Playoff Props – What’s up Doc?

Glenn "Doc" RiversAfter another surpisingly out-of-synch playoff performance on the road by the Boston Celtics, Celtics coach Doc Rivers finds his team in a difficult situation with its starting point guard, 21-year-old Rajon Rondo. Rondo finished with zero assists in Game 3 against the Cavaliers on Sunday and was thoroughly outplayed by the Cavs' Delonte West.

Rondo's not ready to help the Celtics win it all; that was all too clear Saturday night. On Doc's bench is the answer: the clown prince of NBA guards, Sam "I Am" Cassell, offensive genius. Yet Rivers has been slow to pull Rondo when things are going badly.

At one point in the 3rd Quarter of Saturday night's game, the ABC cameras found West on defense, playing one of the saggiest one-man zones I've seen in the NBA. He wasn't even guarding Rondo, clogging the paint instead to make life difficult for KG and Paul Pierce. As the minutes passed, the Celtics struggled to cut the lead to 15, then watched it fall back to 20. No team in the NBA would dare to not guard Sam Cassell. Yet Sam sat. Rivers finally went to Cassell at the start of the fourth quarter and the Celtics pulled to within 12, but could get no closer.

With Rondo in the game, Paul Pierce fought for shots and Ray Allen scarcely shot at all, turning playmaker when he did get the ball. Unselfish play by Ray, but that's what Rondo should have been doing, instead of driving the ball at Big Ben Wallace, Z-Ilgauskus and Lebron James. Is Rivers worried about deflating Rondo's confidence in the playoffs? Or is it a team chemistry thing because Sam is the new guy? Whatever the case, Rivers has been far too much of a players' coach where Rondo is concerned, and it's part of the reason the Atlanta series went to seven games.

It doesn't seem to matter when the Celtics are playing in the Garden, but on the road, Rivers has to be quicker to go to Sam when the offense is struggling. If Sam, at 38, wears down, go back to Rondo, but don't give Rondo the reins in the 3rd Quarter on the road — unless Doc is willing to sacrifice a championship for an "experience" playoffs for Rondo. If the Celtics fall short of the NBA Finals (they're by no means a shoe-in for conference finals) Rivers failure to make game adjustments will be the first thing called into question.

Trust in Sam, Doc. You won't be sorry.

Steady rollin' Joe   The Celtics-Cavs series is THE one for Bucks fans. There are future Bucks to watch in Cleveland's Danny Gibson and Wally Szczerbiak ( I finally spelled it right – I think) — How you doing on that Michael Redd, trade, Lebron?  And there are ex-Bucks to watch in Ray and Sam "I Am", and, coming off the Cleveland bench, Joe Smith (Damon Jones is on that bench too, but rarely leaves it).

Joe had a steady-rollin' game Saturday – 24 minutes, 17 points on 7/8 shooting, 6 rebounds, 4 fouls.  Smith made a couple of more shots than he normally would, but as Bucks fans know, his game was not that different than it ever was. Smith doesn't force anything, takes good shots, rebounds, plays D and gives his team a chance to win, though he won't be "the guy" winning it.

Smith, 32, came to the Bucks from the T-Wolves in the 2003 trade for Sam Cassell and Ervin Johnson. It was Ernie Grunfeld's last trade as GM, which coincided with the drafting of point guard T.J. Ford. Two weeks later, the woeful era of GM Larry Harris began. Smith started at power forward for two years, averaging 11 pts., 8 boards per game (which makes him one of the more productive power forwards in Bucks history). The following year, Smith came off the bench behind Jamal Magliore and Andrew Bogut, but was hobbled with injuries for much of the year – no doubt the effects of the Bob Boozer Jinx at work again at the Bucks PF position.

"Slickless" Larry eventually traded Smith to Denver for forward Ruben Patterson in Aug., 2006, trade #5 in a series of six dubious Larry trades that left Charlie Villanueva as the only player resource standing. Apparently Harris, never known for his patience, didn't feel like waiting for Smith to fully rehab his knee. The Bucks let Patterson go to the LA Clippers as a free agent in 1997.

In other words, in true Slickless style, the Bucks got nothing for Joe Smith. By the transitive property of the tradelines, this also means the Bucks got nothing for Sam Cassell, who, when he was traded for Smith in 2003 was under contract with the Bucks for another three seasons (at about $6 million per year) — and should not have been traded at all.

What if the Bucks kept Sam?  Instead of drafting T.J., the Bucks draft a forward in 2003 (say, David West). Terry Porter, in his first year as coach, has a leader on the floor in Sam (who was 2nd Team All-NBA 2003-04), and a developing big forward instead of injury prone Smith. Michael Redd's development as a scorer is more natural and team-oriented, and Redd never becomes the black hole or the $51 million, three-year contract problem that he is now. Sam controls the offense; Redd's contract extension doesn't get insane. Tim Thomas is happier (for a while anyway), the Bucks win more and there's less for Slickless Larry to foul up in 2005. Terry Porter keeps his job. Let's stop there, as it's beginning to look like this topic would be better as a post of its own.

In the meantime, Sam "I Am" fans have the Celtics-Cavs series, and Joe Smith and Ray Allen too.

And there's this, which I found whilst surfing around today. It's samcassellonline.org, the unofficial Sam Cassell website, created by a few of the LA Clippers faithful. Now that's good stuff.

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