Monday, January 31, 2005

Ric Bucher

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Ric Bucher posits that the Celtics need to trade Paul Pierce. In the column he argues that Pierce doesn't fit what the Celtics are trying to become, a fast break team, and doesn't have the spark that inspires a team and makes one worthy of max money. He simply argues that Pierce is an anchor that is slowing the team. Bucher makes some good arguments, but I think he misses the mark just a little bit. Some counterpoints:

Most of the Celtics young talent is just that, young. Tony Allen and Al Jefferson have impressed in their rookie seasons thus far and I think they're going to be quite good over the long haul, but they're not the blocks that you can build a franchise on. Jefferson has the potential to be that block, but he's still really raw. Bucher seems to argue that by getting rid of Pierce it would unlock the talents of Jiri Welsch and Ricky Davis too. Maybe. Jiri has shown flashes, but that counts for little in the NBA. You can't assume he'll become good because Pierce isn't around. And Ricky Davis is still a head case. Bucher says that Ricky has been playing well and keeping himself out of trouble but fails to remember that a little over a week ago Ricky was tossed out of a practice for swearing at his coach. Oh yeah, the Celtics had invited some academic achievers to view the practice where they were treated to a display of too much ego and much cursing by Ricky.

Gary Payton has helped stabilize the point guard position that was a little off when Kenny Anderson left (did I just say that?). Payton has this year remaining on his deal and is 36. There is little chance that he'll be back in Boston and he certainly isn't a long term solution at the position. Bucher says Delonte West may turn into an excellent back up point guard, but he doesn't say who he's going to back up. Marcus Banks? That's a big glaring omission. For all of Pierce's flaws, he certainly makes life easier for any point guard by having some ball handling skills and by being a deep shooting and driving threat who makes pressing a risky decision for any team. Perhaps Bucher has in mind a trade of Pierce for some up and coming point guard. Well unless they can get Hinrich, I don't think there's anyone else out there who fills the need.

Raef LaFrentz signed a contract in 2002 that is going to pay him roughly $70 million over seven seasons. He's on the books until 2009! He has an opt-out in 2007, but I seriously doubt he's going to be taking that. Raef is a good player, and this year he is actually trying to show that he's tough by grimacing all over the floor. And he's a team guy for sure. That said, he shoots too many threes for a PF, he doesn't break effectively (one of Buchers criticisms of Pierce), and he's proven to be an injury waiting to happen. That isn't worth $10 million a season. This still has to amount to one of Danny Ainge's most foolish decisions. Antoine certainly had flaws, but he brought leadership and excitement to the Celtics. And if nothing else, he would have come off the books this year. Ainge traded Walker's bloated and short contract for Raefs bloated and long contract for a player with a questionable history who lacked many of the things that made Ainge want to trade Antoine (poor post play, too much time spent on the perimeter, weak rebounding). Just think about it, if the Celtics still had 'Toine, they would have two expiring contracts to either trade (for picks or talent) or to just let expire this season so that they could better position themselves on the free agent market. One of the initial arguments for trading Walker was saying that they could not sign both 'Toine and Pierce when the next date was up. Fine, but both were under contract (Pierce signed a six year extenstion in 2001), and letting 'Toine walk or being more patient with the trade button during his last two years under a Celtics contract would have served Boston much better. Bucher totally ignores the LaFrentz problem. It would be much, much better to trade LaFrentz instead of Pierce. Perhaps Miami could be enticed to take LaFrentz on in the hopes of securing a title this year. It's not that far fetched. They were wooing Malone and could use some post help. I'm not sure if anybody is dumb enough to take on LaFrentz's contract again though. Denver dumped him as soon as they signed him and Dallas dumped him realizing he would never be a necessary piece to take them to championship land.

I'm not saying that trading Pierce would be the end of the world. Some of Bucher's points are very valid. He does have bad body language and doesn't seem to possess the intangibles that make for a good leader. I've certainly questioned his defensive effort, but I've seen some improvement in this since the infamous benching game against the Bulls a few weeks ago. When the Celtics broke the Bulls most recent five game winning streak in Chicago, Pierce was everywhere in the hustle department drawing charges, getting a steal or two, and getting some tough defensive rebounds with the C's undersized (Jefferson on the IL, Kendrick tossed for a hard foul, Blount taking bong hits before the game). I was impressed. Bucher is right that Pierce lets things slide because sometimes he does need to save his legs for the fourth quarter. But that Chicago game highlighted why he's still such a valuable player. Not only did he get his shot, but when Ben Gordon was in foul trouble and matched up defensively against Ricky, Pierce made sure Ricky got the ball. That's a good team player and the kind of action that gets the support of your running mates. He can only be traded if the Celtics get some great value in return. They would need to get a good center with a pulse or a young and up and coming or somewhat established point guard in return for Pierce. Failing that they would need the guarantee of multiple high picks. Two lottery dips, or one top two pick with a late first rounder would be nice in return.

So in the end, I think Bucher is a bit premature. Pierce still is a top ten talent in my opinion (as or more talented than LeBron for instance) and only his leadership skills lag. But the supporting cast has to take some of the blame. Blount is a dog this year and relying on rookies only gets one so far. Resolving the long-term center and PG needs has to be the biggest priority of the Celtics and I'm not sure if trading Pierce is the way to do this. Heck, Bucher doesn't even suggest a few trade scenarios involving Pierce so I'm not entirely sure why he wrote the article.

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