Here’s our latest Celtics season preview as a part of SBNation.com’s NBA Blog Previews. With media day today and training camps set to start, let’s take a look at some overarching questions about this uncertain Boston Celtics team.
Team Name: Boston Celtics
Last Year’s Record: 41-40
Key Losses: Kevin Garnett (BKN), Paul Pierce (BKN), Jason Terry (BKN)
Key Additions: Kelly Olynyk (Draft), Gerald Wallace (BKN), Kris Humphries (BKN), MarShon Brooks (BKN)
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
The biggest move of the offseason involved the Celtics shipping away the heart and soul of their team in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for draft picks and the underperforming Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries. This move jump-started the rebuilding process for Boston, who will now attempt to build around start point guard Rajon Rondo.
The Celtics also made a coaching change, sending Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for a draft pick. General Manager Danny Ainge then pulled off a swift and stealthy maneuver by hiring ex-Butler coach Brad Stevens. Stevens was given a six-year deal by the Celtics, which suggests that he is a part of the long-term rebuild in Boston.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
The Celtics are, on the perimeter, not a bad defensive team. Avery Bradley was named an All-NBA defensive selection last year, and is a pesky defender who can create havoc in the backcourt against opposing ball-handlers. With Bradley paired alongside Rajon Rondo, the Celtics will have a dynamic defensive backcourt.
There are also other strong defenders on this roster, including Gerald Wallace who was acquired from Brooklyn as a part of the Pierce and Garnett trade. Wallace’s length has always made him a terrific perimeter defender. Add in Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, and even undrafted rookie Phil Pressey into the mix defensively and this team will have no trouble stopping penetration.
This team will also be better rebounding the basketball this season. Although Garnett has left town, Kris Humphries is only a year removed from averaging a double-double and could regain his old form in a new situation. Jared Sullinger is also a ferocious rebounder and loves to crash the offensive glass. With Brad Stevens coaching, the Celtics will likely take more pride in their rebounding than they did under Doc Rivers who did not emphasize offensive rebounding.
Of course, perhaps the biggest strength of the Celtics’ roster is star point guard Rajon Rondo. Although it may take time for him to recover from ACL surgery, Rondo is the premier passing point guard in the NBA when healthy. His ability to create for others could allow players like Wallace and Humphries to feel more comfortable in their new home.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
The big man rotation is perhaps the biggest question mark for this Celtics team. At the power forward position, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger will likely fight for minutes. While it may seem intuitive to start the younger Sullinger, starting Bass may actually be best for this team. Bass is notorious for playing poorly in a bench role and, by starting, will have a chance to raise his trade value.
There is really no true center on this team. Kris Humphries and Kelly Olynyk are better served at a power forward position but will likely be forced to play center. Humphries lack of height and length will be troubling down low, and Olynyk isn’t strong enough to defend players like Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez, or Roy Hibbert down low.
Another huge question is who will start at point guard on opening day. Will Stevens throw Phil Pressey into the mix or will he start a shooting guard like Bradley, Lee, or Brooks at the point? There is no great solution to the problems the Celtics will have at the point guard position before Rondo returns.
4. What are the goals for this team?
It’s important to remember that front offices tank, not the players on the team. The Celtics goal should be to make the playoffs. Rondo probably believes this team is able to compete in the East, but a more realistic expectation should be to make the playoffs and mesh as a team. If Brad Stevens is able to coordinate a run-and-gun, wide open offense, this team will better utilize the strengths of its players and could make a run to the playoffs.
5. The Celtics, in general, face the problem of whether to play their veterans in hope of raising their trade value, or playing all the younger players with the hope that they use this year to develop. Which direction should the Celtics go this season?
For the beginning of the season, the Celtics should play their veterans more than the youngsters. This means the Celtics should start Rondo (Lee until he returns), Bradley, Green, Bass, and Humphries. Wallace should get significant minutes off the bench as well. If Humphries plays like he did a few years ago, he will be a double-double machine. With his expiring contract, the Celtics could receive something significant in return for Humphries packaged with other assets.
Gerald Wallace also should see enough playing time early this season. He should not be a part of the Celtics long term plan, as he is aging and plays the same position as up-and-coming forward Jeff Green. If the Celtics don’t play Wallace enough, he won’t see his value rise and Celtics fans will see him on the end of the bench for the next three years.
After the deadline, this team could look very different. Unless the Celtics acquire a star player that would make them competitive in the playoffs, Stevens should shift to play his younger players. Perhaps Sullinger and Olynyk could find themselves the starting big men by the end of the season, where they can mesh with the rest of the starters.
By Larry Flynn: @LEFly41