OAKLAND, Calif. — The Celtics have been toeing the line of mediocrity all season, with their longest winning streak just three games despite several offseason moves and moderately good health.
Boston enters Saturday’s game against the surprising Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena a team in transition, soundly whipped by the blazing-hot Los Angeles Clippers by 29 points Thursday night, a loss that resembled the pre-Big Three days for coach Doc Rivers.
Rivers is constantly distressed, trying to figure out whether his team is a contender in the Eastern Conference or one that will fight for a bottom playoff seeding. Right now, the Celtics are the latter, and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge didn’t think his team would start 14-14 with a series of embarrassing losses, unexpected defeats, and few consistent performances.
“I see our team play well in stretches in every game,” Ainge said. “In games that we lose I see great quarters and great stretches and I’m very encouraged. We’ve just had more bad stretches than I would have liked to see right now. Everybody wishes we would have won more games, but I am encouraged by this team and I know that Doc is figuring out his personnel and I think the players are figuring their roles better. It’s just taken more than, maybe a little bit like last year, it took us a little bit of time to get rolling.
“But I like a lot of things I see.”
Last season, the Celtics didn’t pick up until after All-Star weekend, ravaged in the early going by aftereffects of the lockout. Paul Pierce had an injured right foot, Jeff Green never played because of heart surgery, and several players were out of shape because they didn’t believe the lockout would end so quickly.
This summer, Celtics players worked out together a month before training camp began. They wanted to avoid a slow start at all costs, but again they have yet to find consistency.
“Everybody wants to get off to a fast start,” Ainge said. “It’s not frustrating. You always want to win every game, but I see a lot of good things. I think frustration is when you don’t really see that hope. I see good things in these guys and we certainly know the makeup of what they’re capable of doing.”
The Celtics used their last roster spot on center Jarvis Varnado, who has played garbage time in his two appearances. With a need for another productive big man, the club may wait until Jan. 10, when contracts are guaranteed for the season and some quality players could be waived.
Ainge said not to expect a major signing because of salary cap issues. Even if the Celtics offer a veteran a minimum contract, Ainge said it would still adversely affect the salary cap.
“We have restraints because of the [luxury tax] apron,” he said. “And it puts limitations on us and I don’t want to get our backs against the wall where it limits us even more for significant progress in any sort of transaction that may come available later.’’ So we’re trying to patient.”
It has taken much longer than expected for players such as Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, and Green to become comfortable in Rivers’s system. Ainge said that is a byproduct of being newcomers.
“I think Doc does a great job of managing those things,” Ainge said. “You always have your ups and downs when you’re not winning, guys get frustrated, but I think that every guy is given an opportunity. Every guy on our roster has had an opportunity to play and they will continue to get those. I feel like our team chemistry is pretty good.”
Lee has been an enigma, replaced in the starting lineup twice by Terry. Rivers said Avery Bradley will be the starting shooting guard as soon as he’s capable.
Lee, who signed a four-year contract, has turned into a defensive sparkplug off the bench and his numbers are slowly improving.
After averaging 5.1 points and shooting 18.2 percent from the 3-point line in November, those numbers are at 7.8 and 38.1 in December.
Ainge stressed patience with Lee’s development.
“You don’t change anything, I think Courtney’s played well,” Ainge said. “The only thing he hasn’t done here that he’s done the last couple of years is make the 3-point shot. But he hasn’t gotten as many, he hasn’t gotten as much of a rhythm offensively. He’s made the midrange shot for us.
“I think Courtney needs to keep playing the way he’s playing. I think he needs to not listen to negative publicity about whether he’s scoring or not scoring. I think he’s played well for us.’’ Courtney is a player who is in three of the four best lineups that we put on the court. He adds value to our team.”