The words have taken on a life of their own. They became both the rallying cry for a Celtics renaissance and the epitaph for an uninspiring offseason.
Celtics owner and CEO Wyc Grousbeck hinted to the Globe’s Gary Washburn in March that “there could be some fireworks” for the Celtics this offseason, an allusion to a major acquisition that would restore the team to relevance ahead of schedule.
It hasn’t happened. The most exciting addition this season for Boston was an alternate leprechaun logo.
Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton, and Evan Turner are walking through that door and none of them represent fireworks. They might not even be glow sticks to light the path back to contention. Rookies Marcus Smart (drafted sixth overall) and James Young (No. 17 overall) are intriguing young talents, but many of the Parishioners of the Parquet were hoping those two first-round picks would be used to light the fuse for the franchise-changing fireworks.
The team that has raised more NBA championship banners than any other has spent its summer having hopes for catapulting back to contention razed. The Summer of Kevin Love has been a summer of unrequited love for the Celtics’ arsenal of assets. The Celtics look ticketed for a long rebuilding phase and a return trip to the NBA draft lottery.
But Grousbeck isn’t backing down. He is bullish on his young coach, Brad Stevens, disdainful of tanking talk for 2014-15, and does not regret linking the parquet and pyrotechnics with a quote that will live on in Boston’s sports lexicon.
“No, if you go back and look at what I said, I said we were hoping for fireworks. I didn’t promise them,” said Grousbeck in a telephone interview Monday. “We tried as hard as we could. July 4 has come and gone, but there is still a lot of effort and hope that eventually with all those first-round picks and other possible assets that at some point I would imagine something would happen, whether it’s this year or next.
“Our effort level on improving the team has been extraordinary, and [president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] and his staff and Brad have worked essentially around the clock to improve the roster. We’ve made some progress. I’m very happy with the effort. I’m still hoping for more improvement, either this year or next, because I’m impatient to get back to the level we were at.”
The level the Celtics were at was title contention and NBA relevance with the Formidable Foursome of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo. Only Rondo remains now, and he might not be long for Causeway Street. He is a free agent at the end of this season, has spoken openly of wanting to be courted in free agency, and is now sharing the roster with his ostensible replacement at point guard, Smart.
Grousbeck refused to discuss the state of contract negotiations with Rondo. When asked if he had spoken with Rondo since the team selected Smart on June 26, Grousbeck said, “I haven’t talked to Rajon.”
Call it the Summer of Silence between the owner and his best player.
Rondo and the Celtics could be the basketball version of the Red Sox and Jon Lester, a contract contest full of public declarations of mutual affection and telling inaction.
Despite his stated intention to stay a Celtic, Rondo could determine spending his prime spearheading a rebuilding team is not for him.
The Celtics are like the NBA’s version of a yard sale right now. They have a mishmash of items that may interest buyers, but their treasure is someone else’s dross.
The lesson from this summer is that the Celtics’ assets — Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and their cadre of first-round picks (it could be as many as nine in the next four seasons) — aren’t viewed the same way around the league as they are here in the Hub.
It would appear the best course of action would be another tankapalooza. Don’t tell that to Grousbeck, who grew truculent at the mere mention of the T-word.
“I’m not calling it that, and I reject that phrase,” said Grousbeck. “We hired a coach who would literally light himself on fire to win any five-minute segment of any game, nevermind the whole game, so that’s how we played last year.”
Immolation aside, Grousbeck is right. It’s not tanking, if you’re really trying. That’s just not being very good. That’s where the Celtics are — for now.
Danny the Dealer doesn’t stand pat or sit still for long. The old bromide about the birthrate of suckers certainly applies to NBA GMs.
However, the harsh reality of the NBA caste system dictates that the Celtics don’t have as much margin for error in their restoration as their rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers. NBA free agents and stars forcing trades usually steer themselves toward warm-weather climates, tax-friendly states, or cultural meccas (think New York).
Grousbeck disputed the idea that Boston with only a fervent fan base and a raft of tradition to offer wasn’t an NBA destination. He said the Celtics can build through free agency, as well as via trades and the draft.
“What we are working on in Boston is offering the possibility of contending for a championship. If a ring is more important to a guy than the climate or the taxes that’s the kind of guy we want,” said Grousbeck.
Patience is going to be required with the Progeny of the Parquet. The fireworks display has been postponed.
“I’m really looking forward to the year. I’d like it to be a building year,” Grousbeck said. “Brad is a great coach. I’m glad he is here. He has brought a lot of knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm to the organization. I want to see him succeed. He deserves success in the NBA. I hope we can give him a roster that will get him there.”
That might take longer than Grousbeck thought.