LOS ANGELES -- Celtics executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge flew here from Phoenix yesterday morning, arriving in plenty of time to watch his team play the Clippers last night at
As the Celtics continue to slump -- they had lost the first three games on the five-game trip -- a major change appears necessary. Forget all the talk of taking a step back to move forward. They are fundamentally flawed. They do not work well together on the court, no matter how many combinations coach Doc Rivers tries. Anyone who has watched Boston fail to play defense on the trip and commit turnover after turnover can see that. Ainge certainly does.
''I think the blame is on everybody," said Ainge. ''But if you can't improve defensively, if you can't improve in limiting turnovers, then you need a change in personnel. No question.
''But I can't make a decision based on what our record is. I have to do what's best for the team. I can't try to put Band-Aids on the bleeding right now. That's up to the coaches and the players to fix the defense and the turnovers. It's on them right now."
When it was pointed out that Ainge brought in Rivers and, with the notable exception of Paul Pierce, he drafted, signed, or acquired in trade all the players on the roster, Ainge said, ''It's on me, too, because of the players and coaches we have. I don't believe we've explored all the options, all the combinations on the roster. Maybe players who are not playing deserve a chance. I know Doc has tried a lot of different combinations.
''At the same time, maybe it calls to shake things up. If the players [who are on the floor] can't defend, can't take care of the ball, then the players who can deserve a chance."
Ainge made it clear it was the job of Rivers and his coaching staff to determine any lineup and rotation changes. Some might say Rivers has already made too many changes. There are few realistic combinations he has yet to try. Besides, those players shortchanged on minutes during the trip (Brian Scalabrine, Ryan Gomes, Justin Reed, Orien Greene, Al Jefferson possibly, and Raef LaFrentz until Friday's loss in Sacramento) could not possibly cure all that ails the Celtics. The problems are too big, too deep-seated.
For almost the entire season, the players have said better defense was simply a matter of trust. They needed to trust that help would be there when it was needed. Better rebounding was a matter of better effort. For almost the entire season, the players have said improved mental focus would limit turnovers.
Rivers has repeatedly said, ''There are no quick fixes."
But Ainge and everyone invested in the Celtics has a right to wonder why there has been no improvement, why defensive coverages reviewed in shootaround are not executed in games (Seattle), why calls for a timeout go unheeded in the closing seconds (Golden State), why an opponent minus three key players can win (Sacramento, 116-112) on yet another night when Boston shoots better than 50 percent and scores well over 100 points.
''I believe that all progress is the result of change," said Ainge. ''And yet not all change is progress. Daily, I look at things we've got to change. Players have got to change in their attitude, effort, game preparation, and in [willingness to] sacrifice for the team.
''Coaches may look at philosophical changes, substitutions, patterns, motivation, and developing trust on the court. Management is constantly looking at personnel changes and motivations and the whole evaluation process.
''Change is constant. But frustration and panic usually lead to the wrong kind of changes. I do see signs of hope. I do see a lot of good things happening despite our record, which nobody should be happy with."
Although Ainge is aware that the trade value of Pierce probably has never been higher (26.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 4.4 assists in 39 minutes per game, 49 percent from the field), the first step toward change for the Celtics could be a long, hard look at themselves.
''I'm constantly trying to figure out ways to get better," said Ainge. ''I'm not going to panic based on this trip."
The Celtics need to find the right kind of change before the season, and not just a handful of games, is lost.