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Boston Celtics Preview - Green 17

bos.gifBoston Celtics - Green 17

Last year’s record: 24-58.

Players Lost: Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff

Players added: Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, James Posey, Glen Davis, Gabe Pruitt, Eddie House, Scot Pollard, Esteban Batista, Dahntay Jones, Brandon Wallace, Jackie Manuel

We are currently at 17 position players - 2 over the limit. The Euro trip will change that.

 1) Significant changes -

 Everyone in the basketball world know the significant changes. Even casual fans know the big changes. Fans are coming back in droves. We now have 3 of the league’s top players all under one roof. That includes a bonifide top 5 player as the centerpiece - Kevin Garnett. He is an athletic freak by anyone’s standards. An amazing player to watch. Long time Celtic Paul Pierce and Ray Allen complete the talented trifecta.

All three have won nothing apart from each other. None of the three have had anything like each other to help them achieve their goals.

It is a great story line going forward.

And upon that story hinge Celtic hopes both inside and outside the organization. It is a reasonably good bet as well. I didn’t just say ‘bet’, did I? I mean…..ahem…..risk.

2) Team’s biggest strengths -

The massive talent at the 2,3 and 4 positions. Duh. 

I’m going to add the next 3-4 positions as well. This will come under fire by some but….

James Posey, Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen, and Eddie House are all solid 4-7 role players. This is enough to cause great concern for the most of the league’s teams.

This team will be very difficult to beat once it gets things figured out and playing habits absorbed by each other. It can’t be any other way.

3) Biggest weaknesses -

The PG and center position players have to prove themselves as they go. This is accepted as fact by most non Celtic fans everywhere and even bandied about in by Celtic Nation - but even the most optimistic fans must admit in their hearts that this is where questions are unanswered entering the season.

I’m talking specifically about 21 year old Rajon Rondo and 22 year old (he’ll be 23 in November) Kendrick Perkins. They are the key to how solid the starting 5 will be. They are both quite young. Perkins development has been marred by injuries on a yearly basis. Are these 2 positions a weakness? We will find out.

Cleveland got to the Finals with flawed PG play. Traditional point guards are a rarity anyway. But you could argue that is also a major reason why the Cavs were so vulnerable at that level.  

Rondo seems mature for his age and Perkins is already a 4 year pro with 210 games under his belt. You could argue that Perkins would be just a rookie now if he went to 4 years of college. But the 210 games of league experience makes him far more than that now. I won’t call either of them weaknesses, but question marks instead.

The addition of Esteban Batista has me hopeful that his recent summer league performance is more indictative of his true potential than his last 2 years on the Hawks. At least, he is another large body with some offensive skills. Let’s hope Danny’s first foreign player since Jiri Welsch is more successful.

The bench - as mentioned we have some decent role players 4-7. But our depth at PG and center is thin. Should Perkins or Rondo go down with injury, it definitely changes things. Danny went through a season with no true depth at PF 2 years ago when Al Jefferson went out. He can’t afford to leave either position unaddressed in the event of a serious injury this time. My guess is he would get active quickly in trade talks should that happen this time. There is no ‘we’ll get them next year’ anymore.

Leon Powe - 

Glen Davis is my surprise player of the year (see below) . But Leon Powe is a player I’m expecting a strong showing from based on last year and the Summer League this year. He has displayed a willingness to ‘mix it up’ that this Celtic team drastically needs. He plays bigger than his size, but needs to improve his shot selection around the post.

Both Powe and Davis are capable getting their shot off around the hoop…or getting it blocked. This year’s focus on the three stars by the other team should open things up for both players a little bit more. I expect a solid fight for minutes with Powe getting the lion’s share early on because he has been in the system for a year.

Coaching - Doc Rivers has caught a lot of the wrath of Celtic Nation for much of his time here. It started in his very first year, which was arguably his most successful as an NBA coach. He won a career high 45 games with a veteran/youth blended roster. The team made the play-offs and lost in a crazy first round against a Pacer team that went through it’s own difficult season filled with suspensions and injuries.

In this play-off series, the team won games they should have lost and lost games they should have won. It ended on a truly sour note by the team’s worst game 7 loss at home - ever. Many feel that Doc was outcoached badly. I pretty much agree.

It was here that my own Doc Rivers concerns began to crystalize. His handling of the youth and erratic motivation of the team were simply…puzzling.

The last 2 years, I blame Doc less as he had a youth tilted roster to develop. I said I blame him less, but I can’t let him completely off the hook either. As a ‘players’ coach, 2 years ago, he had some difficult player personalities (Blount, Banks, Davis)  that he was less than successful handling.

Last year was a full blown University of Celtics season once Paul Pierce went down with injury.

I don’t know when any coach, let alone Doc Rivers, has been handed such a drastically different roster from one season to another. The addition of new assistant coach, Tom Thibodeau, should help a great deal from looking at Tom’s resume. His strength is defense and his teams play very good defense wherever he has gone. Let’s hope the same thing happens here.

Regarding rotations - Doc takes possibly undeserved blame here. When he had a veteran roster in his first year, the team was among the league’s leaders (top 8 ) in least amount of 5 man units tried. The next 2 years he was among the highest. His response is that no one earned a continued rotation spot and there is some truth in that. I think we will see a great reduction in line-up experimentation this year.

Team Goals -

Making the play-offs is the very least of expectations from everyone. Getting at least to the 2nd round might get Doc a real contract extension. Going further would guarantee one, IMO.

Players don’t like to see coaching changes when things are going well. Eastern Conference Finals means don’t rock the boat, unless they experience another play-off debacle like Doc’s first year here.

Putting talent in the pipeline - Though others might not, I’ll call that a goal. Even though this team is geared for a win now approach, a smart Danny Ainge would try to put some developing potential at 7-10 spots on his bench. Whether that means the young players he has now or other young talent, (through trades and draft) the team needs players that can grow into more important roles in a year or two. This team is generally undersized at a number of positions.

Those are really the goals. It’s all about Ws and mostly about play-off success now. A league title is the ultimate goal for the first time in a long while.

Final thoughts (no pun intended) -

There are number of really interesting story lines to follow this year.

Reputations on the line: 

The most compelling one to me is the challenge to three league stars to finally achieve what they couldn’t separately. Their individual legacies are now on the line. There are no 2 ways about it. This mountain must be climbed or forever be grouped with Karl Malone, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, George Gervin,  and all the great players who couldn’t get that final accolade - the NBA Championship. 

Doc Rivers coaching reputation is also reaching a turning point. He also could redeem a tarnished image in the eyes of many.

Who among the rest of the team steps up and becomes an integral part of the team’s success is intriguing as well.

I expect career years for Kendrick Perkins, Rajon Rondo, and Tony Allen.

Surprise player of the year - Glen Davis. I’m saying this without having seen him play a great deal and very little as a pro. It is his mind and confidence that will make a difference if my understanding of those aspects of the game holds true. We will see.

The prediction -

If I thought last year’s team was good for 42 wins when healthy - and I did think that, then how much more now?

Such a drastic roster change makes this prediction harder than you might think. The team is essentially brand new. Granted Pierce, Rondo and Perkins represent 3/5ths of the starting line-up. Going from 24 wins to 44 wins would normally be unrealistic for any team.

But this has not been a realistic off season. The 2 best players added are experienced stars of the highest level.

I’m comfortable with saying 50 wins if all major players are healthy with a range of 48 -53 wins as the parameters. I’m not going crazy with expectations in their first year together.

We will re-visit this number at key times in the year, to see how far (or little) I have to adjust my thinking.

I am more interested in how the team does in the post season. This is where the more important judgements about Doc and the team should be made, IMO.

Announcement:

I am going to be the Boston Celtic reporter and blogger for the Connecticut Post this season. The Connecticut Post is one of the largest circulation papers in the state. I will going to games and doing interviews for the CT Post as my time allows. The Celtics17 MVN.com site will get the benefit of some of that as well.  

I will be linking my website there to this one. I will still be blogging here, too. I’ll give you more details in a few days. Stay tuned.

So that is it. It wasn’t as brief as I had hoped, but you knew that would happen, didn’t you? Peace all.

T