Last Friday afternoon the Celtics held a “Chalk Talk” meeting for their season ticket holders. The event included MC Greg Dickerson and panelist guests Cedric Maxwell, Dana Barros, and Celtics Owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca. They shared their thoughts about the upcoming playoffs, the enigma that is Rasheed Wallace, the invaluable Rajon Rondo, why opponents are soundly beating their defense, Shelden Williams, Marquis Daniels and the hazy 2010 offseason. Oh, there was also a fun comparison between the 1984 and 2008 championship teams.
Wyc Grousbeck addressed the crowd first by discussing how excited the organization was about the playoffs. Along with everyone else, he stated that while they had a handful of disappointing games and didn’t win as much as he would have liked, they did accomplish their main goal of getting to the playoffs with everyone healthy. The biggest point of emphasis that the entire panel discussed, was the importance of the Celtics’ defense come playoff time.
It was almost as if they were doing their own version of that “Defense is the backbone” NBA commercial. It was evident that despite the many brutal losses this season (especially at home) that they all seemed VERY confident about their chances of winning the championship. Really, what else are they supposed to say?
When the session was opened for questions, one of the first things asked was what their plans are for this “older team” especially if they don’t win the title. Steve Pagliuca essentially avoided any speculation by issuing the stock reply of not wanting to comment on any pending free agents, draft picks or trades. He would only offer that: “Danny Ainge is working VERY hard every day to make sure this team is a contender every year.” None of them were hesitant to discuss how valuable Rondo is however.
There were a few hints dropped by Pagliuca that they are glad they re-signed Rondo when they did because now he’s looking like quite the bargain (Wyc nodded at his comments). When one fan claimed how much of a liability Rondo is at the end of games because of his poor free throw shooting, Dana Barros immediately cut him off by saying: “He wants the ball in his hands at the end of the game more than anyone on the team. He just has three hall-of-famers that also demand the ball. But Rondo definitely doesn’t shy away from the pressure and wants to take those shots.”
Wyc then interrupted Barros to address his free throw shooting: “You must understand that Rondo’s hands are so big that it’s like he’s shooting a tennis ball. But he’s out here every day shooting free throws for two hours per day.”
Pagliuca had his comments as well: “You know, Mark Price worked with Rajon last summer and he said it’s a 2-3 year process to change your shot. Remember, Andre Miller (PG for the Portland TrailBlazers) couldn’t shoot at all when he first came into the league, but now he’s very good”
While I knew Andre Miller’s shooting range was never great, I never thought his actual accuracy was bad. Doing some quick research, I think Mr. Pagliuca might want to choose a different player for comparison. In Miller’s first four seasons, his FT% was roughly 80.3%. His FG% was roughly 44.1%. By comparison, Rondo is shooting 63.1% on free throws and 49% from the field. Unless, of course, he meant his actual shooting form, which I could understand better to a certain extent.
Another fan asked the owners if they regretted the signing of one Rasheed Wallace. Pagliuca said that they definitely did not and explained how Sheed’s value will be fully determined during the playoffs. He also believes that when Sheed is on his game, playing solid defense and getting down in the low post, he will “win games for us.”
The Celtics defense was then brought into question. Another fan asked why so many teams seemingly figured out their defense, which used to be so dominant. Maxwell addressed this query by saying how opposing teams are scouting so well now and they’ve been using relatively the same schemes since 2008. “I want to see them change their philosophy a little bit from always rotating and trapping to going straight up man. Give the other teams something to think about, because right now it seems like they’ve got it figured out a lot easier.”
There were a couple of recurring questions regarding Shelden Williams and Marquis Daniels. One fan actually asked about Marquis “Grissom” but the panel was professional about the mishap and ignored it. Maxwell’s thoughts regarding Shelden seemed to echo the rest of the panel when he explained it this way: “Basically when you look at a guy like Shelden what you need to do is look at the guys that are playing ahead of him. You got KG, Sheed, Perk, Big Baby once he came back so it’s really just a depth issue for Shelden. But I will say this, the man is a professional and has ALWAYS made himself ready to play no matter what and has handled himself extremely well”
Pagliuca chimed in by saying: “Another thing that you need to realize is that Shelden is still adapting to the system and that just takes more time for some guys.”
As a group, were they “disappointed” in Marquis? Once again, Max offered up his thoughts: “Well Marquis started out playing so well but his thumb injury really set him back. I just think he was too tentative when he came back and lost some confidence out there. And the thing that you have to understand is that Doc will play the guys that he feels, will take his team to the next level.”
One of the lighter moments of the afternoon was when one fan asked Max if his 1984 team would beat the 2008 team in a seven game series. Here’s how the breakdown went:
Max: “We’d kick their ass! The ’08 team was faster and defended better but we would win.”
Greg Dickerson: “But Max, who defends KG?”
Max: “Well, answer me this: Who does HE defend? Larry? Robert? McHale? Back then it was just a tougher, tougher league. The ’08 team was tough but nowadays you got guys diving out of the way when a player drives to the lane just to avoid getting a foul, because any little touch will be a foul. It’s truly sad that nowadays the NCAA allows tougher play and tougher fouls than the NBA.”
When one fan asked if they were surprised about how well Tony Allen has suddenly been playing, Wyc only had this as a response: “TA… TA is one of the best teammates you can have on a team. He’s like Paul Pierce’s little brother (laughter).”
After the Q + A, they raffled off a pair of courtside tickets to game one of the first round playoff series. Then when the session broke, I asked around to gauge who they preferred to play in round one of the playoffs:
Pagliuca: “Well we don’t have any preference really, just that we’re healthy. But Milwaukee is looking better and better with the unfortunate injury to Bogut.”
Barros: “I think health is the main key right now and I don’t think they’ll have a tough time with anybody in the first series. But yeah, I would think the Bucks are (the team).”
Dickerson: “You know the players don’t care honestly because they’re very confident. They’re not afraid of any team of prefer to play one team over another. At least I haven’t heard them say anything definitively. Personally, I think Milwaukee makes the most sense.”
I asked a handful of the front office staff that were wandering around as well. While they said they can’t speak for the actual players or coaches, the chatter around the office is that Milwaukee is the preferred opponent. If Saturday night’s win in Milwaukee was any indication as to what the first round would look like, I have to agree with everyone else.