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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Celtics Sinking in Wake of Marbury Signing

It is early in the Stephon Marbury experiment for the Celtics but, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, it is getting late early in Boston--at least in terms of trying to obtain the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics have gone 4-4 since signing Marbury and are currently 3.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs have won five straight games and nine of their last 10; if they maintain their .803 winning percentage the rest of the way then the Celtics would have to go undefeated in their 15 remaining games to have a chance to catch them. Barely a week ago, some commentators overreacted to Boston's home win versus Cleveland and proclaimed that the Celtics would capture the top seed in the East. I saw things differently, declaring, "I think that the Cavs unofficially clinched the best record in the East as soon as the ink dried on Marbury's Boston contract." At this point, the Celtics not only have little realistic chance to pass the Cavs but they are in a dog fight with the Orlando Magic, who have creeped to within a half game of seizing the second seed.

Obviously, Boston's decline is not entirely Marbury's fault. Kevin Garnett has been out of the lineup for 11 games due to injury, Rajon Rondo missed two games because of a sprained ankle and some other rotation players are also banged up. However, people who thought that signing Marbury was a good move for Boston asserted two things: his talent would enable him to make a positive contribution and there was no downside for Boston because if Marbury caused any kind of problem the Celtics would just cut him loose. The Celtics went 17-4 in their first 21 games sans Garnett last season and this season, meaning that they have lost as many games without Garnett during the brief "Marbury era" as they did over the previous year and a half.

Marbury has been amazingly unproductive, averaging 3.4 ppg, 2.9 apg and 1.9 tpg while shooting just .317 from the field. Marbury has attempted just one free throw and only has three steals. He has been a defensive sieve who opposing teams target as soon as he enters the game and he has twice posted game-worst plus/minus numbers, indicating that the Celtics collectively perform worse when he is on the court than when he is on the bench: Marbury had a game-worst -11 plus/minus number in Boston's March 15 loss to Milwaukee and a game-worst -14 plus/minus number in Boston's March 8 loss to Orlando; those are staggering numbers for someone who played just 17 and 21 minutes respectively in those games. In Boston's March 1 loss to Detroit, Marbury had a +6 plus/minus number but that was mainly because he was an innocent bystander as the team made a second half charge that ultimately fell short; during Marbury's first stint in that game he had his pocket picked twice in the backcourt by the seldom-used Will Bynum, so when Marbury reentered the game Eddie House relieved Marbury of ballhandling responsibilities: Marbury was literally standing around watching as the Celtics rallied behind some timely shotmaking by House and Paul Pierce.

The Celtics obtained some luxury tax relief by trading Sam Cassell to the Sacramento Kings but Cassell is a proven winner who made several clutch plays in the playoffs during last year's championship run. Cassell has not appeared in a regular season game this season but he is healthy and it is hard to believe that he would be as unproductive as Marbury has been. I don't know what other options the Celtics had prior to signing Marbury but considering that Marbury's previous team banished him--paying him big dollars not to show up at games or even practices--and that every team he leaves gets better and every team he joins becomes worse I never saw an upside to bringing him into the fold. Marbury has not been the entire problem during Boston's downturn but he certainly has not been much of a solution, either.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:01 AM



At Tuesday, March 17, 2009 11:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've been a bit unfair.

Against the Bucks Pierce, Allen and Rondo combined for 8 shots made (out of 36 attempted). That's not Marbury's fault, but all you talk about is his +/- number. And when this number is positive you say that is "noisy". Then, David, ignore that stat. Always. Not only when it says something you don't agree with. You know is not reliable with small samples.

I don't like Marbury but I doubt he's going to be that much of a factor.

At Tuesday, March 17, 2009 11:31:00 AM, Blogger SamiA said...

Marbury is just out of shape. And like I said earlier, it's a little bit like when the C's got Cassell. At first it threw off the rhythm because they had to work him into the rotation. Garnett will be back and everything will be ok in my opinion.

At Tuesday, March 17, 2009 12:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, that is a MASSIVE leap in logic with this article - you sound like the typical fan who doesn't like a player and is scapegoating him because its an easy target to hit....Marbury was going to be weeks away from being ready to contribute consistent, positive basketball - his arrival coincided with a flurry of injuries to the team's rotation...trying to associate this with the "Marbury effect" is pretty weak...

At Tuesday, March 17, 2009 2:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you actually watched the Cs games with Marbury, or are you just going by box scores? Marbury has actually been pretty good defensively the last few games with the Cs, after getting torched his first couple of times out there after the long layoff.

If you had watched all these games, you might have noticed that the Cs are missing four rotation guys, five in the two games that Rondo missed. The Cs had an excellent record without KG up until the last four games, but they were playing with most of their other regulars. They have been trying to integrate two brand new players, Marbury and Mikki Moore, while missing KG, BBD, Scal, and TA, and playing Powe heavy minutes and working in rookie Bill Walker. That's a lot of change.

You might want to crow about any prediction of Marbury sinking the Cs until they actually get to play a couple of weeks with all their pieces in place. For real Celtics fans who follow the team closely, Marbury has been what was expected of a guy who hadn't played in an NBA game in over a year.

PJ Brown looked horrible his first couple of weeks in green last year, but he rounded into shape, and although he was no where near near the player he was at his peak, was an important cog in the championship run. The signs are there that Marbury can do the same thing. He's stille quite explosive off the dribble, and he can run the second unit better than House or an aged Cassell can. Lately, he's hitting his jumper a little bit and showing signs that he will be a good offensive player.

On the defensive side, he shows signs that he can be at least as effective as House, who can't stay in front of most NBA PGs.

Revisit this topic in a month. I'm guessing you will be singing a different tune, unless you're one of those bitter, hopeless Knicks fans who are so scarred by losing that they can't see straight.

At Tuesday, March 17, 2009 6:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is a "noisy" stat and I only use it in moderation--and regarding games that I have seen.

The reality is that Marbury has been unproductive individually and the team has generally performed poorly when he is on the court. When the team has performed well with him in the game, he generally has been an "innocent bystander" as opposed to an active participant.

The way that Marbury plays offensively and defensively places additional burdens on the other four players on the court and perhaps could be a factor in their performances declining since he joined the team.

At Tuesday, March 17, 2009 6:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I did not make a "massive leap in logic." If I had said without hesitation that Marbury is completely at fault for the Celtics' decline, then your assessment would be correct. However, I made a measured case that adding Marbury has contributed to the Celtics' decline from an .800 team, which has put them at risk of falling as far as third place in the East. I predicted that Marbury could be "worth" an extra few losses and I think that his numbers and the Celtics' performance when he is on the court have already vindicated my prediction.

The Celtics signed Marbury with the expectation that he could make a difference in a tight race down the stretch--and he is making a difference, just not the kind of difference that they hoped he would make. The Celtics went 17-4 sans Garnett prior to signing Marbury. I understand--and fully acknowledged in this post--that the Celtics have been shorthanded and that Marbury is not entirely responsible for the team's recent decline. The point, however, is that he has not made any kind of positive contribution to reverse that decline. I think that they would have been better off keeping Cassell and giving those 15-20 mpg to him.

If Marbury is truly "weeks away" from being able to contribute then it does not make much sense to sign him this late in the season; the Celtics could be eliminated before Marbury is ready to contribute, at least according to your estimate. Don't forget that the Celtics were pushed to seven games in the first round last year. If they trot out this version of Marbury for 15-20 mpg in the first round that could make the difference if they end up in another close series (fortunately for Boston, the current contenders for the eighth spot do not look as dangerous as Atlanta proved to be last year).

At Tuesday, March 17, 2009 6:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Marbury has been pretty lousy defensively his whole career and I have seen no sign--visually or statistically--that this has changed during his brief tenure in Boston.

I mentioned specifically that KG and Rondo have been out and that other rotation players are absent. Clearly, the Celtics' recent plight is not all Marbury's fault--but he has not done anything to stem the tide, either.

Barring a collapse by the Cavs, the Celtics have all but lost the chance to capture the number one seed, which means that they would have to win a game in Cleveland to get out of the ECF (assuming that both teams make it that far). Considering that the home team has won 15 straight games in the Boston-Cleveland matchup, Boston's drop in the standings since signing Marbury is quite significant. The Celtics have their work cut out just to stay in front of Orlando.

House is obviously not a defensive stopper but during his time in Boston he has performed better than his reputation at that end of the court and he has made a lot of scrappy plays.

You say that Marbury has been "hitting his jumper a little bit" but from my perspective--visually and by the numbers--he has had one good game out of eight: nine points, five assists in the win over Memphis.

I'm a basketball commentator, not a fan of a particular team and certainly not a Knicks fan. It's funny to me that when someone takes an objective, detached look at a player or team that team's fans are quick to assume that this person "must" be a fan of a rival team or a "hater" of their team.

In a month, the Celtics are going to be the second or third seed in the East after they spent most of the season in a tight battle for first. Whether or not Marbury is playing well at that time--and I doubt that he will be--the Celtics will rue not having homecourt advantage if/when they have to face Cleveland in the playoffs.

At Tuesday, March 17, 2009 7:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


When Cassell joined the Celtics last season, they won six games in a row. He played sparingly in his first couple games but scored 10 points on 5-9 shooting in his third game, adding five assists and three steals. In his fourth game, he had 17 points on 7-13 shooting. He struggled with his shot in the next few games but also had a pair of 20-plus point efforts near the end of the season. In the playoffs, he played an important role off of the bench in several victories, including the first two games of the Atlanta series and the first two games of the Cleveland series, two series that ultimately went seven games.

The Celtics are dreaming if they believe that they will get that kind of production out of Marbury this year. The other factor that is not quantifiable but certainly matters is that Cassell brought championship experience into that locker room, while the only experience Marbury brings is being a loser and a distraction everywhere he has played.

At Tuesday, March 17, 2009 8:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even if they kept Sam, they still wouldn't be able to catch the Cavs with all the injuries they have.

Orlando might catch them, but that depends more on how well Orlando is playing and how quickly the Celtics get their players back. Cassell or Marbury will play only a minor role here.

The Cassell trade got them a big man, so it wasn't purely a financial move. While Miki Moore is not much of a player(Kings got fooled by the contract year phenomenon), with all the injuries to their front court, he'll help slow down the bleeding.

"Marbury's teams getting better after he was traded" is an overused cliche. Kidd and Nash ARE better players than him, period. When you replace a shot happy point guard with a future hall of famer, of course the team improves.

He has an overinflated ego and no sense of responsibility but so far, I haven't heard any off-court complaints about that from the Celtics.

The Celtics signed him as a third string PG/SG. Because of injuries, they are forced to give him a bigger role than what they originally planned.

I am not a Marbury fan and I honestly hope that they will be kicked out in the first round. Even though I know that it won't be entirely Marbury's fault, I'm sure he'll be the scapegoat. That will at least somehow, partially, make up for what he did in New York.


At Tuesday, March 17, 2009 9:24:00 PM, Blogger SamiA said...


I think your taking it as I hate Sam Cassell and am trying to insult him. I'm not, he's one of my favorite player, and I can't wait to see him as a head coach one day.

I honestly can't say I remember every final score of a Celtics game last year after the Cassell arrival. But I do remember the Celtics being out of sink at one point or another. That's not to blame Cassell, but working a player in mid season is not a easy thing to do.

Of course the Celtics kept winning, great defensive teams can still win when they are not going the greatest offensively.

At Tuesday, March 17, 2009 10:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Celtics went 17-4 without KG in 2007-08 and in 2008-09 prior to signing Marbury, so they proved that they can play .800 basketball (or very close to it) even without arguably their best player. Coincidence or not, the Celtics' slide in the standings happened right after Marbury's arrival; they went from being neck and neck with Cleveland to being all but out of the race for the top spot and in danger of sliding to the third position. Except for one game, Marbury has played poorly and--even worse--the team has performed poorly for the most part when he has been on the court, particularly in the two losses that I cited in the post--and every loss is crucial in the race for the top spot. I suggested that Marbury would contribute to turning an .800 team into a .700 team and I think that we are seeing that right now.

You are of course correct that Kidd and Nash are better players than Marbury but even when Marbury was putting up good boxscore numbers he was not really as effective as those numbers suggested, at least in terms of actually making his teams better.

I don't think that the Celtics signed him to be a third stringer. It seems to me that they consider him the backup point guard, based on his minutes and the fact that when Rondo went down he started two games. The Celtics expect him to be able to contribute something or he would not be getting the minutes he has been getting.

At Tuesday, March 17, 2009 10:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't think that you hate Cassell. I do think that it is easy to forget that Cassell did make some positive on court contributions during last year's championship run. His shot deserted him for a stretch but that was not during any kind of adjustment period right after he joined the team; he jumped in quickly and contributed almost immediately, then his shot went south and then in the playoffs he made some significant contributions in a handful of games. I'd much rather have a reliable, proven playoff performer like Cassell than Marbury.

At Tuesday, March 17, 2009 10:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


One more thing: Cassell was traded to the Kings for a second round pick in 2015 (no, that is not a typo). This was purely a deal to get under the luxury tax. The Celtics picked up Moore off of the waiver wire. The two deals had nothing to do with each other.

At Wednesday, March 18, 2009 1:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looking forward to an in depth analysis of Kobe's game last night, 5-15 with five turnovers, one majestic clutch jumper preceded by two bad misses, and a -9 for the game.

Meanwhile, Lebron went for 42-12-8-6 against the third best defense in the league, raising his ts% to 58.9%, now 2.3% clear of Kobe.

You don't often pick this kind of game to write about but it was the rare case where Kobe's failure to perform to his usual standard clearly cost the Lakers the game.


At Wednesday, March 18, 2009 4:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Here is what the LAT had to say about the Lakers' game:

The box score revealed a main reason why: The Lakers' reserves were outscored by those of the 76ers, 36-18.

"We're just not coming out and really attacking and playing aggressive in the substitution role and that's now become prevalent and it's become an issue," Jackson said.

Although the Lakers are (erroneously) called by some people the deepest team in the league, the fact is that they are not even close to being an elite team if Kobe does not play really well. You left out the fact that Kobe still managed to hit what should have been the game-winning shot, but that Philly won after Iguodala dribbled down the clock and hit a three pointer as time ran out--and the Lakers had a foul to give, which they took to the locker room thanks to Trevor Ariza not paying attention during the previous timeout.

At Wednesday, March 18, 2009 5:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did mention that Kobe hit a "majestic clutch jumper." He proved once again that if you take enough tough shots you will eventually make one.

I am glad we can agree he had a bad game. No shame in that, it happens. What team is ever an elite team when its highest usage player stinks up the joint like Kobe did?

The Lakers bench isn't very good these days. I think that's mostly because Odom and Ariza aren't on it anymore. The Lakers bench people were talking about at the beginning of the year was a pretty different unit.

Ariza was paying attention in the timeout, but thought AI was going to drive. At least that was what he admitted. It was a mental error but he played a fantastic game otherwise. He was the bsst player on the floor for the Lakers last night, AI didn't get untracked until Ariza went off the floor in the fourth quarter when the Sixers launched their run to get back in the game. He was something like 2-11 before that.


At Wednesday, March 18, 2009 10:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As Gary Payton noted on NBA TV after the game, when Iguodala did not immediately penetrate into the lane it was obvious that he was just getting his rhythm to take the three. Payton said that he would have crowded Iguodala as soon as he caught the ball and forced him inside the arc so that the best he could do is tie the score. You could see Kobe talking to Ariza and giving the "hacking" motion, indicating that he should take the foul.

I did not see the whole game but I don't think that Kobe was taking "tough" shots, nor do I think that he generally takes "tough" shots, if what you mean is that he is taking lower percentage shots than what is available given the defense, shot clock, etc. Kobe simply did not shoot well, nor did he get his normal number of attempts due to missing some time because of foul trouble; that 5-15 may have turned into 12-25 with 10 more attempts (or it could have turned into 7-25 if he kept missing, obviously). From what I saw, I would say that Gasol was the best Laker in that game, but Ariza did play well until the bonehead move at the end.

At Thursday, March 19, 2009 1:01:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Owen - "He proved once again that if you take enough tough shots you will eventually make one." What a ridiculous statement. So bad, it doesn't warrant the time for me to explain in writing. But bad enough for me to comment on its hebetude.


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