The Boston Celtics reach the figurative midpoint of their 2009-10 season Wednesday when they visit the New Orleans Hornets in their final game before the All-Star break (even if the Green will have played 50 of their 82 games after this contest).
Having slipped to fourth in the Eastern Conference standings with their recent struggles, there's plenty of chatter in this week's mailbag about how to repair the Celtics and what moves they might make to solidify their roster entering the home stretch.
We're not even going to break this one up by topic, because it's all about personnel (though we hit you with a quick Lightning Round at the end).
Q: I'm trying to understand all the chatter about trading a guy that has scored 20,000 points for his career, has been clutch for this team in the past, plays the second most minutes on the team, is second on the team in scoring, and has yet to miss a game this year (Ray Allen). Are the Celtics in panic mode or something? Do you think he has lost his value to the Celtics and should be traded? -- Kenyatta (Jackson, Miss.)
A: Kenyatta, I'm a firm believer in avoiding the panic button until it's absolutely necessary to press it. I don't think this team is at that point -- yet -- even if others have been hopping up and down on it for a while. Is Allen struggling? No doubt. His numbers remain at their lowest point since his rookie season. Can he still be a valuable contributor on this team? Of course. He might not be quite as sharp as he's been in the past, but there's gas left in his tank (maybe more so than any other 34-year-old). I truly believe that there is not a single player available via trade that will help this team as much as Allen has the potential to (in terms of production, leadership, and chemistry) over the final 30 games and beyond. All that said, the one thing Boston does have to examine here is, if it believes it will not re-sign Allen this offseason, then maybe he does hold a stronger value as a trade chip that could potentially lure a younger shooter in return. Regardless, the Celtics will have to be bowled over by a trade offer to even consider it. Trading Allen just for the sake of a shake-up is indeed a panic move.
Q: Chris, I hear people wanting Ray Allen to be traded as if it seems he is to blame for the Celtics' struggles. But I think that Rasheed Wallace is the problem. He is lazy on defense, just stands on the 3-point line. He makes me want to pull my hair out. Do you see the same thing? -- Chase (Logan, Ohio)
A: You're surely not alone in your frustration with Wallace, who has been an underachiever in Boston. The Celtics were able to sort of look the other way on his production at the start of the season because they were winning and Wallace truly does help spread the floor when he's hitting those 3-pointers. But, the past few weeks when they've needed baskets and would have benefitted from him setting up shop in the post, he continues to hoist ill-advised 3-pointers. Wallace has made more than two 3-pointers in just one of his last 11 games since the foot injury sidelined him for a week in January (he's 11 of 43, 25.6 percent over that stretch). Wallace had one miss in the Magic game where he caught a pass and needed to pretty much leap backward to hoist an off-the-mark triple in the fourth quarter. Even more of a concern, his defense has been atrocious at times.
Q: Why aren't the Celtics a player in the Amare Stoudemire sweepstakes, especially if they get the Suns to take back Rasheed Wallace's corpse and get Jason Richardson? It clears tons of cap room for the Suns and gives the Celtics a chance to rest KG and a decent replacement for Allen at shooting guard. -- Woody (Waterville, Maine)
A: Alright, I'll give you credit that a Richardson/Stoudemire for Allen/Wallace swap actually works in the ESPN Trade Machine. But in the Forsberg Reality Machine, that one gets laughed out of the building. Wallace's deal runs far longer than any team would covet and why exactly would a team trade a legit All-Star for two 35-year-old players (Allen turns that age in the offseason) struggling mightily this season? That said, I just executed it on my NBA Live 2010 season and my roster is stacked.
Q: Privately, do you think Danny Ainge realizes that a championship will require retooling of at least one or two of the top four players on this team? Or are his media soundbites really indicative of how he feels? Seems like he knows too many unlikely things (starting with health -- there's little reason to believe the team will get healthy at the end of a season if they've been plagued with injuries throughout it) would have to happen for the C's to win a title this year. Which means, practically, the window is closed for this group. Thoughts? -- Ryan (Toronto)
A: Ryan, I think the Celtics truly believe they can win this season -- and even beyond -- with the roster as currently constituted (maybe sprinkle in an additional free-agent acquisition or minor trade for depth at point guard and the frontcourt). Sure, there's a ton of ifs surrounding this team -- if Allen emerges from his struggles; if Wallace turns himself around; if KG gets healthy -- but I do think there's enough here to make a run. We all tend to get shortsighted and the Celtics are playing awful basketball right now, but it's not like they didn't look like championship material at the start of the year. What's to say they can't get back there?
Q: Chris, I'm not a believer that the Celtics need a major shake-up. However, I do believe we need a solid contributor who can provide quality bench minutes. Who do you think the Celtics might possibly be targeting to fill this role? -- Sterling (Providence, R.I.)
A: Sterling, I'm with you. It's part of the reason I don't put too much stock in this Glen Davis for D.J. Augustin rumor. The Celtics could seemingly lure a serviceable backup point guard -- maybe not the level of Augustin -- at far less a price than Davis. Plus, they already could use another big body in the likeness of P.J. Brown (since it doesn't seem likely they'll be dusting off Shelden Williams any time soon). But short of those minor moves, I don't even see where you add to this team. The one player I can see them moving is Tony Allen. His value is as high as it's going to be, they have Eddie House who can play the 2, and a healthy Marquis Daniels at the 3, so the addition of a backup point guard could make TA expendable, particularly with an expiring deal (the one thing to worry about there is losing Tony Allen's defense, which has been underrated this season).
Q: Chris, the key to the Celts is not roster, but health. If they stay healthy, they can play with anyone. Is their age a factor? I don't think so. KG didn't get hurt because he was old, but because he had a freak twist of the knee. I believe that if they stay healthy, and the coming break gives them a chance to heal up, that they can be in shape for a run. -- Larry (York, Pa.)
A: I like the optimism, Larry. But I do think age is playing a part in their struggles this year. There's no way to ignore the fact that Wallace looks like a 35-year-old forward, and that Allen -- as amazing as his conditioning is -- just doesn't have quite the pop in him in the fourth quarter (though some of that may be due to the hefty minutes he's logged with Pierce and Daniels sidelined at times this season). Garnett has even acknowledged that, in his advanced age, he's listening to his body more. As stated above, a healthy roster and a properly motivated team can compete with anyone, but the idea of this roster remaining competitive even two or three years down the line is starting to look more daunting than even I imagined a short while back.
Q: With the recent struggles that the C's have incurred the last few weeks, especially accountability and not playing for team goals, what has happened to the Ubuntu philosophy? The message behind Ubuntu stands for the exact opposite of what the C's are doing right now with selfish play, lack of intensity, self perseverance, no communication. Was Ubuntu just a flavor of the month for the Celtics? I would love to see them get back to those basics and reunite their team goals. -- Walter (Clayton, N.C.)
A: The Celtics will never be able to quite rekindle what Ubuntu meant to that 2007-08 team. Despite what they might say, that first championship season had to be so special to the veterans on this team, I find it hard to believe they could ever find that same level of energy and desire. Again, that's not to say the Celtics can't return to a championship level this season, and do so with an Ubuntu-like mentality. But part of the complacency on this team has to stem from the fact that the thirst for a championship -- or at least a strong regular season -- simply can't be the same as what it was. The regular season is in danger of being undervalued by a team that believes it can flip a switch in the postseason.
Q: Any truth to the rumor that the Wolves might trade Ryan Gomes to Boston? -- Alex (Minneapolis)
A: Happy to contribute to that rumor after noting a Wolves scout at the Garden last week. Alas, I don't think it'll happen. I'm not sure I see anyone on the Celtics' roster whom Minnesota would covet. But, man, people love Ryan Gomes around here.
Q: What happened with the Celtics on Sunday against Orlando with having Kendrick Perkins sit out the whole fourth quarter? It seemed like Doc let things go too long in that third quarter and most of the fourth without the rotations of players who got it going nicely in the first half? -- Michael (East Greenwich, R.I.)
A: Given how close games have been in the fourth quarter, I think the Celtics get caught leaning on more of an offensive lineup with Wallace or Davis than sticking with Perkins (though sometimes that's certainly dictated by foul trouble and normal rest). It feels like sometimes the team would be better served to have Perkins' defense and maybe even his ability to generate easy points around the basket.
Q: Chris I have been a C's fan for over 40 years. I do realize the Celtics win championships with defense. But watching the Celts, the main problem is lack of scoring in crunch time. We need more scoring and Ray Allen can no longer do it every night. I know it's tough to say, but I think Tracy McGrady could be the answer to the C's scoring woes. Ray for Tracy. The money could almost match up and Houston would get an expiring contract. We are desperate now. -- Dana (Atlanta)
A: You said it yourself, Dana. This team is built on defense. And Ron Artest will tell you that McGrady spells the alphabet: A, B, C, E (no D).
Q: Right now this team has some injury problems and they're just not closing out games. There is no reason for Boston fans to worry. This is an experienced team with great players and a great coach. They will be alright. The Celtics will emerge after the All-Star break. Like they say, "Winning heals all wounds." IT WILL BE ALRIGHT! -- Michael (Killeen, Texas)
A: Michael was the only member of "glass half full" to chime in this week, so we had to sneak in some unbridled optimism.