Team Name: Boston Celtics
Last Years Record: 66-16
Key Losses: P.J. Brown, James Posey
Key Additions: J.R. Giddens, Darius Miles, Patrick O'Bryant, Bill Walker
1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?
The 2007 off-season was one of the biggest in the history of the organization. Predictably the 2008 edition was much quieter. In fact, depending on how everything shakes out, Boston's biggest move may have been letting someone go - James Posey - rather than adding a player. That's not to say Danny Ainge was inactive. In the tradition of the last few drafts he took a shot on some players that scared other teams for one reason or another. In 2006 it was Rajon Rondo (shooting) and Leon Powe (knees). In 2007 it was Glen Davis (height, weight, vertical) and Gabe Pruitt (can he play the point?). And in 2008 it was J.R. Giddens (tumultuous college career) and Bill Walker (knees). Ainge acted similarly in free agency by taking a flier on a young 7-footer with two nondescript NBA seasons under his belt (Patrick O'Bryant) and the injury/character enigma that is Darius Miles. I'd be ecstatic if two of those additions contributed this season.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
The Big 3 - Heading into the 2008 season questions swirled about how Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett would mesh. Consider those questions answered. And while they may be in the wrong side of their respective primes, KG (32) and Pierce (31) are still in their primes, with Allen (33) arguably just exiting his. They are the focus of the team from both a financial and talent standpoint.
Defense - KG is back. Tom Thibodeau is back. If the Celtics have the same commitment to D as they did last season and Tony Allen can help replace Posey's contributions, this will once again be the team's calling card. Of those two scenarios the former is more important. If the 2008 Celtics taught me anything, it is the importance of a team effort on defense.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Back up Point Guard - Even as the Celtics rolled through the 2009 season with Eddie House providing 3-point shooting and energy, critics (myself included) worried about House's ball handling and defense. The organization agreed and eventually brought in Sam Cassell. Unfortunately Cassell never fit into the offense (he's a gunner) and his weaknesses mirrored House's. Heading into camp it remains to be seen whether Cassell, House, or Gabe Pruitt will grab the back up spot. For the record, I'm comfortable with House there.
Bench - The Celtics need to replace Posey's defense, timely 3-point shooting, pregame man hug ritual, and all around veteran savvy. Hopefully Tony Allen can do provide the defense. If not, someone will have to emerge from the Giddens, Miles, Walker trio.
Center - During the 2008 playoffs I favored lineups that had either Kevin Garnett or Leon Powe at power forward and Kendrick Perkins or P.J. Brown at center. As the 2009 season approaches Perk's shoulder is a concern, Brown is retired, and Patrick O'Bryant is an enigma. Everyone else, minus Garnett, is undersized. And nobody wants KG to play center.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Based upon nearly every public appearance the Celtics have made since winning a championship, it's clear they want to repeat. As much as I'd love to see a Celtics team pull that off for the first time since Bill Russell's played, I understand how tough that is. Realistically I'd only be disappointed if they failed to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. And to be honest I'd love to see them maintain control of the East. But I'm probably in the minority on this one. Fans expect another ring.
5. Can Doc Rivers establish himself as one of the NBA's elite coaches?
Even after a 66-win regular season and an NBA Finals where he bested Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers' critics only begrudgingly praised his efforts. The most frequent backhanded compliments gave credit to his assistant coaches or pointed to the ideal roster. Those approaches don't give Rivers enough credit for getting his stars to play team ball, pulling off Ubuntu, and winning a championship. In fact, just by asking this question I'm starting the process anew. However, given the personnel question marks as camp opens, Rivers can cement himself as one of today's best with another strong performance this season.
Predicted Record: Last year I laughably predicted the Celtics would win 49 games. Translation: I'm not too good at this. Meanwhile, Chicago, Cleveland, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, and the Eastern Conference in general should be better. Factor in James Posey's departure, the question marks on Boston's bench, and concerns about whether or not the Celtics will have the same fire and drive, and it is reasonable to expect fewer wins. My prediction: 58 - 24