed out in the past, Rondo often plays 40-plus minutes, so does this team really need a backup point guard come mid-April? It would be nice to have West to spell him more this time of year, but I think the Celtics are looking at the All-Star break and hoping that's when it all starts to come together.

Q: When will Delonte West be back for the Celtics? Kendrick Perkins? If the Celtics get their whole team on the floor do you think they can win it all? -- Randall (Boston)

A: Let's run down the latest on the injury front:

* West got his cast removed Monday and suggested he's targeting a return to practice in about three weeks (after rehabilitation on his fractured right wrist). The All-Star break (Feb. 18-20) continues to be a good target for him, even if West has expressed optimism in coming back sooner.

* Perkins got fitted for a new knee brace late last month and started engaging in noncontact basketball drills, as he enters the final stages of recovery from a torn right ACL. The All-Star break has been his floating target date, even if Perkins, too, has suggested a potential earlier return. He looks good when he's on the court for individual work, but there are still plenty of hurdles to go. My guess is the team will exercise extreme caution and not rush anyone back. There's no sense in accelerating any of these guys when the games don't truly matter until mid-April.

* Garnett resumed light shooting Wednesday morning, and Rivers said he's been working on conditioning with strength coach Bryan Doo. Rivers suggested there's been no change to the original two-week window for Garnett's absence following a right calf sprain, which would peg his potential return around late next week.

[+] EnlargeDelonte West
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty ImagesDelonte West, who got his wrist cast removed on Monday, is targeting a return to practice around the All-Star break in February.

As for your question about whether this team can win it all if they get healthy, I think the bigger question is whether this team can win it all if it doesn't get healthy (since that's the more likely scenario). Put it this way: This is a deeper team than the one that lost in Game 7 of the NBA Finals a year ago.

Q: Von Wafer sometimes looks like a Ray Allen clone with his shooting and is more athletic than Ray at his age. Why isn't Von in the offense more? Seems to me he has the ability to put up a lot of points. -- Rick (Conway, N.H.)

A: Wafer continues to stress that there's more he can bring to the table but that he's simply doing what the coaching staff is asking him to do. He clearly has more scoring potential, that much is evidenced from his days in Houston and his ability to hit shots in practice situations, but it's not translating to game action. Wafer is shooting a mere 17.4 percent from beyond the 3-point arc (4-for-23). Only a 32 percent shooter there for his career (74-of-231), it's becoming evident that Wafer's biggest strength is his ability to create by driving to the basket. He's shooting 71.4 percent near the rim, and his scoring will increase if he continues to put a focus on getting to the hoop rather than putting up perimeter jumpers.

Q: I know it's far-fetched to think that all five core bigs will be healthy when it counts. But if they are, do you think there's an odd man out? I know age/injuries will limit most of their minutes anyway, but do you think all five would get time in the playoffs even when coaches really cut down their rotations? -- Doug (New Orleans)

A: No, it's hard for me to believe that at least one of these big men won't be dinged up a bit. So you have 96 minutes to go around at the 4 and 5 spots during the playoffs. If Garnett (32 minutes), Davis (30) and Perkins (25) do their normal routines, that certainly doesn't leave much to be split amongst the O'Neals (roughly nine minutes total). But the Celtics surely would have liked to have had Shaq or Jermaine last season instead of having to lean on Shelden Williams and Brian Scalabrine in Games 6 and 7 against the Lakers. If this team is truly committed to the singular goal of winning a title, minutes won't be an issue.

Q: Why has Semih Erden fallen out of the rotation? He has played with more energy and has been a better finisher around the basket than Jermaine O'Neal, so far this season. -- Mark (Vancouver, British Columbia)

A: Erden caught a stomach bug before Boston's three-game holiday road trip, and honestly, Luke Harangody has simply stepped in and stolen those minutes with his scrappy play. More than anything, it might be Harangody's ability to rebound consistently, especially with the team missing Garnett, that's keeping him on the floor over Erden. Harangody, in limited time, is grabbing 19.4 percent of available defensive rebounds; Erden was averaging just 14.3 percent. Plus, the Celtics simply have enough depth at the center spot right now that they're leaning on Harangody to help fill Garnett's role at power forward. Erden's minutes would likely spike again if there're any injuries to the O'Neals.

[+] EnlargeLuke Harangody
Elsa/Getty ImagesWith his scrappy play, Luke Harangody has stolen some playing time from Semih Erden.

Q: When is 'Sheed coming back? -- Tom (Boston)

A: Automated Reponse: Thank you for your question on Rasheed Wallace. Please hop HERE for the latest on the head-scratching infatuation with bringing Wallace back to Boston.

Q: Where can I find the game notes that are distributed to the media prior to Celtics games? They usually are highly detailed, and uber-fans such as me and my sons (11, 13 years old) would be interested in reviewing them. -- Brian (Baltimore)

A: Nightly game notes can be accessed HERE on the Celtics' official website in PDF format. There are some good stats in there, including game-by-game tallies for often little-noticed categories like fast-break and second-chance points.

Q: I know 10-day contracts start Wednesday. Do you know if the Celtics have any interest in signing Tony Gaffney? He's back from Turkey, and I think hoping to get that call from Boston. -- Ezra (Springfield, Mass.)

A: It was good to see Gaffney land with the Utah Flash of the NBA Development League (even if many were selfishly hoping he'd find a way to slip through to the Maine Red Claws). As mentioned in an earlier question, the Celtics like their 15-man roster, and any signing would have to come while eating a guaranteed contract. I just don't see that happening, particularly not for a guy that the team identified fairly early in training camp wasn't going to earn a spot on the team. Gaffney has talent, being a final cut of the Celtics and Lakers in recent seasons, and deserves another NBA opportunity. Here's hoping increased exposure in the D-League aids him in that cause.

Q: I saw your Top 10 Celtics stories of 2010 and you didn't include the loss of Tony Allen as a Top 10 story. Did you ever consider him or has the defensive game this year for the Celtics make that consideration negligible? -- Miguel (Merced, Calif.)

A: Oh, you mean THIS article recapping the top 10 Celtics storylines of the 2010 season? :: end/shameless plug:: No, while Tony Allen's departure certainly threw the first curveball of the Celtics' 2010 offseason, the team simply turned its focus to bringing back the likes of Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels, using their non-Bird Rights ability to sign those players above the minimum. If Robinson and Daniels end up being pivotal contributors in winning a world title this season, we might reflect differently on the impact of that move because I'm not sure either guy would have been back if Tony Allen re-signed in Boston.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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