I can't put this season to bed without taking one last look back to last Fall. Below is my preseason prediction article (quoted in green) with my current commentary added throughout.
Last Yearâ€™s Record: 33 - 49
Key Losses: Raef LaFrentz, Orien Greene
Key Additions: Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, Rajon Rondo
Lets pause right there and soak that in. I really didn't think we had anywhere to go but up from a 33 win season. And did we really just go over a year while only adding one significant piece (Rondo) to the puzzle?Â (More after the jump)
1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?
All the real action happened on draft day. The team traded away its only draft pick before the draft started, but somehow still managed to end up with 4 rookies on the training camp roster. The #7 pick, Dan Dickau, and Raef LaFrentz were traded to Portland for Sebasitan Telfair and Theo Ratliff. The Celtics got a talented point guard and saved one year of big money by swapping Raefâ€™s contract for Theoâ€™s. On draft night the team picked up Rajon Rondo for a future first rounder and Leon Powe in a cash deal. After the draft, they also added undrafted players Allen Ray and Kevin Pittsnogle.
We've been over the Ratliff trade too many times already. It is done and over with. All there is now is how to use the cap space when his contract expires. We'll also have to keep an eye on his rehab status. If he manages to make a comeback, his insurance doesn't cover as much of the contract as we thought.
On a side note, remember the Kevin Pittsnogle era? That was fun wasn't it? I wonder what undrafted free agents will win the annual Will Bynum award this season. Allen Ray and Leon Powe have proven that they can be solid 14th and 15th men in this league but somehow I think at least one of them could get bumped by our 2nd rounder.
2. What are the teamâ€™s biggest strengths?
The best players on the team play the swing positions (SG/SF), so that is obviously a strength.
Paul Pierce doesnâ€™t get enough credit as one of the best all around players in the league. Heâ€™s not just the top scorer on this team; heâ€™s also among the leaders in rebounds and assists, and has become a true leader. If the team around him can step up and help him deliver some wins, you could see his popularity skyrocket.
And if he misses significant time, expect an 18 game losing streak and the popularity of the team to freefall.
Wally Szczerbiak is coming off knee surgery but when healthy is good for 20 points a night. Delonte West stepped up his game as the teamâ€™s point guard last year, but expects to see more time at his natural shooting guard position in this his 3rd year.
How many years in a row will I have to write "Wally struggled with injuries last year, but when healthy he can be a valuable player..."?
You and I knew that Delonte wasn't a point guard last year. Danny Ainge went out and got 2 point guards so he could play shooting guard. So why did he still end up playing more than half the time at the point again?
There is also a lot of potential at the other positions. Telfair could be ready to turn the corner in his 3rd year at the point. Al Jefferson took care of some bone spurs and conditioning issues that plagued him last season and could be the PF of the future. Kendrick Perkins established himself as a solid defensive center and should be a rock in the middle for years.
I think the corner Telfair took was a wrong turn. Perkins played like he had rocks in his shoes for much of the year (and that must have been what it felt like too). Like Wally, I wonder if we'll ever get through a year without something holding Perkins back. Here's hoping, because I still love that guy.
Of course Al Jefferson was as good as we could have possibly hoped this year. We knew he could score, we knew he could rebound, we just never saw him do them both on a consistent basis until this season.
3. What are the teamâ€™s biggest weaknesses?
By far, the two biggest issues this team has are youth and defense.
I like to think that there was no way I could have seen the injuries coming, but when you have a team with Wally and Theo earning big bucks, don't you have to assume something will happen to at least those guys? We can hope for perfect health next year, and chances are it won't be as bad as this year (knock on wood), but you almost have to count on it being a factor at some point.
All the talent and promise comes wrapped in inexperience. Gerald Green could be the next Tracy McGrady, but right now heâ€™s usually lost on the court. Green, Telfair, Jefferson, and Perkins were all drafted straight out of high school and need time to develop. The team was also plagued with turnovers last year, which seems to be a direct result of the youth movement.
This year was like a 101 course on why inexperience doesn't win in this league. On the bright side, they got all the on-the-job training they could handle.
On the other hand, that youth is growing up. The only player with less than 2 years of experience that the Celtics will be relying heavily on is Ryan Gomes, and he played like a seasoned vet down the stretch. The youth excuse isnâ€™t going to work much longer. It is time for these players to produce or be left behind.
I totally undersold that excuse. Doc and Danny got a whole extra year out of it. Will it be back next year? With 2 new rookies, Gerald Green, and Rondo's role potentially increasing, I'd bet on it.
This team has put points on the board but hasnâ€™t proven that it can stop the other team from doing the same. Opposing guards were able to drive the lane and force the young big men into foul trouble. Players couldnâ€™t trust their teammates to cover for them, so they tried to play too much individual defense. The coaching staff needs to work hard to implement a defensive strategy and the players need to work on fundamentals and buy into the team defense concept.
Is it just me or has this topic completely been forgotten about? I suppose the thinking was that the team is so young and hurt that we can't even expect them to play defense. I suppose nobody told that to Coach Skiles in Chicago a couple years ago when he turned the Baby Bulls into playoff contenders. If Doc is going to be back next year, can we at least add a defensive guru to the 20 man coaching staff?
4. What are the goals for this team?
Iâ€™m sure that the stated goal will be to make the playoffs, but more than that this team needs to develop and evaluate the youth. A few players have the talent to be very special players and a number of others could be very solid. Of course the law of averages states that some of them will not pan out. Management needs to decide who will be the core group moving forward and who is expendable.
Well, we had all the time we needed to evaluate. More on that in the coming weeks.
5. What else should people know about the Celtics?
Be ready for more changes. Management seems to be behind Coach Rivers, and they really havenâ€™t given him a team that he would be expected to win with. However, the team hasnâ€™t overachieved either and if they struggle this year, Doc is going to catch a lot of heat.
Well, he did catch a lot of heat. Then he got the Get Out of Jail Free card that was Pierce's injury and the Oden/Durant lottery.
Also, GM Danny Ainge has made no secret of his desire to upgrade the roster using a couple of â€œtradable assetsâ€ to bring in an All Star calibre player to put beside Paul Pierce. Donâ€™t be too surprised to see some of this youth dealt for a big name player sometime during the year.
Still waiting on that "one move away."
Predicted Record: 42 - 40
I think I predicted that the previous season, and I'll probably do the same this next year. I'm a glass half full kind of guy I guess.
Goodbye 2006-2007 season. Bring on the offseason.