Certainly, Doc's got his work cut out for him, but these are rich man's problems. Knock on wood, Danny has provided Doc with the deepest (and more importantly, least injury prone) roster since the championship season in 2008. Every starter is backed up by a solid role player and every role player is backed up a promising young rookie. It's a depth chart that can withstand short and long term injuries, rest its veterans for the playoffs, and simultaneously develop rotation players for the future.
Danny addressed all the deficiencies from last season: he drafted two quality bigs in Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, re-signed Garnett, Bass, and Wilcox, and picked up Jason Collins to shore up our rebounding; he replaced Ray Allen with Courtney Lee and re-signed grizzled vet Keyon Dooling to work in tandem with Rondo and Bradley on our improved perimeter defense; and he re-signed Jeff Green, recruited former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry, and invited summer league scoring stand outs Jamar Smith, Dionte Christmas, and second round draft pick Kris Joseph to provide punch from an anemic bench that only netted two points against the Heat in Game 7. There's also the constant: The Captain, Paul Pierce, who's had all summer to rest his bum knee. We've lauded the front office all summer and I'm ready for that next shoe to drop where we can actually see these guys in action. As our friends at CelticsHub point out, this team is locked in for the next several years and that consistency should breed familiarity and chemistry and ideally, championship mettle. In the meantime, it's fun to speculate how the team will play in the fall.
It'll be interesting to see how Doc incorporates all these players, but I've taken a shot at it. Below is a chart of one half of a game with the rotation at ten deep. When you start to think of all the combinations that the Celtics could be playing with next season, you can't help and get giddy. I even made all the roster updates on NBA 2K12 and ran the new team against the Heat. Sure, it's only a computer simulation, but when you play with next year's roster as opposed to last year's roster (especially the team they had in June), it's ridiculously fun. There's just so much more they can do on both sides of the ball.
Side note: even though it kills me to see Ray Allen in a Miami jersey, seeing him relegated to just sitting on the wing waiting for a LeBron or Wade pass, and being able to close on him quickly with Lee and Bradley makes my day.
(click image to enlarge)
Minute totals for a half:
Now, I can't imagine a scenario where no starter averages over 30 minutes a game other than Rondo (possibly Pierce, less possibly Garnett), but I wouldn't be surprised if more than a handful of the 10 rotation players hovered around 25-27 mpg. Doc hasn't had that luxury in the past but look for him to emulate the success of his mentor, Greg Popovich, with the San Antonio Spurs
roster. They've aged gracefully with Tim Duncan
, Manu Ginobili
, and Tony Parker
getting long in the tooth by adding savvy vets like Stephen Jackson
and Boris Diaw
and drafting wisely. They look for players that fit their system and play them all. Guys might fall in and out of favor as the season progresses and the rotation might tighten during the playoffs, but every player to a man is ready if their number is called. My only complaint is that Danny didn't do this kind of thing sooner, but in his defense, this is the first off-season that he's had real cap flexibility.
Some notes regarding my proposed minutes distribution:
The Who-Should-Start-At-Shooting-Guard Conundrum.
Regardless of whether Bradley is ready for training camp
or misses the start of the season
after double shoulder surgery, I like Lee joining the starting lineup. Although the sample size was small, there was a lot of talk of how Avery Bradley's
insertion in the starting lineup in March produced some of the stingiest defensive numbers in NBA history
. That's all well and good and I'm sure Doc will use the Rondo/Bradley combo often, but I think Lee still starts. He's the perfect combination of how Ray and Avery complimented the other starters. With Lee, we get Ray's outside shooting and floor spacing and Avery's tenacious D and athleticism.
Bradley's also better paired with a scoring guard like Terry (vs. starting Terry and having Bradley and Lee play together). Where Lee acts as a release valve for a corner three to Rondo's penetration, Bradley's constant movement and cutting will work seamlessly as The Jet draws defenders to him. However, it wouldn't surprise me if Bradley got his starting job back. He and Rondo work on a string and before Doc recruited Terry and Danny pulled off a minor miracle by trading for Lee, they were the backcourt for the future.
5-5-5 Plan. I also see Doc employing the same 5-5-5 minute restrictions on Garnett. Limiting his playing time and saving KG's legs clearly had a positive effect on him by the time the playoffs started. Those shorter five minute bursts also seemed to help harness Garnett's intensity. He didn't have to pace himself for long stretches.
Wilcox should be able to spell him and is a reliable source for energy plays and defense and I'm sure they'll be a week here and there where Fab Melo will string together a couple of good games. If all else fails, Jason Collins is a serviceable back up big who can throw his weight and six fouls around with the likes of Dwight Howard
and Andrew Bynum
. Some people have also speculated that Danny is saving the BAE for later in the season just in case we need another body at center. I can hear the Rasheed Wallace
Doc's No Rookies Policy Lifted.
Partly because of need and partly because of his potential, I think Doc gives Sullinger a chance to crack the lineup. Jason Collins is an insurance policy at the one-year veteran's minimum and Fab Melo is still in the "big man project" stage of his career (SBNation's Mike Prada ranked him last in rookies that appeared in the summer league
), Sullinger can contribute right away. He'll probably come in late in quarters with teams already in the penalty. The good news is, his bulldozing, physical style should get him trips to the free throw line; the bad news is, he'll have to really be able to move his feet on defense to avoid cheap fouls.
But if Doc's really going to give quality time to a first year player, he's going to give him one task and ask him to perfect it and prove himself. Doc doesn't expect a lot of young players, but if you can do one thing really well, you might sniff some playing time. Think back over the last five years of the players that eventually contributed for the C's. Doc molded Tony Allen
, who was a decent scorer at Oklahoma State, into a defensive stopper. Big Baby only saw the floor after he mastered Tom Thibodeau's
defensive rotations and became a charge magnet. Last season, Doc couldn't ignore Avery's energy on defense and he quickly became a key component overnight.
Sullinger's hill to climb will be his rebounding. It's already a strength of his and as he told Jessica Camerato
himself, "as long as you can rebound, you'll always be employed." At 10-15 minutes a game, Smokey The Swag Bear will get the opportunity to tip the balance of games by grabbing a couple of offensive rebounds and igniting the fast break by cleaning up the defensive glass.
COMBINATIONS I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE:
Rondo-Bradley-Lee-Dooling: On Ball Defense
One of Courtney Lee's strengths has always been his perimeter defense
and adding him to an already ferocious attack with Rondo and Bradley guarantees that opposing guards will have to go the entire 48 minutes in a straight jacket. These guys--especially Bradley--are one-man full-court presses, but together, they'll force opposing teams to start their offenses deep into shot clocks. I'm talking to you, Jameer Nelson
Garnett-Sullinger-Melo: Teacher & Student
When KG re-signed this summer and pretty much guaranteed that he'd retire a Celtic, it not only made a statement that Boston was reloading for another run, but it marked a continuation of the culture that he's cultivated here for the last five seasons. Call it "Ubuntu." Call it "grit and balls." Call it what you will, but Garnett is at the center of it. I don't think Glen Davis
or Kendrick Perkins
are the players they are today without KG's influence and I can't wait to see his tutelage of the rookies. Semih Erden
and JaJuan Johnson
not withstanding, it's the first time that Garnett will have two rookies this promising under his wing.
Rondo-Bradley-Lee-Green-Wilcox: Run, Run, Run
Fans have been begging Danny to surround Rondo with players that he can run with and this will be the first time that he's in the company of other greyhounds. We're not exactly going to be Miami or OKC, but we'll probably see fewer secondary breaks that lead to Pierce and Allen spot up threes and more breakaways for Lee and Bradley and alley-oops to Wilcox and Green.
Rondo-Terry-Green-Pierce-Garnett: Vets in Crunch Time
That's certainly not the closing lineup every night, but that's a pretty versatile group of players that Doc can run out there in a tight game. The Celtics have suffered so many times in playoffs past from extended scoring droughts (see Game 7 against the Lakers
in 2010, Game 7 against the Heat in 2012), but the additions of Terry and Green give them scoring poise in those late game situations. JT is as clutch as they come and one of the best players to get the ball to after that second and third rotation of the defense. He can put it on the floor or hit the big three. Green's a little bit of a wild card but his size and speed just adds another dimension that Rondo can go to. He's a threat from anywhere on the court. As the third option in Oklahoma City, Jeff averaged 15 ppg and shot 45% from the field.
Pierce-Green: Passing the Torch
The biggest question mark in Danny's off-season was not so much re-signing Green, but for how much and for how long he did it for. He made a big statement committing a reported $36 million over four years: Jeff Green is going to be an integral part of the Celtics future and potentially the heir apparent to Paul Pierce. I doubt they'll share a lot of time on the court because Green will see most of his playing time replacing The Truth.
It will be those unseen moments on the bench or teaching opportunities as they pass each other at the scorers' table that I'll have my eyes on. Not unlike KG's stewardship over Sullinger and Melo, PP's influence over Green is as important, if not more. As a small forward in the NBA, you're expected to do a little bit of everything. You're expected to be a primary scorer and in turn, defend the other team's best scorer. You need to be able to rebound and create offense for your teammates. On paper, Green is capable of all these things, but he hasn't shown it in his short stint in Boston. Expect to see Pierce harness Green's potential early in the season and into next year. It's very rare in the NBA where you see a great player in his twilight mentor his successor. David Robinson and Tim Duncan come to mind. Usually, it takes the incumbent to vacate his seat before the challenger can flourish in their absence (i.e. Ray Allen leaving, Courtney Lee stepping in). Did Bird, Magic, or Jordan help pave the way for their replacements? Who showed Kobe, LeBron, or Durant the ropes? I'd hate to put that kind of pressure on Pierce and Green because they're both unique people and players and it's unfair to think that Green could replace who could be the all-time leading scorer in Celtics' history when it's all said and done. It's also unfair to make it The Captain's responsibility to make sure Green develops and grows into his contract, but those expectations are out there.
* * *
In a way, Green's success is a good measure of how this simultaneous rebuilding/reloading project is doing. Could Green's development be accelerated if Pierce was out of the picture and traded at last year's deadline for a lottery pick or will Green benefit playing behind one of the greatest Celtics of all time? By now, everyone's familiar with Danny's criticism of Red Auerbach's refusal to break up an aging team and build from scratch. In today's NBA, you often have to be really bad before you're really good. Think the Thunder
. You have to gut your team and try and build a super team. Think the Heat or the Knicks
or the Nets
or even the Celtics in 2008. You have to find a transcendent, top five superstar to build around. Think Dwight Howard. Unless you want to wander around for years in the second round purgatory, championship teams are built by bold, swift moves and in Boston, it's championship or bust.
Red could have traded his Big Three while Bird, McHale, and Parish had some value, but he didn't. And neither did Danny. It was a curious decision for a guy as unsentimental as Danny but I truly believe that he truly believes that this team can win.
And if my NBA 2K12 model is accurate, Danny's right.