The Celtics organization underwent a drastic overhaul this summer, and it’s safe to say the Big Three era in Boston is officially over. Gone are franchise cornerstones Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the latter of whom had spent his entire career in Boston, as well as Doc Rivers, the head coach who led the club to the postseason in seven of his nine years at the helm. And looking to fill Rivers’ shoes at the end of the bench is wunderkind Brad Stevens, who led Butler to back-to-back NCAA finals in 2010 and 2011.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has adamantly insisted that Boston won’t tank in hopes of securing a lottery pick for next summer’s draft. Whether Ainge & Co. can keep to that promise is another story, however. With star point guard Rajon Rondo out indefinitely and a brand-new core and head coach left to muddle along in his absence, it will be a trying season for the 17-time NBA champions.
Stevens has built a reputation around his ability to develop young players, and his track record at mid-major Butler made him a prized asset this summer. But now, the 37-year-old coach has inherited a team that is bound to lose plenty of games. Although the Celtics have one of the most knowledgeable fan bases in the league, they’re also notoriously vocal. If Boston is outright terrible—or worse, average—this season, then things could get ugly pretty quick in Beantown.
Additions: Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kelly Olynyk, Vitor Faverani, Phil Pressey, Brad Stevens (coach)
Departures: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Fab Melo, D.J. White, Kris Joseph, Shavlik Randolph, Terence Williams, Donte Greene
As the old adage goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and this incredible photo sums up Boston’s off-season in a nutshell. Garnett anchored the Celtics’ interior on defence, and while Humphries is an above-average rebounder, he’s doesn’t bring nearly the same calibre of rim protection as the 2004 MVP. Although Pierce seems to be nearing the final days of his career, the Celtics will miss his scoring touch and leadership. With 15 seasons in green to his name, Pierce’s return to Boston is a game that every basketball fan ought to have circled on their calendar (it’s Jan. 26, 2014, in case you want to go circle it right now).
Canadian Kelly Olynyk has been a pleasant surprise in the pre-season, and his peers voted him the 2013-14 rookie most likely to “have the best career” along with Orlando’s Victor Oladipo. Olynyk is a tenacious scorer and should be able to contribute on the offensive end immediately. The X factor here is MarShon Brooks, who had a stellar rookie campaign but stagnated in many categories in his sophomore year. Brooks did, however, shoot a much better percentage in year two, and could emerge as a double-digit scorer once again.
- When is Rajon Rondo coming back? Rondo is projected to return from an ACL injury in December, although that timeline hasn’t been cemented just yet. The hyper-competitive point guard will surely be looking to return to the court as soon as possible and when he does, he’ll be the lone bright spot in a Celtics’ offence that might be a nightmare to watch. Ranked 18th last year in points per game, Boston will continue to operate at a below-average rate this year and without their floor maestro, will be borderline unwatchable for stretches at a time.
Should Ainge not prove true to his word, Boston may keep Rondo out of action in order to engineer a drop in the standings. The move would be defensible as an effort to protect Rondo’s long-term health—look no further than Derrick Rose missing the entire 2012-13 campaign to ensure his rehab process was complete. Alternatively, Boston could trade Rondo if they find a suitable deal or a team willing to sacrifice a first-round pick and young assets for the 27-year-old.
- Can Boston maintain its above-average defensive play? Last year, Boston ranked sixth in points allowed per 100 possessions, and the Celtics could stymie teams for years under the guidance of Rivers. With Garnett gone and Rondo out, Avery Bradley will have to expand his role on a Celtics team with plenty of new faces, and turn into a lockdown man-to-man defender. When Rondo is healthy, the duo forms one of the best defensive backcourts in the league, as their games complement each other. Bradley is particularly adept at picking off errant passes for easy baskets in transition, and employs a series of blitzes on most half-court possessions.
The Celtics struggled to keep teams off the glass last season, ranking 29th in rebounds. Humphries provided an ability to grab boards coming off the bench for the Nets’ last year, but his impact is negated by the departure of Garnett, and his 13.7 rebounds per game. Gerald Wallace regressed badly last season, and the Celtics may need Olynyk and Brandon Bass to step up to come close to last year’s defensive efficiency.
Breakout Player: Avery Bradley. Bradley will be crucial as a ball-hawking defender, and ought to anchor the team on that end for years to come. Where he can improve is on the offensive end, where he shot 40.2 percent from the field last year. If Bradley can emerge as an efficient double-digit scorer, the Celtics may be able to avoid the basement of the Eastern Conference.
Scale of Decency: Indecent. The Celtics are a mere shadow of the team fans have known and loved since 2007-08, and Rondo’s prolonged absence to start the year only makes the picture murkier. With an offence bound to stall in the half-court, a defence that seems likely to regress, a new head coach and the lack of a true leader, the Celtics will be in the race for a top selection in next summer’s vaunted draft.
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