Saturday, June 30, 2007

thoughts on the Celtics draft day

No matter what happened on Thursday night, all of us Celtics fans were going to be slightly disappointed (or more than slightly) because we weren't getting one of the top 2 picks. It's even more deflating considering the Celts did everything they could in the last couple months to ensure they ended up with an awful record to help their chances in getting a top-2 pick. Alas, the ended up picking #5, which is generally really good in a deep draft like this. But, if management wants to win pronto, that pick wasn't going to help. Thus, I, like many others, felt the Celtics (with Danny Ainge at GM and Doc Rivers at head coach) would trade this pick and pick up a veteran in attempt to win soon.

And the Celtics did just that. They traded the #5 pick (Jeff Green of Georgetown), point guard Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak to Seattle for all-star guard Ray Allen and the #35 pick (they got Big Baby Davis from LSU, a solid big man). Granted, Kevin Garnett would have been preferable to Ray Allen, but that deal wasn't going to happen on draft day. So, Ainge pulled the trigger on this deal; the question is: was it the right deal?

In assessing any deal the Celts were going to make, the number one concern for me was retaining Al Jefferson. Jefferson is one of the best young big men in the game, a soon-to-be perennial All-Star. There was plenty of trade talk regarding him, since he is one of the most coveted young players in the game, but I felt like trading him would be a panic move. In other words, Ainge and Rivers would be fearing getting fired if they don't win immediately, so they trade the future for the present. Thankfully, Jefferson is, as of right now, still a Celtic. If you're guaranteed a title by trading him, then maybe it would be okay; but that isn't likely to happen, so the best thing they could do is keep him.

So the goal was to make the team a legit contender in the East right away without giving up Jefferson. I guess the Celtics did that by getting Ray Allen. That gives them 3 legit scoring threats in Paul Pierce, Jefferson and Allen. Actually, that's more than "legit scoring threats", they are bonafide scorers. However, one of the biggest areas of concern is the lack of defense on this team, and Allen does not help in that department much at all. Then again, Szczerbiak is one of the worst defenders in the league. So, this team will score a lot of points, and they will give up a lot of points.

But they are better than they were going into the draft. I think this deal puts them somewhere around the 4-5 best team in the East. The problem is that they aren't likely to be much better than that unless they make another deal or somehow steal a great draft pick in next year's draft. This team will not contend for a title as they are presently constituted, that's all there is to it. But they are better.

Some decry this deal because of Ray Allen's age (he's turning 32 next month). For sure this has to be a concern, since most shooting guards begin to falter at about this time. Others decry this deal because of injury concerns, since Allen missed time last year due to ankle problems. I'd simply point out that he missed more time than he needed since Seattle was, just like the Celtics, attempting to lose games in order to gain a better draft pick (unlike the Celtics, they succeeded, grabbing Kevin Durant at the #2 pick).

So here is the starting lineup for next year, subject to change if they make more deals:

Point Guard- Rajon Rondo
Shooting Guard- Ray Allen
Small Forward- Paul Pierce
Power Forward- Al Jefferson
Center- Kendrick Perkins

The weakest spot here is Perkins, who is a serviceable big man, not really a center you can win a title with. The also have little help off the bench. Allan Ray (not to be confused with Ray Allen) is their best defender off the bench. If they want to go small, they could go with a combination of Rondo, Ray, Allen, Pierce and Jefferson (and that's awfully small). They don't really have a backup point guard, either, which is a shame seeing how young Rondo is. I suspect they'll make another trade, packaging Theo Ratliff, Gerald Green and some future draft pick for another veteran sometime during the season (and probably Sebastian Telfair and his gun-wielding posse, too).

All this to say, I think the Celtics made their team better. But they've locked themselves into winning with the next 2-3 years or else. If not, Pierce and Allen will be too old or gone and they're left with Jefferson and a core of mostly role players. The other option would have been to trade Paul Pierce and go completely young, like the Bulls have done (to some success). That's dangerous because you simply stockpile young players who aren't likely to win a championship in hopes that they'll stick with the teama few years down the road rather than jumping ship.

So I think this team will win about half of it's games, scoring a bunch and giving up even more, and will get bounced in the second round of the playoffs. They won't contend for an Eastern Conference title this year, but maybe the following. Of course, this is all subject to change if they make another deal, and they probably will. I give them a "B" for draft day.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

messages to the 7 churches: background info for Revelation

This past spring (I guess it's still technically spring) I had the joy/challenge of teaching 4 weeks on Revelation. I've studied Revelation on and off for a few years (took an exegesis course on it in seminary, read a few books, etc), and have come to be a firm believer that John was writing not only to give a glimpse into the end of time, but to address specific circumstances of his readers. Chapters 2-3 give us the 7 churches to whom he wrote (though many feel the number 7 here is more symbolic, which is probably true, but at the very least we can say that his audience did include these 7 churches), and I discovered some interesting background data that help us see how Christ tailored His message to them through John. Following are some notes I jotted down as I was researching, some I learned a while ago, some recently, some I probably learned a while ago and had to relearn due to my failing memory.

To the church in Ephesus (2:1-7)- I learned the least about this city, mainly because I came in with more knowledge of it. It was very important in the NT times: Timothy was stationed there when Paul wrote his letters to him, Luke dedicates an entire chapter to the events in Ephesus in Acts 19, Paul wrote a letter to Ephesus (or least the churches in that area, see the textual problem of Ephesians 1:1), and church tradition says that John lived in Ephesus later in his life, which means that his gospel and his letters may have been written for Christians there. Ephesus also would have been the first stop for John's letter carrier, so naturally it would be addressed first.

To the church in Smyrna (2:8-11)- John addresses a problem with the Jewish-Christian relations in Smyrna. It's interesting to note that around 155 AD some Jewish people of Smyrna endorsed and even assisted in the killing of one of the great early Christian martyrs, Polycarp. That's about 60 years after Revelation was written, so it seems that this could have been a lasting problem for Christians in this city. The martyrdom of Polycarp is one of my favorite non-biblical stories, you can read it here.

To the church in Pergamum (2:12-17)- Pergamum was the capital of Asia at this time, and was the center of Emperor worship in this region, hence John calling this place "where Satan has his throne." It also had a large altar to Zeus, which I read was about 120 feet by 112 feet, which seems ridiculously huge. It's easy to see how this could be considered the home of Satan. Regarding the promise of a "white stone with a new name written on it", I read that in some places, when a person was found guilty of a crime they were given a black stone, but when found innocent, they were given a white stone. This may have been in mind here.

To the church in Thyatira (2:18-29)- This seems to have been the least important and least exciting of the 7 churches. It was a city of merchants, though the various metal workers present there may explain the emphasis on "burnished bronze" in v18 and the "iron scepter" of v27. The Romans called the planet Venus the "morning star", which was a symbol of victory, which may be why Christ promises to give them in "morning star" in v28.

To the church in Sardis (3:1-6)- Christ's main message to this church is one of readiness. He tells them to "wake up!" in v2 and threatens to "come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you" (v3). What is interesting is that Sardis had a great citadel which was never taken in battle. However, it was twice overtaken by sneak attacks at night. The residents of this city knew all too well the dangers of being unprepared for what might come, Christ's message to them must have hit home.

To the church in Philadelphia (3:7-13)- My Revelation professor (Dr Sean McDonough, not related the baseball announcer of the same name) pointed out that Christ's promise to make the Philadelphians "pillars in the temple of my God" may have had special meaning to them. This city had apparently suffered bad earthquakes that caused a lot of damage to the buildings there. The promise to become part of the unshakable structure of the Lord's temple would have been particularly powerful for these believers.

To the church in Laodicea (3:14-22)- This city was home to many famous banks and medical schools, which may explain why they felt so proud of their own accomplishments (v17). Some geographical background info may also explain some often misunderstood verses. Vv15-16 are often thought to mean that Christ would rather someone be completely on fire for Him or completely against Him (hot or cold), rather than someone who wavers (lukewarm). In reality, it is much more likely that Christ chose this aquametaphor specifically for this group because of their water problems. Laodicea lacked its own good water supply. It was located in between Hierapolis, which had a hot water supply used for medicinal purposes, and Laodicea, which had a natural cold water supply used for drinking. The waters mixed near Laodicea and made lukewarm water, which was good for nothing. Jesus is speaking more about usefulness than He is the level of one's commitment towards Him. The picture of a person spitting out lukewarm water would have been familiar to a Laodicean, even if we misunderstand it.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

welcome to the world....

I'd like to say congrats to my good friends, Matt and Pam, and welcome to the world their baby boy, Gideon Matthew Neave. This little guy is as cute as can be, and I really mean that. I have no problems saying if a baby is ugly (not to their parents, of course), so you can rest assured I am not paying lip service when I say Gideon is absolutely adorable. This makes something like 8 babies born in our church since the beginning of 2006, which is a fairly high number considering we only run about 200 people. And we have a couple more pregnant, too (I just reread that sentence and it sounds like I'm saying we have a couple more babies pregnant, which is obviously not true, but I find the ambiguity funny so I'm leaving it). Exciting times. Blessings to the Neave family.