The Defending Champs will have a different looking bench than the Champs did. In my opinion, the Celtics have the best starting five in the league. We all know what to expect from the Paul, Ray, and Kevin. The only question with Rondo is "how much better can he get?" Even if Perkins doesn't get any better he'll still be one of the better defensive centers in the league. The bench is a different story.
Last year the team benefited from veterans with playoff experience like Posey, PJ Brown, and (to an extent) Sam Cassell. All three are gone now and Ainge has shifted to a youth movement. There are a lot of good reasons for going with a younger cast on the bench.
For one thing, the 30-something stars are going to need some fresh young legs to spell them. Also, we'll need to keep up with the younger, more athletic teams like Atlanta that gave us problems in the playoffs last year. Finally, there are the economic forces driving the roster younger. When the payroll is tied up with three max contracts, you can only fill the roster veterans looking for one last shot at glory, broken down players looking for another shot, and young players on rookie contracts. Ainge went with the latter two this offseason.
Clearly every team has bench players with question marks. If they were free from doubt, they'd more than likely be starters somewhere. However, this squad just seems a little more stacked with doubt than in the past. All have the potential to do great things, but all have a good chance at failure too. We can tick them off right down the rotation:
Eddie House: We all fell in love with his energy and jumper in the playoffs, but remember that the reason the team brought in Sam Cassell was because Eddie had trouble getting the ball over half court. He just isn't a point guard. He provides instant offense as a combo guard, but don't ask him to run the offense. If Rondo goes down for any stretch, can we count on Eddie to fill his spot?
Leon Powe/Glen "Big Baby" Davis: It really isn't fair, but I can't seem to separate these two. In my head they are our Siamese twin undersized power forwards. Both flexed their muscles at times last year. It almost seemed that they took turns stepping up. Would either one benefit more from consistent minutes? Or are they like situational relief pitchers that can only be counted on in certain circumstances?
Tony Allen: He's been in the league 4 seasons and we still are not sure exactly what to expect from him. Was that brilliant stretch just before his last injury in 06-07 just a mirage, or can he finally stay healthy and fulfill some of his promise? Even if he's healthy, can he stay focused enough to be a consistent performer, or will mental errors continue to plague him?
Brian Scalabrine: He finally got demoted to the inactive list last year, but now Posey is gone. Scalabrine has a limited upside but he also has limited downside. In other words, you know what you get with him. So the only question is; "do we really have to rely on Scal this year?"
Gabe Pruitt: Gabe was drafted in the second round and spent the majority of the year on the inactive list or in the D-League. There's really not much we know for sure about him. Can he play point? Can he play defense? Is he skilled enough to contribute? Did he just need a year of experience or is he just not good enough?
Patrick O'Bryant: Ladies and gentlemen, this is our prize free agent signing of the offseason. (So much for my comments about free agents "lining up around the block." Maybe they were lined up, but when they got to the front of the line, they were met with disinterested low-ball offers. Oh well.) POB is just one big question mark. Is there enough talent to work with? Even if he has talent, will he work at it? If the answer to either question was "yes" then wouldn't the team that used (i.e. wasted) a lottery pick on him think about keeping him around for another year by picking up his option? What style or system works best for him? Can he play defense? Can he play offense? The list goes on.
Darius Miles: If Darius plays 10 games for the Celtics, he'll cost the Blazers millions in cap space. If he plays anything close to a full season, you can just hand him the Comeback Player of the Year award and be done with it. Even if he is fully healthy and can play several more seasons, will he ever have the explosiveness that pretty much defined his game before the injuries? Even if he regains his hops, has he matured enough through life's lessons to make him a positive element in the locker room? Will we sign any more players with IMDB pages (see also Ray Allen)?JR Giddens: He is technically a first rounder, but he was projected in the 2nd round and every other team with a 1st rounder passed on him. Being a rookie is already a challenge, but he has to break into a Championship rotation. Ray Allen might need some more rest this year, but he'll still get the bulk of the minutes and we might see Eddie House play some 2 as well. Is there any room in the rotation for him? Are his maturity issues really in the past or does he still have some growing up to do?
Bill Walker: He had lottery talent before injuries to his legs sent him deep into the 2nd round. Can he stay healthy? Can he refine his game to the pro level? How much can he contribute in his rookie year?
The bottom line is that this team's bench seems like more of a risk than the team that ended the year. The flipside of that is the upside this bench has. This year's squad has a higher upside and much more long-term value than the one that won the title last year. But will those future considerations cost us in the short term? Is the strong starting 5 good enough to make up for anything the bench might lack? Are there enough "hits" on the bench to make up for the expected "misses?"
Only time will answer these questions, but it is fun to debate them in the offseason. What other questions/concerns do you have? Who do you think has the best chance of success? How about the greatest chance of failure?