What’s wrong with the Celtics?

The Christmas Day loss to the Lakers was understandable. And maybe even the next night’s loss to the Warriors was forgivable, since it the second of back-to-back games and Oakland is always a tough place to play. But what about consecutive losses to the Knicks and the Bobcats, each with a day’s rest beforehand? After racing out to the best start in league history, the Celtics are now 2-5 in their last seven, and have lost back-to-back games to teams with a combined record of 26-42. Ouch.

It’s tough to be the defending champs, because every night you’re going to get your opponent’s maximum effort. It’s also important to note that all five of those losses were road games, and it can be tough to win on the road in the NBA, especially when you have a big bull’s eye painted on your back.

A quick look at the Celtics’ season stats reveals a few things:

1. Other than Eddie House, they don’t have a legitimate three-point threat on their bench. This is an area where they miss James Posey (along with what he brought to the table defensively).

2. Glen Davis is shooting 37% from the field, which is absolutely dreadful for a power forward. Despite bigger minutes, his points and rebounds are down. Not good.

3. Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins are holding up to their end of the deal. Rondo is averaging 11.1 points, 7.6 assists and 4.9 rebounds a game, and he’s fourth in the league in steals. He is quickly developing into one of the best all-around point guards in the league. Perkins hasn’t made as big of a leap, but he’s a few minutes away from averaging a double-double. Right now he’s at 8.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest.

Given how important James Posey was to the Celtics’ title run, we knew heading into the season that it was a big risk to let the Hornets sign him away. He brought solid defense and good three-point shooting, which are two things that are lacking on the Boston bench right now. The C’s are toying with the idea of bringing Stephon Marbury in for a trial run (if he ever agrees to a buyout with the Knicks), and he would provide some long-range punch off the bench. I don’t see a lot of other options for the Celtics, considering they don’t have a substantial expiring contract or tradeable players. Garnett and Pierce are untouchable, and the team can’t do without Ray Ray’s outside shooting. Rondo is too good and he would leave a gaping hole at point guard, and the same goes for Perkins in the middle. What are the C’s going to get for House, Tony Allen or Glen Davis? Leon Powe would be good trade bait, but the Celtics need his toughness and rebounding off the bench. Besides, it’s doubtful that Danny Ainge would make any major changes to this group since it got them to the Promised Land last season.

I don’t think this 2-5 stretch is a sign that the Celtics aren’t for real. They are. The NBA season is a grind and they’ll be there at the end. It’s going to be interesting to see how they play at home tonight against a good Houston team and then on Friday at Cleveland.

Thursday (1/8) Update: The Rockets did indeed beat the Celtics in Boston.

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Starbury’s downside blown out of proportion?

Peter May of HoopsHype.com writes that if the Celtics decide to sign Stephon Marbury, it might not be such a bad thing.

While I am not a big Marbury fan – and I believe I am in the majority on this – I have trouble seeing a downside to him coming to the Celtics. You have to think he would be willing to accept a backup role – if he isn’t, it’s ‘end of discussion’ – and would be on his best behavior. If he decides to go into Knucklehead Mode, well, that’s what waivers are for. The Celtics wouldn’t eat more than a veteran minimum guarantee, pro-rated.

Ever since James Posey signed with New Orleans last summer and PJ Brown retired, apparently for good this time, the Celtics have known they need to bulk up their bench. While Marbury does not address one need – size – he does address a number of others.

He can handle the ball. That was a concern last year as well, which led to the February signing of Sam Cassell. The Celtics re-signed Cassell, but he still has yet to play this season. The other point guard options – Eddie House, Gabe Pruitt – are either out-of-position players (House) or still raw around the edges for the playoffs (Pruitt.)

Marbury also can, as they say these days, score the ball. Having a reliable scorer in the second unit has been a problem for the Celtics all season. One night Tony Allen looks like he’ll be the guy. The next night he looks the guy who the Celtics refused to extend last summer and whose mere presence on the court last spring inspired dread and fear in Celtics fans.

Marbury also would be insurance if one of the guards got hurt. (The Celtics’ three guard-small forward starters have yet to miss a game this season.) Plus, if he did come in and play well, the Celtics could consider him down the road, as one of the issues on the horizon is that Ray Allen’s deal expires after the 2009-10 season. While Marbury and Allen were taken in the same draft (1996), and, in fact, traded for each other that day, Marbury is two years younger.

The behavior question is really moot. Think Randy Moss and the New England Patriots. The Celtics have a strong locker room and there is no way that Danny Ainge would foist Marbury on his coach or his team without running it by all of them.

This is a well thought out piece, unlike a lot of the “he’s a cancer” arguments I’ve been seeing these days. I’m no fan of Marbury either, but as May writes (and as I wrote last week) there is very little downside to the C’s rolling the dice. The bench is thinner than a year ago and the Lakers have added Andrew Bynum. Boston needs to get better and Marbury, if he behaves (which he has shown that he can do…in spurts), then he can help this team.

The bottom line is that with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen the culture in that locker room is too strong to let him become a distraction. If it doesn’t work out in the first couple of months, the team can cut him and (probably) won’t be any worse for the wear. But I think it would work out, and Marbury would be on the road to rehabbing his career. Mind you, I’m not saying that he will successfully rehab the career, but that he has the potential of completing the first step — helping the Boston Celtics.

Recent losses have Celtics thinking Starbury

ESPN is reporting that the Boston Celtics are interested in making a deal with Stephon Marbury if he can ever come to terms on a buyout with the Knicks.

That still depends largely on Marbury’s ability to negotiate his release from the Knicks after weeks of fruitless and oft-contentious buyout talks, but sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com this week that Boston is Marbury’s preferred destination if he manages to become a free agent and that the Celtics are indeed hopeful of signing him.

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge did not immediately respond to a request for comment on a New Year’s Day holiday for the entire league and has generally refused to address the possibility of signing Marbury. Yet it’s believed that the Celtics’ concerns about their depth, after losing James Posey and P.J. Brown from last season’s title team, have swelled noticeably since they followed up the best 29-game start in NBA history at 27-2 by losing three of the next four games on the road.

Boston also knows it would have the option to simply release Marbury without significant salary-cap consequences if he fails to click as a backup or proves unwilling to accept a secondary role.

It appears that the biggest obstacle to such a move is Marbury actually securing a buyout from the Knicks in a timely fashion as opposed to reservations Boston might have about Marbury’s impact on team chemistry.

Although it has been widely assumed that Celtics forward Kevin Garnett would resist a reunion with the controversial point guard — after Marbury broke up their Minnesota partnership following less than three seasons together by forcing a trade to New Jersey — one Celtics source insists that Garnett has voiced no opposition to the idea of signing Marbury for the rest of the season to strengthen Boston’s backcourt depth behind starters Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen.

When asked specifically about the likelihood of Marbury joining the Celtics this season, the source predicted that “it will happen.”

Joining the NBA’s reigning champions would certainly back up Marbury’s recent claim at halftime of a Knicks-Lakers game in Los Angeles that “the team I’m going to go to, a lot of people will be shocked.”

The move to Boston would surely add some drama to the playoff race in the East. It’s always fascinating to see how troubled stars fare in new environments and Marbury’s potential move to Boston would be no different. The Celtics interest in Marbury is a direct reflection on how they feel about Eddie House and Tony Allen coming off their bench. Marbury would definitely take a reserve role if he lands in Boston.

The problem here seems to be with Marbury’s inability to negotiate a buyout with the Knicks. This is pure speculation, but he has stated that he wants his full salary for this season. This is shortsighted as his value this summer (as a free agent) depends heavily on how the rest of the year plays out. If he stays in New York and doesn’t play, what’s the best offer he’s going to get this summer? At that point he’d be a troublesome 32 year-old, shoot-first point guard.

However, if he agrees to a buyout, lands in Boston and shows he can play well with others, he stands to benefit next summer in the form of a bigger (and potentially longer) contract. The downside for the Celtics is low because if he brings the headache to Beantown, they can cut him without much damage to their salary cap.

Now that the holidays are over, I’d expect the Knicks and Marbury to move on a buyout. It’ll be interesting to watch this story develop over the next few weeks.

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