The Boston Celtics are 8-2 in their last 10 games and were 28-24 overall heading into the All-Star break. It’s been a major surprise to see the Celtics play so well after losing Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Leandro Barbosa for the season. The recent hot streak doesn’t have Celtics GM Danny Ainge fooled at all because he knows it’s hard to sustain long-term success without star players. Ainge discusses Boston’s trade options and personnel plans heading into the second half of the NBA season in the following interview. Danny Ainge joined WEEI in Boston with The Big Show to discuss the Boston Celtics’ personnel options being different with three of the team’s top players going down, the Celtics playing better despite all the injuries, the emergence of Jeff Green, the difficulty in finding affordable free agents who can be key contributors and the possibility of bringing back Delonte West.
Are the Celtics’ options now different than they were two years ago when three of the team’s top players went down with injuries?
“Obviously, our options are much less. You know, I was really anxious to see the team play. When Rondo went down, obviously, it was a devastating blow, and I think that hurts because Rondo has been a terrific playoff player for us … but I was anxious to just see, because Doc [Rivers], from the beginning of the year, we’re going to trying to do some things different. We’re going to try — instead of running a similar offense when Rondo is off the court, we’re going to do some different things. And we still hadn’t seen much of that because Rondo had played so many minutes, but the team was really jelling and really playing well. But losing Jared, who obviously when he plays, we’re just a better rebounding team and have an extra body in there to give Kevin [Garnett] rest. That was a big blow, and we immediately tried to figure out how we can replace Jared, and then, when Leandro went down, that was crushing because Leandro, every day in practice, is one of our best players. I watch him from my office and I look down there and he just lives in the paint, just blows by guys and finishes shots and makes passes. And he’s been really good all year long. And he just hasn’t had a lot of opportunities. But there just aren’t people out there who are as good as those players. It’s going to be tough. We have a tough week ahead of us.”
You couldn’t have sensed what was going to happen to this team when Rondo went down, right? This team is playing better all of a sudden:
“No, listen, you can always survive the blow of [losing] one of your better players for a certain period of time. We never had to do it — I remember a couple of years ago when Brian Scalabrine started like 11 games for KG and he was one of the best plus/minus guys in the league. But Scal came in and in for a short period of time, and I think we went, like, 9-2. Our numbers were actually just as good at that moment. But there’s a big difference. Star players can do it over sustained periods of time, and so sometimes, short samples can be deceiving.”
How surprising has Jeff Green been?
“You know, I think that Jeff, he had a real good exhibition season. He had a good training camp, just coming back from the health, he’s getting more confidence. But also, like, last night, I think is a perfect example of what happens with us and with Jeff. You’re going to understand this, because you’ve seen this — we exploit a matchup. Jeff comes in, and he can play the two, the three, the four. We have a matchup advantage, we go to Jeff, and he scores a couple of baskets in a spectacular fashion. He makes a beautiful pass to a wide-open Jason Terry for a 3 when they come to double-team him. And then, they make the adjustment at halftime and they come to double-team him and front him in the post. They’re not going to let him catch the ball in the post and take advantage of the matchups. And then we didn’t do a good job of exploiting that, and so he’s taken out of the game. All someone had to do was front Jeff — no help from the weak side, Noah was jamming up the paint. And the rest of our team, we weren’t able to exploit that matchup any more, so Jeff is sort of taken out of it. And that’s been sort of the pattern with Jeff.”
How difficult is it to get a guy who could be a top-eight contributor right now? Is it, like, a 10 percent chance? To get someone who is the equivalent of Barbosa or Sullinger?
“People forget that just a few years ago that Barbosa was averaging 19 points a game off the bench in Phoenix, and he’s only 29 years old. And he was the leading scorer for the Brazilian team in the Olympics this summer and he’s in his prime. Our backs were to the wall this year, and when this guy was still available and wanted to come play for us for minimum, it didn’t matter. We had to get him. He’s too good a player — he’s proved that every day in practice whenever he got an opportunity to play. If anything, he earned the opportunity to play more than before, but we had so many guards. Those guys are not out there. Those players are under contracts and many of them for multi-million dollars and multiyear contracts in the Barbosa class. So the answer is definitely not. There is no Barbosa. Jared Sullinger is the only player we’ve had since Leon Powe where when he plays, there is a statistical … major impact on our rebounding — our overall team rebounding. There are guys who are overall stat-stuffers and can get rebounds. But they don’t change the dynamic of your overall team rebounding. Jared Sullinger single-handedly changed our rebounding as the season went on as his career was evolving and he was getting more minutes. Those guys … you can’t find guys like that sitting at home.”
Is there anybody out there who can help this team? Is Delonte West a possibility?
“Delonte is a player we certainly know, probably better than anybody in the NBA. And he’s on a list of guys we are looking at. We’re going to take this entire week during the All-Star break and explore trades and free-agent signings. We have a long list of players, and he’s on that list. It’s hard. It’s a difficult thing for players to not play basketball all year — who haven’t played since last April — and expect them to come in and be able to contribute.”