Writers' Roundtable (cont.)
3. The Celtics lost four of six after opening 27-2. Do you see cause for concern?
Ian Thomsen: They need another guard off the bench to provide shooting and ball handling (Marbury?) and they especially need some height. Their second unit is small in the frontcourt and the bigger opponents (the Trail Blazers especially) have done the Celtics a favor by spotlighting this need. The Cavaliers, Magic, Lakers and Spurs all have more size in reserve than the Celtics.
Jack McCallum: Most definitely. No one, first of all, goes through a season without concern. And though a loss to the Knicks (as the Celts managed to do on Sunday) is no cause for outright panic, it will cause some introspection. Boston is still the class of the conference, but Cleveland and Orlando are both proving to be more than legit, and, for the first time, the C's might be looking over their shoulder.
Chris Mannix: The book is out on the Celtics: Defend the Big Three as best you can and make the likes of Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen beat you from the perimeter. The Knicks and Lakers added new pages when they utilized bigger players on Rondo to negate his ability to drive to the basket. Rondo scored just four points on 1-of-7 shooting in the Celtics' loss to the Knicks, who defended him with the 6-foot-11 Jared Jeffries.
One potential solution to Boston's perimeter-shooting problems is languishing in Toronto: forward Jason Kapono. Consider this deal: Boston sends Brian Scalabrine (who has one year remaining on his contract), Eddie House (who has a player option for 2009-10) and a conditional draft pick to Toronto for Kapono. The trade frees the Raptors from Kapono's contract (which runs through the '10-11 season) and gives them coveted cap space to re-sign Chris Bosh in '10 and acquire some talent to play around him.
In Kapono, Boston would get a career 46 percent shooter from three-point range. Though a below-average defender, Kapono has championship experience (he was on Miami's 2006 title team) and is regarded as a solid locker-room guy. And since Toronto has the roster spot to absorb a two-for-one deal, Boston would be free to bring in another backup point guard -- Damon Stoudamire, Eddie Gill and Doc Rivers fave Darrell Armstrong are available -- or wait to see if the Raptors, hoping to get a break on House's player option, negotiate a buyout with House.
This trade wouldn't preclude Boston from searching for a backup center, either. The Celtics could use the vacant roster spot created in the Kapono trade or cut Sam Cassell if a big man becomes available via buyout after the Feb. 19 trade deadline.
Steve Aschburner: Nope, not a concern. Not unless they actually lose the East's top seed to Cleveland or Orlando. Feeling a little pushed would be the best thing for Boston over the next three months or so, because the Celtics' focus would come so much more easily if they're not eight, nine, 10 lengths ahead of the field. If we can assume that playing harder and longer wouldn't cause a serious injury to a key guy, they then would be fine for the postseason. That's when old hunting dogs pick up the scent anew. So a little (not too much) adversity while getting from here to there would be a good thing.
4. Will the Thunder (4-30) lose 70 or more games?
Ian Thomsen: Just as it was premature to forecast a 70-win season for the Celtics, so is it alarmist to think Oklahoma City will lose that many. They'll soon add Nenad Krstic to their unproductive front line, they'll probably make a trade or two before the deadline, their young players should show improvement and their stubborn sellout crowds should rouse them to a few upsets at home as the rest of the league tires down the stretch.
Jack McCallum: Well, I'm gazing at the results of their last six games. They could've beaten both the Pistons and the Nuggets, two good teams, but played poorly in a game they could've won against the Wizards, losing by 104-95. Every time you think they've improved, they regress. I'm going to say they will not lose 70. But keep your eye on season-ending road games in Milwaukee, Portland and Los Angeles against the Clippers.
Chris Mannix: The Thunder are not this bad. Former coach P.J. Carlesimo set them back by playing Kevin Durant at shooting guard and letting the Thunder become undisciplined in his second year on the job. But I think the Thunder will be an improved team in the second half of the season. They are still going to experience the growing pains that come from having such young cornerstone players, but they are talented. Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook will start to jell, and if Krstic really is completely recovered from the knee injury that plagued him in New Jersey, his inside game fills a huge hole in the frontcourt. Don't expect miracles, but don't expect them to stay on this current pace, either.
Steve Aschburner: Losing 70 games is about as hard as winning 70 in the NBA. Especially when you'll be playing teams down the stretch -- Indiana, Charlotte, Milwaukee, L.A. Clippers -- that might have more to gain by losing on a given night than you do. The Thunder's spot near the bottom of the standings/top of the lottery should be pretty secure by the season's final weeks, while other teams maneuver for an extra ball or two in the hopper. I have seen teams tank and, believe me, there is an art to it, one more skill that might be beyond Oklahoma City's grasp this season.
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