Monday, February 21, 2005

You’ve come a long way, baby:

It’s been a long time, 1996 to be exact, that spring training in Fort Myers didn’t include the two one-name superstars: Nomar & Pedro. Sure, we could mix in Mo, Manny, and Papi and Curt last year, but Pedro and Nomar were THE face of the franchise for so long.

Yes, we all loved Nomar. Sure, he wore out his welcome the past few years, but prior to his wrist injury I remember watching him and thinking, "So this must be what it was like watching Ted Williams." He played the game right. We’d argue all night about who you wanted at shortstop: Jeter, A-Rod, or Nomar (or, if you were a demented Indians fan, Omar Vizquel). He was everything that was right with baseball. He was California kid making it big in Boston, just like Teddy Ballgame. Heck, Teddy loved Nomar. With the nose of Yaz, the cannon-arm at shortstop, the ability to go deep in the hole like no one else in the game, that sweet, smooth swing from the right-side of the plate like DiMaggio, he was the Boston Red Sox (sorry, Mo Vaughn, but once Nomar arrived you were second fiddle, as evidenced by your not so subtle push out the door to Anaheim.)

Of course, what no one in Boston is going to be able to comprehend until it’s over (like the Celtics dynasty), but for the past twenty years Boston has been home to arguably the most dominant right-handed pitcher in the game: Roger Clemens to Pedro Martinez to Curt Schilling. A masterpiece performed live or on television once a week during the season for the past twenty years. The feeling that every time he was on the mound you could see a twenty strikeout game, a no-hitter, a shutout, or a totally dominant performance with the crowd up on their feet every time there was two out and two strikes on the batter. It was electric every time. That’s truly amazing.

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I think I’ve graded out the Celtics enough in the past few weeks that I don’t need to do a Report Card like Mark Murphy in the Herald on Friday (I’ll give the Herald credit, at least they acknowledge that the Celtics exist. The Globe has Shira Springer, a good writer on the C’s beat, but you can never find anything on the Celts in the paper.). I’ll give out his grades and where I agree or disagree:

Tony Allen – B. I’d say an A. A starting swingman out of a late 1st round pick? That’s an A-plus right there. Allen has been a little inconsistent, disappearing for long periods of time, but he’s much better than advertised or even hoped for by anyone.

Marcus Banks – D. I guess a D is fair. I’d say F except for that one good game he had where he put up twenty points. D it is.

Mark Blount – D. Well, this is an F. If only for the sick amount of cash heading into his pocket. Blount has looked a little better lately, but he’s still not the player he was last year. Trade him to O’Brien in Philadelphia, he always loved Blount. A first-round pick and an expiring contract—I think Philly would do it.

Ricky Davis – A. Let’s say a B+. I think the A comes from the expectation of the media that Ricky Davis would be running around the court with cocaine frothing out of his eyeballs with an axe. Potential sixth-man of the year, sure that’s a solid B+ season.

Al Jefferson – B. If he hadn’t been injured, it’d be an A. Still; he was supposed a reach in the first round, a project, someone that may contribute three years down the line. Instead, he’s the C’s first big man superstar in diapers since Kevin McHale in 1980. I’ll say B+.

Raef LaFrentz – B+. I’ll have to admit that my son, all the age of 2 when LaFrentz arrived last year, was the first person on his bandwagon. Since the beginning of this season, it’s getting pretty crowded. LaFrentz has been superb on the glass (at least, defensive rebounds) and his long-range shot is still deadly accurate. Healthy, he has performed as advertised. I say A-.

Gary Payton – A. Another solid "performed as advertised". Certainly there were questions about Payton after last year’s disastrous season with the Lakers, but Payton consistently pushes the ball downcourt and knows when pass and when to shoot. I say A-.

Kendrick Perkins – B. I think any production out of Perkins is a huge plus for the team. Of course, he probably gets unfairly compared to rookie sensation Al Jefferson, but Jefferson’s game is so far ahead of Perkins right now that it seems unfair to compare the two. The question becomes are Perkins and Jefferson going to be Parish and McHale or like Chicago’s unimpressive big young duo of Curry and Chandler? The Celtics will give Perkins time to get ready to play. Ainge knew he was taking on a project in Perkins, and knew that any results would be a positive. He’s a B-.

Paul Pierce – C. Paul Pierce, bringing his A game on offense and defense every night would have the Celtics ten games over .500 at this point. He’s often disappeared on defense, and continued to remind everyone of his buddy Antoine Walker on offense. That said, in the past two weeks he’s really turned his game around and has actually started looking like the pierce of old. If this continues, it’s a huge positive for the Celtics. Maybe he just needed time to get used to Doc Rivers after playing primarily in the same system with Pitino/O’Brien/Carroll. Time will tell. He’s a C+ this season so far.

Jiri Welsch – C-. Jiri, another of my son’s favorites seems lost on this team. I’m not sure why they’re not taking advantage of his abilities to be another point guard on the floor at the swingman position, but I have to believe a lot of it has to do with Jiri. He’s still young and not worth giving up on yet, especially if there’s a chance to trade Payton at the deadline and move Pierce for a point guard. Whatever the reason, he’s been a disappointment on the court. D+.

Tom Gugliotta, Justin Reed, Delonte West – Incomplete. I’d agree here. Googs looked ok early on, but spent most of the season on injured reserve. Reed I couldn’t pick out of a lineup. Delonte West, when he’s been on the court, has looked great. Of course, it’s the whole problem of him being on the court, which makes for the incomplete grade. West, in limited time, has vaulted ahead of Banks already in the "future point guard" contest. It will be interesting to see how much time West gets on the floor with the regulars down the stretch.

Doc Rivers – B. Doc’s done well. He hasn’t got Pierce to the top of his game yet, but that appears to be a work in progress. He’s been playing the youngsters a lot, which is a plus. He doesn’t seem to be afraid to draw up a play at the end of the game for the hot shooter, instead of automatically letting Pierce fire a wild shot against double coverage. He has turned Ricky Davis from malcontent to sixth-player of the year nominee. He has the team hustling and running down the court—a huge plus considering how boring the team was in the O’Brien era. Good job, Doc. Keep up the good work. I say B+.

Danny Ainge – B+. Let’s just get it out of the way early, he traded away Walter McCarty. That’s an A in my book if he got a bag of balls for him, let alone a 2nd round pick. Picking up Jefferson, West, and Tony Allen in the draft is huge. West, of course, makes up for the wasted 1st round pick on Marcus Banks in 2003: really, the only big black mark on Ainge’s tenure so far. (As I said at the time, trading Antoine was, is, and will always be a huge step towards moving the team forward and away from the disastrous Pitino era.) I’d like to see Ainge trade away Pierce and Payton now that they still have value, but I don’t think he’d tank the season this year where there’s a chance they can end up a number three seed this year. Solid B+.

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