Much ado was made about "blowing up the team" to kick start the rebuilding process in the post-KG/Pierce era. Thankfully, that plan was either rejected, put on hold, or never a realistic option in the first place. The idea was to bring in young, talented pieces to build around Rajon Rondo. As it turns out, we've got a nice core of young players already. But will it be enough?
Perhaps it isn't fair to evaluate Jeff Green the day after the best game of his career (and what could very well end up being the best game he'll ever play) but suffice it to say he's raised the bar for himself. We now know, with on-the-record proof, that he's capable of producing a jaw-dropping performance. In particular on a night when he was put into the starting lineup and filling in for Kevin Garnett (read: a larger role and increased responsibility). As others have pointed out, his other highest point total this year (31) was against the Suns - which happened to be another time Green started for Garnett. (Note: He also started for KG against Charlotte and only managed 10 points)
My word of caution is this: Green has been pretty hit or miss all season and that inconsistency is what keeps him from taking that next step. He's just as likely to score 8 points as his is to score 18, which results in his 12 ppg average. Still, I'm officially encouraged by the fact that he's capable of doing more as his role expands.
Next there's Avery Bradley. A defensive star already, he's showing signs of developing a more rounded offensive game as well. He's shooting the ball well and has shown no fear of shooting in big moments when the ball gets swung his way. I think as he develops he'll keep improving, but even if he doesn't he's a foundation type player for his defense alone.
Next on my list is Jared Sullinger. The biggest question about him has been his back issues and if the surgery really did clear that up (for the near future) then he's going to be a stud. He makes up for his lack of size and athleticism with superior intelligence and hard work. And his superpower is something that this team has lacked for too long: rebounding!
After that, you could throw in Courtney Lee. He started off really slow but he's coming around and developing a defensive identity. Picking up from Avery's lead, he helps create chaos for opposing guards and can knock down some jumpers. He's shot better percentages over his career than he has this year as well.
It really isn't fair to put too many expectations on Fab Melo at this point because we haven't seen what he can do against NBA competition. However, reports out of Maine indicate that the guy is learning a lot and is already one of the best defensive players in the D-League.
Personally, I love that the common thread with all these guys is defense. They can play Doc's system and carry on the tradition that has been established over the last several years. We may never see the level of defense that we've become accustomed to again, if only because we can't clone Kevin Garnett. But it is encouraging to know that these young players have learned first hand from the best and are capable of dominating a game on defense.
The flipside is offense. Can a starting lineup of Rondo, Bradley, Green, Sully, and Melo (or someone like Wilcox) score enough to compete in this league? When Green is on, maybe. If he can't be consistent, then neither could this team. So that's something to keep in mind.
Of course, I'm not tossing dirt on the graves of Pierce and Garnett just yet. They may very well be back for more next year, but one of these days they are going to have to take a step back in minutes (perhaps to a reserve role) or decide to step away from the game entirely.
Barring a blockbuster trade, Rajon Rondo is the future and the face of the franchise. It seems like the team is building some nice pieces to put around him. I still kind of feel like we need another star on (or near) Rondo's level if we want to compete for a Championship. I'm not convinced that anyone on the team his capable of that kind of meteoric jump (though that game last night at least made me pause and daydream a bit).
It wouldn't surprise me to see one or two of these guys moved in a trade to land a star (remember when we weren't sure if we wanted to lose Al Jefferson just to get an "old" Kevin Garnett?). Or maybe we'll get lucky or creative in the draft and free agency. We'll see.
All we can evaluate is what we've got on the roster right now. Nobody knows what is coming next. Still, some teams (like the Wizards or Bobcats for example) go through years of rebuilding in order to scrape together the kind of talent that we've been able to develop while competing with the big boys the last few years. That's called rebuilding on the fly and it has been encouraging to watch lately.