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Older but not better, Celtics keep the faith

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo Sports
Older but not better, Celtics keep the faith
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Kevin Garnett says he's beginning to move better and hopes to push past his knee problems

With their own stars aging and limping, the Boston Celtics just watched the Cleveland Cavaliers, owners of the NBA’s best record, deliver former All-Star forward Antawn Jamison(notes) to LeBron James(notes). The Celtics’ two other big threats in the East – the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic – have combined to beat them seven of eight times. And even the Celtics’ win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday came attached with an asterisk: Kobe Bryant(notes) didn’t play and Boston won by a single point.

With each passing week, more and more people are finding more and more reasons to dismiss the Celtics. The seemingly few people who don’t doubt the Celtics’ ability to win a championship are the Celtics themselves.

“Whoever has jumped off the bandwagon, stay off,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “But I like this team.”

So did a lot of other people three months ago. With Kevin Garnett(notes) looking like he was on the mend from the knee problems that sidelined him through last season’s playoffs, Boston strengthened its depth by signing Rasheed Wallace(notes) and Marquis Daniels(notes). Wallace immediately declared Boston could win 70 games. Many of the Celtics seemed to think this season’s roster was better than their 2008 championship, and their 20-4 start appeared to support that theory.

Since then, however, Boston has gone 14-14. Asked to compare these Celtics to the 2008 champs, Lakers forward Pau Gasol(notes) said: “Three years older and three years later.”

Gasol’s math might be a little off, but he’s clearly hesitant about labeling the Celtics as a legitimate title contender. “They have to prove it themselves,” Gasol said. “It’s going to be tough. They got Orlando. They got Atlanta. They’ve struggled against Atlanta this year and got swept there. They got Cleveland, of course. You can make your own conclusions there.”

The Celtics blame most of their struggles on injuries. Garnett, still recovering from off-season knee surgery, has missed 11 games. Paul Pierce(notes) has missed seven games and is still slowed by a foot injury. Ray Allen(notes) is battling back spasms. Daniels has missed 29 games, Glen Davis(notes) 28. Tony Allen(notes) has sat out 21. Practice days for Boston often become little more than shooting sessions.

“When you don’t work together a lot, it’s going to break,” Rivers said. “You can see the slippage long before the drought came.

“We’re not close to where we want to be, but we are working on it and we are going to get there.”

Pierce is among those who believe that only health is holding back the Celtics. Garnett, the team’s top concern, is averaging 14.2 points and 7.3 rebounds, pedestrian numbers by his usual All-Star standards. But, he, too, thinks he’ll improve.

“My movement has been a lot better than it has been,” Garnett said. “…Hopefully, Mother Nature and Father Time come visit me soon in a good way.”

Of course, the other knock on the Celtics is that Father Time is gaining too quickly on them. Pierce, Garnett and Allen are 32, 33 and 34, respectively. Wallace is 35 and has played like it.

“You read, ‘They’re too old. They’re too old.’ Y’all always hear that now,” Rivers said. “Orlando and Cleveland, that’s all you hear now.

“I think that’s good for us. We know who we are and we believe it.”

The Celtics’ struggles only increased speculation the team was prepared to make a major move before Thursday’s trade deadline. Boston did acquire New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson(notes) and rookie forward Marcus Landry(notes) in exchange for Eddie House(notes), J.R. Giddens(notes) and Bill Walker(notes), but held onto Allen after exploring trade options for him. Allen even sent out a message on his Facebook page to calm worried family and friends.

Rivers tried to cut the tension Thursday morning when he told a few players he needed to meet with them. The players walked up to Rivers thinking they had been traded.

House, of course, didn’t consider this year’s deadline a joke. Not after he was sent to New York for Robinson. The Celtics’ hope is that Robinson, who resurfaced after spending a month in Mike D’Antoni’s doghouse in New York, can give them some scoring off the bench, in addition to defense and energy.

“He gives us speed, No. 1,” Rivers said. “…The answer is yes, he definitely makes us better.”

Lakers coach Phil Jackson, however, didn’t seem quite as sure.

“I have a great respect for House’s game,” Jackson said. “I just don’t know what you’re going to improve on that with an incredible shooter and the skill that [House] has. House has a strike factor in his game that can really affect a team.”

While the Cavaliers drew more attention for acquiring Jamison, the Celtics don’t mind. With a little luck – and a lot more health – they plan to be back in the thick of the title hunt.

“They’re a loaded team and they have the best record in the NBA,” Pierce said of the Cavs. “But we’re not worried about them right now. There will come a time where we are worried about them, but right now we are focused on us.”


Ford trade grounded

The Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Bobcats had serious talks about a trade that would have sent T.J. Ford(notes) and Brandon Rush(notes) to Charlotte for D.J. Augustin(notes), Nazr Mohammed(notes) and Gerald Henderson(notes). Ford, sources said, was convinced the deal was going to be completed – so much so that he started dancing in front of his teammates before the Pacers’ flight was supposed to take off.

Ford, who was understandably hoping for a trade after being relegated to a limited role in Indiana, didn’t get his wish. After the deadline passed, Ford’s dancing stopped and he boarded the plane looking somewhat dejected. “Sorry but trade rumors was just trade talk,” Ford tweeted. “Still a PACER!!!!”


Suns offer Stoudemire to Rockets

On the eve of the trade deadline, the Phoenix Suns told Amar’e Stoudemire(notes) they would likely keep him. They also still tried to trade him.

An NBA source said the Suns made an 11th-hour effort to send the All-Star to the Houston Rockets for forwards Shane Battier(notes) and Luis Scola(notes) and a draft pick. The offer surprised the Rockets, who passed because they were worried about Stoudemire leaving as a free agent this summer.

League sources still expect the Miami Heat to be Stoudemire’s top suitor this summer if he opts out of the final $17.7 million season of his contract.


Jamison could stretch Cavs’ title hopes

Antawn Jamison’s deep-range shooting is one of the biggest reasons why the Cavs were so attracted to him – and why, Cleveland coach Mike Brown said, Jamison will not only fit well with LeBron James, but also Shaquille O’Neal(notes).

Brown said the Cavs hope to use Jamison the way Shaq’s former employers used the likes of Robert Horry(notes), Rick Fox, Antoine Walker(notes) and Horace Grant.

Jamison “can stretch the defense. He can drive when they close out on him or when someone sits in Shaq’s lap,” Brown said. “They will prosper together.”

Horry and Fox both offered some advice for how Jamison should play with O’Neal. Communication, Horry said, is important.

“He has to learn Shaq,” Horry said. “Shaq is easy to play with and will make him better. Nine out of 10 times, they will double Shaq. You dump the ball into Shaq and cut. You’ll get a dunk or lay-up or a spot-up three. There are so many things he can do for you.

“It’s beneficial if they use [Jamison] properly. Don’t limit him to a shooter.”

Fox said Shaq will also help Jamison defensively.

“You don’t want to be careless in your defensive presence, but know that he’s back there,” Fox said. “Use him as a massive addition to your game defensively.”


Goodwin’s investment paid off

Nate Robinson’s agent Aaron Goodwin took some heat after the NBA fined him $25,000 in late December for publicly demanding a trade for his client. At the time, Robinson hadn’t played in 12 consecutive games and Goodwin claimed the benching by New York Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni was personal.

D’Antoni denied he had a rift with Robinson, saying then he would even play “Satan” if it would help the Knicks win.

With the Knicks struggling to make a shot in the third quarter of a Dec. 17 loss to the Chicago Bulls, D’Antoni kept Robinson on the bench. Goodwin took it as a strong indication Robinson didn’t have a future in New York.

“D’Antoni did not even look Nate’s way, which … sent a clear message to me that he had no intention to play Nate Robinson anytime soon,” Goodwin wrote in an email to Yahoo! Sports on Dec. 19. “Nate, despite whatever shortcomings coach D’Antoni may think that he has, is not Satan, but can clearly score.”

A day later, Knicks president Donnie Walsh said he would probably begin trade talks with Goodwin. Goodwin’s request eventually worked: The Knicks sent Robinson and rookie Marcus Landry to the Boston Celtics for Eddie House, J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker.

Robinson’s contract calls for him to get a $1 million bonus for making the playoffs – something that was looking less and less likely had he stayed with the Knicks. Considering the huge windfall Robinson is about to land, Goodwin can stomach the $25,000 fine.

“My job is to get my player to a place that is beneficial for him,” Goodwin said. “It was beneficial for us to get Nate in Boston. I hope Nate and his family feels the same way.

“Sometimes people don’t understand the job you have to do. Sometimes you have to tick some people off to get the job done.”