Can the Celtics make the playoffs without making more moves?

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody is expecting this team (as is) to be a contender. But they could make some real progress.

Like a broken record, I'm going to keep reminding everyone that it is a long offseason and there's still plenty of time to make additional moves.  But there's also a chance that the Celtics won't find anything else immediately available that makes sense to them in the short and long term.  So we might be looking at our training camp roster.

This begs the question. Would that mean the Celtics would be destined for the lottery once again?  Or is there enough young firepower mixed with a sprinkling of veteran savvy to make this team competitive next year?  Perhaps even to make the playoffs?  In other words, can they be the Phoenix Suns of last year? (Note that the Suns would have easily made the playoffs in the East)

First of all, the biggest improvement will be getting our star point guard at (presumably) 100% from the start of the season.  Next to him will be a (presumably) healthy Avery Bradley.  Getting them both on the court at the same time has been a challenge over the years, but in theory that combo should be very dangerous.  Coming off the bench we'll have 6th pick Marcus Smart creating havoc on defense and learning the ropes on offense.  Thornton too will have opportunities to give us bursts of scoring off the bench.  As a bonus, Phil Pressey adds depth as well.  To me, that sounds like a nice upgrade on last year's day one rotation of Jordan Crawford, Avery Bradley, and Courtney Lee.

The small forward rotation looks very similar with Jeff Green doing Jeff Green things and Gerald Wallace providing hustle and grit (but few offensive stats) off the bench.  It is worth noting that Jeff Green is potentially in a contract year since he can opt out of his deal at the end of the year.  He'll also be a year older and wiser and a year further away from his heart surgery.  (I think that covers all the major bases and this means I won't have to write another Jeff Green article for at least a few weeks).

Another difference this year is that we have the option of developing James Young as well.  If he can earn a spot by beating out Gerald Wallace (jokes aside, the veteran has forgotten more about NBA ball than the Young-ster knows so far) then he'd be a nice upgrade athletically.

Things are still crowded at power forward, but the overall big man rotation is a little more balanced than it was last year.  Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk are both young, talented, and somewhat limited thus far in their development.  Both figure to use the summer to improve their bodies and their overall skillset and could hit the ground running next year.  Both could be part of the Celtics rotation for years, ...or either could be traded tomorrow.  That's life in the NBA.

Sullinger gets some criticism from around the league for having a low shooting percentage (especially from 3) last year.  I get that, but I also know that the team was encouraging him to shoot 3's so he would feel more comfortable with the shot when the games start to mean more.  With a leaner frame, I could see him being more agile and perhaps quicker on his defensive rotations.

Olynyk had his ups and downs last year, but what rookie doesn't?  He finished pretty strong and showed enough of the potential that made him a lottery pick to give us reason to hope for good things ahead for him.

Then there's Brandon Bass who, at least at this point, might still be the best of the three.  He's better defensively than Sully or Kelly and he's got that reliable-but-not-game-changing mid-range jumper.  He's consistent, works hard, and is a good teammate.  If the Celtics can't get value for him via trade, they will still benefit from his presence on the team.

At center we might even have a training camp competition for the starting spot for the first time in years.  Newcomer Tyler Zeller will go up against 2nd year big man Vitor Faverani, who had a rough first year that ended with injury.  If Vitor can recover some of that magic that he had the first few weeks of last year, he could be valuable.  If he's lost on defense and battling injuries, then Zeller will win the starting spot easily.  Plus Stevens has the option of going with the reliable but limited Joel Anthony to provide solid defense.

At the bottom of the depth charts there's some pieces to sort out as well.  There's 17 players under contract, but one of them is named Keith Bogans and it is just a matter of time before he's waived by either the Celtics or another team that trades for him.  Colton Iverson is another guy that could be added to the squad, but he might also find himself in a numbers crunch and wind up overseas for another year. So the team could wind up cutting one more non-guaranteed contract (likely either Chris Babb or Chris Johnson) and running with the 15 remaining players.

In general, the Celtics haven't made a ton of upgrades, but they've added young talent which gives the team better depth and potential.  The young players will be a year older and Rajon Rondo will be healthy headed into camp.  That alone might make this team a good deal better this year than the one that lost 57 games last year.

Could they make a giant leap forward and win 48 games like the Suns did a year ago?  It would require a lot of things to go exactly right, but it is possible.  Keep in mind, as well, that the Celtics play in the East where winning just 40 games might be enough to sneak into the playoffs.  That experience alone would likely prove more valuable than "tanking" for a slightly higher draft pick once again.  It also might give Rajon enough hope in the future of this team to re-up his contract next summer.

There's a lot of young talent and a sprinkling of veterans on this roster, so they might very well be very fun to watch.  Ainge will keep looking to upgrade the roster this summer, but it might also be wise to see what we have and what value each one of the players can develop this coming year.  We might be in a whole different bargaining position come the trade deadline and then into next summer if the right guys step up their games.

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