February 19, 2010
It's understandable why Nate Robinson(notes) might turn some off. You don't have to suffer him gladly. You don't have to sit through the preening, the broken plays, the dunk contest silliness, the shoot-at-your-own-basket craziness in silence. The guy has issues.
But he can also play, play well and contribute to a good team. And he also had to suffer through the indignity of a needless benching from Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni this season.
It was a pointless move, inarticulate and artless, the basketball version of the silent treatment given when a well-placed and cogent comment would do. Robinson hung through it, though, and came out of the benching a better player.
This isn't why we have high hopes for Robinson. It adds to our views on him, slightly, but we're not giving him extra points for working though D'Antoni's odd choice. Nor are we handing him credit because of his size.
We're handing him credit because he can score efficiently, start and run the break, defend when his head's on straight, and help a pro basketball team win.
On the Celtics? That's a toughie. This could very well feel like an actor we hold in high regard providing a cameo on a sitcom we hold in the same esteem. How would John Turturro look on the set of "Parks and Recreation?" Not sure. Then again, imagine "30 Rock" or "Community" without Alec Baldwin or Chevy Chase. It could swing both ways and, yes, I'm only able to watch television on Thursday nights.
The C's need help in every offensive area, though. The D is sound, despite the team's age, and adding Robinson's rebounding and deflection ability should help that somewhat. It's on the offensive end that this team needs help, badly, and the squad could use a minutes-sopper. Nate can be that guy.
Because Tony Allen(notes), hurt now and unhelpful usually, isn't the answer. Nobody thought Marquis Daniels(notes) was the answer, but we did see him as a guy who could provide average production at two or three positions for half a game, and he hasn't even been able to contribute that. And if Doc Rivers will allow it, the C's can trot out a small lineup that could give opponents fits on both ends.
Nate and Rajon Rondo(notes) in the backcourt, Ray Allen(notes) and Paul Pierce(notes) at the forwards, with any combination of Kevin Garnett(notes), Rasheed Wallace(notes), Shelden Williams(notes) or Kendrick Perkins(notes) at a pivot or (in the case of the first two) spaced-out stretch situation with Pierce down low offensively. Even with his gimmicky height, Robinson provides so many options, especially with all the C's that can switch to (offensively) or guard different positions. I mean, would you trust Rajon Rondo to guard Vince Carter(notes)? To force Vince into the post (something he wants nothing to do with)? Of course you would.
Losing Eddie House(notes) is tough. He was often the biggest reason for those 12-2 runs to finish the third quarter, little things that lead to big mistakes that lead to a Celtics' lead going from four to 14 in no time at all. That said, Nate's 3-point accuracy is just a few ticks off from House's this season. And though I've no particular fondness for the Celtics above any other team, the more I type about this addition, the giddier I get. Nate Robinson on the Boston Celtics could be a fantastic thing.
Most of the ex-jock analysis behind the deal centers not around Nate's propensity for knuckleheadedness, but around the fact that the Celtics, as presently constructed, aren't perfect. That they should have done something else. Another trade, another deal. Charles Barkley and Jalen Rose(notes) won't tell us what deal they should have done with any sort of specificity, of course, but they will tell you that something's missing.
Something's missing, all right. And the Cavs will have holes on either end and the Lakers have no bench and the Magic don't defend or penetrate like they did last season and the Celtics are right there with all of them. You don't pass on trading Ray Allen just because "he's Ray Allen, you can't trade Ray Allen," but with what was available, and so many roles to buttress just to make the Celtics close to perfect again -- guess what? You can't trade Ray Allen.
Because you can't trade Ray Allen for any amount of players that will replace his shooting, help Kevin Garnett's ability to finish, trick Rasheed Wallace's brain into thinking that he's Elvin Hayes (and not Matt Bullard), knock four years off of Paul Pierce's odometer, add four years to Rajon Rondo's odometer, while sprinkling all sorts of versatile depth on the bench. Ray Allen has a nice expiring contract, but you can't trade him for, say, three-quarters of the 2004 Detroit Pistons. Though we don't doubt that, sometime next December, Larry Brown will try to.
Instead, for relatively little, the Celtics picked up one of this league's most versatile talents. Someone who appears brighter and more curious in person than his game (refined on one of the dumber teams in NBA history) would suggest. This cat can play. And he has a history of performing quite well, under pressure, in a green uniform.
It's not the perfect deal, and Robinson is far from the perfect person or player. But it can help. It can really, really help.