So as we discussed earlier this week, the fallout of the Rajon Rondo injury on Sunday could very well be the end of a glorious run for the Boston Celtics. Or maybe not. But as it stands right now, Boston is cemented in 8th place, 2 and 1/2 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks and four games behind the Atlanta Hawks. Not that those two teams aren’t capable of falling out of the mix, but right now, without their star point guard, the Celtics (22-23) don’t seem to be in position to move up in the standings, either.
Or maybe they are, as evidenced by this miraculous, post-Rondo two-game winning streak. But guys, seriously, they played the Sacramento Kings last night. Pump the brakes with this “the Celtics are better without Rondo talk.” I doubt this will be an example of the famous “Ewing Theory” coming into effect. Now, with Jared Sullinger banged up, and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce playing way too many minutes for their age, and with guys like Chris Wilcox and Jason Collins remaining regulars in the rotation, I’m still thinking the Boston Celtics will most likely trend backwards over the course of the season. Either way, there are moves to be made if the C’s want to make it past the first round of the playoffs. Fuck, the C’s might have to do something just to get into the playoffs as it is! Allow me to explain why…
Yesterday’s trade between Memphis, Toronto, and Detroit did not do Boston any justice for several reasons. Let’s begin with the obvious: Rudy Gay is no longer on the trading block. Whether or not you thought he was a viable trade option for the Celts, Gay is now a member of the Raptors, with promising young big man Ed Davis and veteran point guard Jose Calderon being sent to Grizzles in return. Toronto was more than happy to take on that monster of a contract, so yeah, Rudy Gay ain’t goin’ nowhere. Then, the Grizzlies went ahead and flipped Calderon to the Pistons in exchange for Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye. Those tricky, tricky Grizzlies. Always scheming.
Let’s break this down a little further. For starters, Toronto got a lot better. He isn’t the answer to all their problems, but Gay gives the Raptors a legitimate scoring presence alongside DeMar DeRozan, and the Raptors are ecstatic to make him the face of their franchise, something they really didn’t have before his arrival. Furthermore, without having Calderon to block his minutes and production, Kyle Lowry, one of the more underrated point guards in the NBA, has the keys to the Raptors’ offense, and is reunited with Gay, who is apparently his best buddy in the world. So that means he’s off the trading block as well. So much for that idea, huh?
But wait, what about the Pistons? Yeah, they got better too. Calderon will slide perfectly into Detroit’s backcourt next to Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey. I’m not a huge fan, but he’s a savvy floor general who will provide leadership for a young Pistons team. And I can just picture him throwing alley-oop after alley-oop to Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.
Now look at the Eastern Conference standings. Again, I’m not saying that the Celtics are due for an epic swoon here, but with the team currently constructed as it is, they’re bound to continue to stay a few games under .500. The Philadelphia 76ers were presumed to be Boston’s lone threat for the No. 8 seed, but look out! Philly (19-26) is just three games behind the C’s with 37 games left to play. Andrew Bynum is due back by the All-Star Break, while Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner continue to play the best basketball of their respective careers. Do not sleep on the Sixers.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Pistons, once considered an after-thought to contend in the East, are just 5 and 1/2 games behind Boston. After a miserable 7-21 start, the Pistons (17-29) have finally started to click, especially on the defensive end, where they’re ranked 11th in the league. Although I don’t think they’ll dramatically improve with Calderon at point guard, they’ll be better. And they might not be done shopping; Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villaneuva, and Will Bynum, among others, could all be made available. They’re certainly a team to keep an eye on.
Then there’s the Toronto Raptors. Again, Toronto (16-30) should be expected to improve over the next few weeks, depending on how quickly Rudy Gay adjusts to the change in scenery. The Raptors stand 6 and 1/2 games behind the Celtics and could be the team that makes the biggest leap in the standings, especially if they get their promising young center, Jonas Valanciunas, back to full health.
And what if they’re able to get rid of Andrea Bargnani? After Toronto took him No. 1 overall back in 2006, he’s done nothing but disappoint. Yes, he can shoot, but for a seven-footer, he doesn’t rebound and can’t play a lick of defense. I’d take him on my team, sure; but as instant offense the bench, maybe. Definitely not as the franchise player by any means. He’s turned into a cancer for the Raptors and wants out of Toronto badly. Even if they trade him for 50 cents on the dollar it helps.
To make a long story short, the three teams currently chasing the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoff race are all improving. Meanwhile, the Celtics have gotten, in my own humble opinion, significantly worse. Yesterday’s trade in particular not only helped the Raptors and Pistons get better, but it took three players (Gay, Lowry, and Calderon) out of the picture for Boston in terms of trade targets. The Celtics have plenty of time to learn to gel without Rondo. However, if they don’t make any progress over the next few weeks, and don’t make some kind of move to improve their current roster, the Celtics could find the a trio of teams breathing down their necks before they know it.
Editor’s Note: How bad is the Eastern Conference? Bad enough that the 16-30 Toronto Raptors could very well be competing for a playoff spot. Gotta love the NBA.