K.C. Jones may bear the name of a famous railroad engineer, but last year he acted more like a wise ship captain. When the Boston Celtic ship started to sink, Jones jumped overboard.
When Jones resigned last year as Celtic coach, he must have known the Celtics were in for a fall. But would even the most pessimistic of Celtic critics have predicted the team would be 8-8 and looking worse?
Today the Celtics travel to Chicago to face Michael Jordan, and the four players who pass him the ball. If the Celtics play at all like they did against Cleveland last Friday night--the final score was Cavaliers 112, Celtics 84--they will dip below .500 and find themselves in a struggle for fourth place in the Atlantic Division with the New Jersey Nets.
The Nets are improperly named. They should be called the New Jersey Backboards, because that's all they have hit recently.
Forward Larry Bird's injuries, which will keep him off the court for several months, have not helped the Celtics' cause. But Boston was struggling even with Bird in the line-up.
Last year the Celtics advanced to the finals of the Eastern Conference, where they fell to Detroit. Celtic management suggested the Celtics had two problems: a starting line-up made up of senior citizens and a weak bench.
Jimmy Rodgers, Jones' replacement, vowed to improve the Celtics, although he insisted on keeping the same crew. He would come in with new ideas about how the Celtics could win, he said.
Rodgers' ideas, as it turns out, revolve around an offense geared to the running game. The Celtics, formerly a team designed around a half-court offense, would have to run in order to succeed, Rodgers said.
Rodgers' decision to go with a running game is the equivalent of a poker player discarding a pair of aces in hopes of picking up a couple of 2s.
Rodgers is running his veterans, tiring them out and making it necessary to use his bench. Grind down Kevin McHale. Bring on Mark Acres. Wear out Dennis Johnson. Send in Reggie Lewis.
It's athletic suicide.
The Celtics problems are deeper than Rodgers' misguided ideas. No matter how you align them on the court or how fast you insist they play, the Celtics are still old. Their bench is still weak.
Last year they did all they could to reach the Eastern Conference finals. This year, a year older, a year more tired, they will be lucky to get the home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
The Beat Generation
The present Celtic cast is good enough to record a few more decent years, a few more playoff appearances. But it will never reach the NBA finals.