EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 22, 2007

Celtics report card: Injuries allow Celtics to make the grade ... barely

On Pro Basketball , Michael Muldoon

Never underestimate the power of hope.

How else to explain that Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge have yet to be hung in effigy? Or that an average of 16,843 fans attended games to watch their lamentable Celtics?

That hope is in the form of a big-time lottery pick. In what experts assure us should be one of the greatest drafts in NBA history, the 24-58 Celtics, with the second worst record in the NBA, have a 38.7 percent chance of landing one of the top two picks.

That would be 7-foot shotblocking machine Greg Oden of Ohio State or the "consolation prize," NCAA Player of the Year Kevin Durant of Texas, a skinny 6-9 forward who regularly went on scoring binges which left fans breathless.

The Celtics made NBA history in the glory days. They did it again this season when they were granted an almost unheard of second straight mulligan.

After going just 33-49 in 2005-06, this looked like a potential playoff team. Despite a tremendously favorable early-season schedule, the C's got off to a lousy start, then won five straight to improve to 10-13.

They were still in the playoff hunt at that point, but Paul Pierce (stress reaction in left foot) went down until nearly the All-Star break. Without Pierce, the C's were exposed as painfully overmatched during an 18-game losing streak, one of the longest in league history. All told, Boston was an almost unimaginable 4-31 without the captain.

At times, the Celtics dressed as few as eight players. Pierce, Wally Szczerbiak and Tony Allen, arguably three of their best four players, combined to miss 134 of a possible 246 games.

When the team careened from struggling, to embarrassing to (gulp) national punchline, it actually became a saving grace.

The fans soon realized bad losses were really priceless wins ... a freshman savior would be on the way!

Nobody wants to think about the 61.3 percent chance Oden and Durant will be playing elsewhere next year. If the ping-pong balls bounce their way on May 22 in beautiful downtown Secaucus, the Celtics' lost season will go down as a necessary evil to launch a glorious future.

So much hope has been invested in Oden and Durant that people don't want to consider anyone else. Truth is, Boston, which is guaranteed a top-5 pick, could still land a fine player at No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5.



Now, on to the report card.

Michael Muldoon is sports editor of The Eagle-Tribune. E-mail him at mmuldoon@eagletribune.com.



2006-07 Boston Celtics Report Card

PLAYERS

Grade%Player%Pts.%Rebs.%Assts.%Comment

B+%Paul Pierce%25.0%5.9%4.1%Ironman proved he was human. Gained points for allowing Al Jefferson to take some of the big shots. Lost points for putting on about 20 pounds while injured. He'll turn 30 on Oct. 13, and he's hinted he's sick of waiting around to rebuild.

A-%Al Jefferson%16.0%11.0%1.3%Skeptics who called him soft last year look silly now. Mr. Double-Double will present matchup problems for the next 10-15 years.

C%Wally Szczerbiak%15.0%3.1%1.7%Injury-prone sharpshooter may be coming off the bench next season. Will his ego be able to accept a reduced role?

C+%Delonte West%12.2%3.0%4.4%Could lose minutes to Rajon Rondo next year, but he's versatile and plays like a madman. He has to do a better job of avoiding injuries.

C+%Ryan Gomes%12.1%5.6%1.6%On a good team, wouldn't put up these numbers. The tweener does a lot of good things, though.

B+%Tony Allen%11.5%3.8%1.7%The sample size is way too small, but for about 20 games he played like an All-Star. Who knows if he'll ever regain his trademark explosiveness after blowing out his knee dunking after the whistle.

C-%Gerald Green%10.4%2.6%1.0%There is no denying the dunk champion has some extraordinary tools, but he remains clueless on the defensive end. Next year is a big one for him.

B%Rajon Rondo%6.4%3.7%3.8%The rookie point guard showed glimpses of future stardom with his blazing speed and lightning quick hands. His free-throw shooting improved immensely. He's still a terrible outside shooter.

C-%Allan Ray%6.2%1.5%0.9%Shot .414 on 3-pointers but just .386 overall. He'll have a fight on his hands to make the team.

D%Sebastian Telfair%6.2%1.4%2.8%A colossal disappointment. Randy Foye would look mighty good in green these days.



Inc.%Kevinn Pinkney%5.2%2.5%0.8%Late-season pickup showed enough to prove he's an NBA player. Had a memorable 15-point debut.

C%Kendrick Perkins%4.5%5.2%1.3%D for performance, A for toughness. Played in pain. He can pass, rebound and defend but is a non-scorer.

C+%Leon Powe%4.2%3.4%0.2%Will never be a star, but it never hurts to have some tough guys who can rebound.

C-%Brian Scalabrine%4.0%1.9%1.1%Love his attitude, hate his talent. At worst, a positive presence in the locker room.

Inc.%Theo Ratliff%2.5%3.5%0.0%Two games, $11.66 million. Not bad work if you can get it. That Gatesian contract, which expires next year, will be attractive in a trade.

D%Michael Olowokandi%1.7%2.0%0.2%Former No. 1 overall pick was only re-signed for emergency duty.

MANAGEMENT

Grade%Player%Pts.%Rebs.%Assts.%Comment

C-%Doc Rivers%To his credit, the team didn't quit on him, which is always a danger when you stink. If he gets the extension as expected, it probably will be a short one. If the C's don't make the 2008 playoffs, he'll be gone.

C-%Danny Ainge%Everybody agrees that the makeup of this team was the worst this side of Tammy Faye Bakker. He failed to acquire a much needed veteran and made another major miscue with the Telfair deal. Again, playoffs or bust unless his close relationship with owner Steve Pagliuca saves him a la the Detroit Lions' Matt Millen.