Celtics Sinking in Wake of Marbury SigningIt 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.
posted by David Friedman @ 7:01 AM