Although tough to swallow, sometimes in life change is necessary. The same can be said for sports. As fans, we have an unhealthy obsession with grown men making millions of dollars. We feel as though they are part of our everyday lives. We grow close to them and then, when they sign somewhere else, we curse them like an ex-girlfriend who decided to move on to your arch-nemesis. For the past six seasons, the Boston Celtics were that unhealthy obsession. They won a championship in their first year, and gave us a heartbreaking loss in the finals in the third year. Then, when all seemed to be over for the aging veterans, they went and gave us one last hurrah in the form of an Eastern Conference Finals run in 2012.
But then a year like last year happens. It’s like a relationship that’s run its course, and yet both parties can’t come to grips with reality. Things were getting bad when the Celts struggled to a 500 record, and then Rajon Rondo was lost for the season with a knee injury in January.
Thinking the worst was yet to come, somehow the Celtics turned it around for a few games and started flirting with Celts fans again. But the bottom line was that the ’12-’13 version of the Boston Celtics wasn’t very good. They should have beaten the Knicks in the opening round, but Father Time clearly caught up to them. They struggled in the first half, only scoring 27 points in the first two quarters of a “win or go home” Game 6.
Although it just wasn’t meant to be, for some reason C’s fans wanted the band to come back together. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers were our guys and we wanted to see them one more time. What people didn’t realize was that if the band did come back together, we would have to watch the demise of the Boston Celtics in December and January. Instead we got a clean slate, a young team that isn’t expected to do much in the top-heavy Eastern Conference.
People can complain about how Danny Ainge traded away Pierce, the greatest Celtic in the lives of anyone born after 1980, but the fact remains. Like the relationship with a significant other that was just dragging on, the end needed to happen. Ainge did a beautiful job stretching Pierce and Garnett into three first round draft picks as well as serviceable NBA players. Say what you want about Kris Humphries, (ok his salary is a bit too high), but the Hump man is a serviceable NBA player even if he is making a team-leading $12 million dollars. Now if you think he’s going to be one of your better scorers, then your team is going to suck. But Humphries will win Celts fans over by playing hard, grabbing offensive rebounds, and mixing it up down low.
It is apparent to any Celtics fan that the road ahead is going to be long. Although not as long as previous rebuilds, thanks to having a superstar point guard already on the squad, the next few seasons could be tough to watch. The hiring of the young Brad Stevens as Head Coach initially appears to come with low expectations. Nobody is expecting this year’s team to contend for a playoff spot, much less a title. But the six year contract Stevens secured will give him time to teach and grow his basketball philosophy. Stevens’ philosophy is built on tough defense, a lot of running in transition, and a trust in his ability as the head man on the sideline.
Let’s look at some issues that face the 2013-2014 version of the Boston Celtics.
What to do with Rondo?
Smart basketball minds, like ESPN’s Bill Simmons, say that the Celts should trade Rondo to complete a total “blowup” of the roster. I respect a lot of what Simmons says, but that would be a move I would disagree with. The biggest knock on Rondo is that he’s a stubborn player that wants it done his way. With a coach willing to let him run the show, Rondo will have full control whenever he comes back from his injury. You can’t trade a guy who is clearly willing to take some bumps, in the prime of his career, because he has faith that the Celts will eventually turn this thing around.
The main reason why Rondo shouldn’t be traded is easy; he is one of the most unique and most talented point guards in the game. There aren’t many players in the NBA like him, an unselfish, pass first point guard whose number one priority is to make his teammates better. But when Rondo wants to, he has the skills to take over a game on the offensive end. I just believe that if you trade Rondo, you will regret it for years to come. The last true great C’s point guard was a guy whose game is very similar to Rondo’s, Dennis Johnson. Think back on what we had to deal with between the tenures of those two players. Sherman Douglas, David Wesley, Kenny Anderson, JR Bremer, Milt Palacio, and Sebastian Telfair are a few players who started for the Celts at the point during that period. That list isn’t exactly glowing with future Hall-of-Famers.
The art of tanking has never been a specialty for the Boston Celtics, and they shouldn’t try again to throw away a season for a high draft pick. They tried to tank for Tim Duncan, and instead got half a season from Chauncey Billups and the below-average Ron Mercer. Then, when they were crossing their fingers for Kevin Durant, they got hosed, ending up with only the fifth draft pick. So that should be reason enough to not tank.
Also, why would you openly tank a season when you have a group of guys who want to win games? You have a new coach who needs to inspire a winning culture in this town, and tanking will only serve to set his NBA experience back a few steps.
You also have young developing players like Jarred Sullinger, Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, and Jeff Green who can’t afford to have a bad season with the whole NBA watching. Also, those guys are Ainge’s trade chips, were he able to pull off a blockbuster trade in the future.
The city of Boston, with its cold winters, can be tough enough to deal with at times, without even considering the fans and media. For veterans like Keith Bogans, Gerald Wallace, and Kris Humphries, this season could be very long. Ainge will do his best to deal these players if the right deal comes his way, but in the meantime these guys are in town to stay. The season, like the winter, will be very long, and at times these veterans might want to be anywhere but in the Celts locker room. Their attitude will be crucial to affecting a positive outlook for the young core of Celtics. Any negative vibe could deeply affect the mindset that Stevens wants to bring to the roster.
Jeff Green's game
Mr. Optimistic: This is the most important year in Green’s career. He has the ability to play 40 plus minutes a night, and at times he will be the Celts only real scoring threat on the floor. This will allow Green to play with the freedom that makes him such a sight to watch. Gone are the expectations and pressure of carrying the offensive load or deferring to Pierce and Garnett. If Green can show any consistency, he should put up better scoring numbers than Pierce did last year. A season average above 20 is not that crazy to ponder, and that alone will get Green consideration for an All-Star selection.
Mr. Pessimistic: Green will struggle in a role that he has shown he’s not that comfortable with. Defenses will focus on his offense, knowing that if Green isn’t scoring then the Celts offense weapons are very minimal. If someone bites on the $27 million he has left on his contract, don’t be surprised to see Green traded before season’s end.
Who will get traded first?
During this season, Ainge will not be one to back away from making any deal he feels necessary to help his team. As was apparent in the past, with the trades of Kendrick Perkins, Eddie House, and Nate Robinson, Ainge will pull the trigger if he finds a deal he likes.
I don’t expect this current group of Celtics to stay. Wallace and Humphries are both likely to get shipped out of town when Ainge can convince another GM to swallow their contracts. Humphries’ contract is a little more attractive since he is on the last year of his deal.
A guy I believe will be dealt, come the deadline, is Brandon Bass. Bass is owed a little under $14 million over the next two seasons. Any playoff team looking for a power forward to spread the floor off their bench would have to look at Bass as a viable option.
Who will be the biggest surprise?
In the NBA, even on a bad team, someone has to score. I expect Jeff Green to play a lot, and hopefully show some aggression by putting up an average of 15 shots a night. But when it comes to who will surprise this season, I wouldn’t be shocked to see a solid all-around season from Avery Bradley. His offense may still need a lot of work, but on a team that will struggle to defend, having Bradley on the floor will only help, which in turn will up his minutes. His defense will help his offense and I can see Bradley averaging about 13 PPG, compared to his career total of 6.9 PPG.
Also, keep in mind that Ainge hasn’t re-upped Bradley’s contract, giving AB more motivation to have a solid season, during his contract year.
For the previous six seasons, Celts fans were spoiled with teams that every year had a chance to win 50 plus games. This season, of course, will be completely different. As evident from the lackluster preseason, this team is a work in progress that may never hit its stride. A new coach, along with a mediocre roster, will make for a long, long winter. Expecting Rondo back any time before Christmas is asking for a lot. Even when he does return, the Celts point guard will take time to get acclimated to his new teammates.
Pierce’s Celts were known to give teams all they could handle in their own buildings. One of the best moments of the C’s championship season in 2008 was the sweep of the Texas triangle. Beating Houston, Dallas and San Antonio gave the Celts an added confidence once the playoffs hit. Granted, they did struggle on the road for the first two rounds of those playoffs, but they still knew in the back of their minds that they were just as good as a road team as they were at home.
I can’t picture this team winning many games during a west coast road trip or even when they have 4 games in 5 nights. I put them at about 7 to 12 road wins and about 16 to 20 home wins. If this team is to overachieve they could sniff the 30 win mark. Unfortunately, without a full season from Rondo, and the fact that they are going to struggle to defend and score, I don’t expect more than 27 wins from the C’s.
2013-2014 record: 24-58
As always, let’s hope I’m wrong.