Into the Offseason

cs_da.jpgLet’s see what we’ve learned through the past season and into the time between the next. There’s been a lot of talk about this team, both good and ill, but there is definitely something going on worth talking about. Let’s recap some of the most immediate activity as well as analyze a number of the positional players to see what we may be looking at.

The Ray Allen deal was always on back-burner, but the argument was about Rondo and West...the Celtics had pretty much made a decision on draft night of pursuing another big time player, but they weren't going to trade the farm in a fury because they knew that no other discussions were far enough along to trump their current position..

Here we are almost a month past the draft and there has still been no KG/JO/KB/AK/LO deal. All the big pieces are still locked in stalemate and everyone is still talking...

The Celtics probably took Allen because they didn't have to include Rajon Rondo and they felt that they had enough to get another big time acquisition. It fits with the logic of the move and plants them squarely where they stand right now. "Calling bluffs" is all part of playing your hand  Ainge knows that Ray Allen alone isn't going to win anything anytime soon. The team knows what the fan base is thinking.  The real question is how much time Ainge thinks he can manufacture  with the intriguing talent he has around him. The organization has clearly discussed a multitude of possible scenarios. They are not in the habit of simply "seeing what happens" as moves go on around them. It’s never as black and white as salary caps and revenue projections either. Basketball decisions are being made, though no one’s really used to that happening after all the dysfunction this franchise has endured over the past couple of decades.

This isn't the final move....

Now, the team isn't entirely in control of its own destiny in terms of the possible trade outcomes available to them. They could still lose out on the trade market and may settle for MLE and VE. But the basis point for this season is substantially more competitive than last year's team because of Jefferson's emergence as well as Allen's upgrade on the wing.

The team needs to add relatively little to solidify EC contention. The Cavaliers and Heat are built on the foundations of veteran shoulders-almost none are stars beyond their knowledge of the game....and that's the difference...

This team will have to add another couple veterans who have played in big games. That alone should push this team up the standings. But the quality of that impact will have exponential implications in terms of truly contending.  It’s still a choice the team can make, there are players available. Another season may very well do wonders for certain player’s value who are currently on the team. The organization may deem it appropriate to build toward a more substantial deadline deal if they don’t like the value they’re receiving now.

Don't paint the draft as some type of tragedy or point of concern. The team is still looking to get better, they've identified their weaknesses, and they've got the ability to improve them. The Celtics are reaching a stage where more strategic moves can be made involving the subtle, more finite skills missing from the roster.

There are numerous holes in the team defense and clearly defined roles are still somewhat of a concern. But there are pieces to choose from on this roster that cover a number of potential issues. The team has individual defenders with plus potential. There are perimeter shooters, rebounders, slashers, and post players. Winning teams are constructed by parts, the team has got three major parts and some time to play around and build a little.  Rumors of Ray Allen’s demise are greatly exaggerated. There’s a window here because they have a spread of ages between their best players, but that balance must be further improved.

Boston has three legit scoring options for the first time since the Big Three were walking around. This point is continually lost in all these arguments.  No, the team isn't ready to contend and a lot of growth has to happen for the current roster to contend. The current trio of Jefferson, Pierce, and Allen must learn how to play together and that takes time. Health will also play a factor in all of this as well because these three are carrying the lion’s share of the burden as currently constituted.

Over reliance on the other youth of this team is a spurious proposition. Ryan Gomes should take a significant step forward this year as he’s worked on his range and playmaking off the dribble. Gomes may rate as the most reliable contributor on the Celtics bench based on his health and production the past two seasons. Delonte West was another reliable producer when on the court, but beyond those two there are a number of question marks.

tony1.jpgTony Allen is a major X Factor for this team coming into the season. Allen’s body should recover well-enough for him to play at a high level, but his mind has to be into it as well. TA is most effective when he’s attacking the basket and hasn’t gotten his motion jumper quite to the place where he can afford to change his game up too much. Allen made strides in this area before the injury and has had nothing but time to work on his jumper once he was cleared to even stand on a court. The real question mark isn’t IF he’ll recover his game, but WHEN he’ll do so. A productive Allen makes next season much more interesting, but it’s a gamble without support from other areas.

Kendrick Perkins came on strong at the end of the season relative to the way he played through most of the year. If Perkins could stay healthy through a whole season It would really help the team to determine how much frontcourt help they need. He does have the potential to be a strong defensive C/F in the mold of a Dale Davis in the least, but he doesn’t have the track record to simply plug it in.

Everyone is expecting big things from 2nd year point guard Rajon Rondo. Expectations have often exceeded past experience when it comes to judging Rondo’s growth against some of his teammates. But, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the team has been looking intently for a vet to help facilitate Rondo’s transition to full-time starter, leader, and beyond.

After that the roster is really very thin on tangible expectations. Leon Powe  had a solid SL which showed some growth from last year’s sporadic run. Gerald Green was a little better at reading the court, but not enough to be counting on his contribution. The wing position is still all about the vets staying healthy and then praying for Gomes, Green, and TA to be ready for some major support. If any one player goes down, things could be ok for a bit, but if two fall-forget about it.

The frontcourt doesn’t look terrible in terms of skill sets, but it has absolutely no experience beyond Brian Scalabrine, who despite some solid contribution last season really shouldn’t be able to outplay some of the younger players already on this squad from a talent perspective. His locker room presence is probably his most underrated skill when it comes to public perception, but the team needs more out of those minutes.

Glen Davis has a lot of work to do before he’s ready for prime-time minutes. He’ll battle with Powe all season, but his track is more about progress, not a measure of his ability to contribute to winning. He’ll have some moments for sure, but the team is trying to become a contender and that’s done with experience on the job. Gabe Pruitt is also a ways away from contributing much more than some healthy competition and the occasional highlight. If he learns from the older players and pushes them along then he’ll get his chance. Sebastian Telfair certainly has other hills to climb before seeing him as a reliable part of the rotation for next year.

The team has cleverly balanced veterans with development even at the cost of better acquiring superior talent. They have also resisted short-term fixes despite the growing impatience of the fan constituency. Last year was a box office gift from the fans for all of the patience and understanding they’ve had by believing in the team’s direction.

Everyone is aware of the questions surrounding the team. Ownership isn’t ignorant to the sentiments of the people, but management has been able to maintain some clarity and uniformity amongst the ranks despite public pressure. This is a big season for this club and should promise to be an active offseason. Training camp is still some time away and many decisions will be made even when we’re not able to watch the end result on television.

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