The Boston Celtics have dramatically crashed back down to earth after a surprisingly positive start to the season. Second year big man Jared Sullinger is feeling the effects of an ongoing wrist injury that is only adding to the Celtics’ woes. Sullinger, who had a strong start to the 2013-14 season, sustained a deep bone bruise/ligament injury in late November, but despite not requiring surgery, the injury has significantly hampered Sullinger’s effectiveness, especially shooting the ball lately. In the midst of a six-game losing streak and a tough Western Conference road trip, it may be time for the Celtics to shut down their talented forward and allow him to get back to 100 percent, rather than risk him causing further damage in a season that appears to be on a drastic downhill slide.
Sullinger has tried playing with a protective glove or brace on his hand as well as without anything at all, but it has become obvious from the statistics and his regular grimacing that the injury is hampering him more than he would like to let on. In the five games the Celtics have played in January, Sullinger’s points per game have dropped from 12.8 on the season to just 8.6. He is shooting just .615 from the free throw line and .167 from three and was also replaced in the starting line-up by Kris Humphries for the team’s most recent game in Los Angeles against the Clippers. He has scored in double digits just twice since Dec. 22 and his reliability on offense seems to be completely gone.
There are a number of reasons that the Celtics should be inclined to give the former Ohio State Buckeye a rest, most importantly his own ongoing health considering he is viewed as a building block for the teams’ future. There is also the silver lining that it would allow the team to further showcase veterans like Humphries and Brandon Bass for trades with big minutes in the front court, while also finding more playing time for talented rookies Kelly Olynyk and Vitor Faverani. The Celtics are in the midst of a brutal January schedule where they face some of the best teams in the league and Sullinger would have to front up against the league’s toughest frontcourts where the battles in the paint could easily re-aggravate his injury.
The Celtics appear to be on a slide down the Eastern Conference standings and even with the return of All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo in the coming weeks, Danny Ainge looks to be trying to offload his big money, veteran players and made the first step towards that goal by dealing Courtney Lee to Memphis for the expiring contract of Jerryd Bayless. If he continues to remove experienced players from the roster it will be a sure sign that the team aims to position themselves for the best odds at a top draft pick in the 2014 draft and the results of 2013-14 will be largely insignificant in his longer-term, grand plan.
Having Sullinger battle through injury and risk causing further damage is a fruitless exercise that the team needs to address immediately. The story would be completely different if the Celtics were fighting for a playoff seed or Sullinger was having an overwhelming effect on the outcome of these games but simply put, the team is losing despite the determination of Sullinger to be on the floor. The team battles its toughest month of the schedule through January and if the results are going to be largely the same as it’s started, perhaps Sullinger should reassess and take this time to recover and get himself back into peak condition, something he has not yet been able to achieve since returning from back surgery last year.
Give credit where it is due, Jared Sullinger is one tough hombre and his determination to fight through this injury to try and help his team is more than commendable. But it is the wrong time and perhaps the wrong season for this kind of bravery and he would be better served rehabilitating his injury off the court for the benefit of his future and the Celtics’ future.