- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- For much of the past 48 hours, the Boston Celtics have tried emphatically to squash rampant speculation that the team would trade away part of its Big Three if it can't turn around its early-season struggles.
It's falling on deaf ears. In fact, it's clear now that only one thing is going to stop the rumors: winning games.
The Celtics are 5-9 and still haven't beaten a team ahead of them in the standings. With nearly a quarter of the season in the rear-view mirror, the Celtics sit third in the Atlantic Division and 10th in the Eastern Conference and have shown little to inspire any sort of confidence.
This, even as the general manager, coach and the players plead for patience and suggest that view is merely a doomsday scenario.
No, it's clear the only thing that will kill this thing is a prolonged winning streak, a glimpse that this team can get back to the level it was at in recent seasons. After snapping a five-game skid with a win Wednesday night over the Raptors, the Celtics had a chance Friday to build some momentum and diminish some of the potential skake-up buzz.
Another loss only fuels the shortsighted suggestion that they should "blow it up." (And don't forget that it's unlikely they could fetch much in the trade market that would help them in future seasons.)
Nonetheless, Celtics coach Doc Rivers came out Thursday and took the first swing at chopping down the speculation. After the team's afternoon practice, he said, "I would say it's a very strong possibility that we're going to get this together, and stronger possibility that every single guy will be here."
President of basketball operations Danny Ainge hopped on the radio soon after and took his cuts. Ainge reiterated that it's his job to make the team better regardless of how they are faring, and stressed that his comments that sparked the original speculation were merely stating the obvious.
"Of course if we get the opportunity to make a trade that will help our team, we'll do it," said Ainge.
After Friday's loss, captain Paul Pierce grabbed the axe and took his turn in front of the microphones, addressing the media for the first time since this whole storm started on the heels of Boston's fifth straight loss Monday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"You can't pay attention to that," said Pierce. "It's part of the business. You just have to continue to do your job, as a professional, each and every night. And that's about it."
Asked if the mere thought of the Big Three being divided was enough to inspire this team to play better, Pierce wouldn't bite.
"What makes me want to play well is our record," he said. "That's more than anything. I don't really read the papers, I don't really monitor everything that's been said. I'm just more concerned about this group, what goes on in this locker room and with my teammates."
The Celtics have major issues to address in order to turn this thing around. Playing without Rondo, their offense looked painfully stagnant at times, the team shooting a mere 40.5 percent from the floor (30 of 74 overall) and unable to overcome an early deficit against a Suns team that's enduring its own struggles this season.
"I told our guys, this is more on me and our staff. We've got to figure out something with our offense," said Rivers. "The offense is awful. You know, it's funny, even at halftime, we had a ton of open shots, but they're still all jump shots. Nothing in the paint, no drives, and that part you can say is [not having] Rondo. But we've got to do a better job of moving the ball, getting it low. The times we did that, I thought we were effective. But not enough."
The offense is hardly the lone issue. The Celtics are plagued right now by turnovers, rebounding and early deficits (to name a few). There's plenty to fix.
Unfazed, they say they'll address the issues and get this thing turned around. For their own sanity, they almost have to. Otherwise this speculation will simply linger and prod at them until the March trade deadline.
"Just keep grinding," Pierce said when asked about the team's mindset. "Just keep going, not to get discouraged, and keep the guys confident. Keep their heads up, and tell them eventually we're going to turn this around."
Pierce was then asked if he was disappointed in the slow start.
"Why wouldn't I be? We're four games under .500, we'd like to be a lot better, but it is what it is," he said. "We just have to keep going back to the drawing board and get back to work, lace them up, and keep preparing. This is a group that's not going to lose any confidence. That's not going to put our heads down."
They might want to simply cover their ears.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.
4dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann