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The Celtics hit the All-Star break 15-17, and are clinging on to the eight-seed in the Eastern Conference. How does Mannix evaluate the Celtics’ performance to this point in the season, and what has gone wrong?
“Where do you start? There are so many problems with this team it is hard to really pinpoint just one,” said Mannix. “They’re a team that is a playoff team in the Eastern Conference, but the way that the front court has regressed, the fact they don’t have that physical presence in the middle anymore — that kind of muscle, intensity that Kendrick Perkins provided — the fact they don’t have any discernible sixth man who can come in and give you the offense you need off the bench. There is just one problem after another with this team that really makes you wonder if they’ll get out of the first round at this point.”
Although some may see point guard Rajon Rondo as an issue, Mannix said that is not the case.
“The point guard isn’t the problem. Rondo is the biggest asset on this team at this point,” he said. “I agree with you he does have to grow up. Throwing the ball at a referee is something that is intolerable in 7th grade, much less in an NBA level. I think the frustrations of this season, the weight Rondo has had to carry with this team, contributed to some of that stuff in Detroit the other night. He’s had to take on a much more expanded role offensively with this team, and that factors in. It’s not an excuse for the way he behaved, and you can’t afford to lose a guy like that for two games, not in a season where very game counts.”
The NBA trade deadline is March 15, but Mannix does not see the Celtics making any moves. While Danny Ainge would love to move one of his expiring contracts in Ray Allen or Kevin Garnett, there may not be many takers, or ones willing to give up what Ainge desires.
“Danny is looking for the type of deal that will garner him an equal expiring contract and a draft pick. You’re not going to get that for any of these guys,” said Mannix, nothing this coming draft is one of the best in recent history. “Teams aren’t just going to relinquish draft picks to Boston. They’re going to have to ride it out with the group that they have. Maybe they can pry a big man away via a smaller deal. If Eric Dampier finds his way out of Atlanta, they can take a flyer on him.”
While is does not look great for the Celtics in the present, Mannix says a rebuiling year that includes Pierce and Rondo is not a bad way to start. It also helps that Allen, Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal are all coming off the books at the end of the season.
“That’s going to clear $37.5 million off the cap. You’ve got two draft picks in the first round. You’ve got Pierce and Rondo under contract. When you look at a building team, that’s not a bad package to have,” said Mannix. “If you can go out and try to be a player in free agency — you’re not going to get Dwight Howard — but if you can get some guys in free agency, you have a chance to rebuild this faster than other teams would. I think that’s the direction the Celtics are heading.”