At the beginning of this off-season, Doc Rivers was asked what the team needed to accomplish this summer, especially after a 2008 off-season that many have described as disappointing. Rather than deflect the question, Doc answered it head on:
Q: The one thing the Celtics hit on last year was bench guys you brought in, including James Posey, P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell. Is it safe to assume that the Celtics have to do a better job at filling those roles in 2009-10?
DOC: "Absolutely. We have to hit on backup positions. That's the key to our season, the subtle moves we make. One mistake we made was our locker room and our bench got too young too quickly. I think it made Rondo and Perkins younger. When guys had questions in the locker room, you had Sam, P.J. and Posey, plus the Big Three.
"It's more difficult when nobody is there in the second group. And when Kevin (Garnett) went down it really came down to the Big Two and now those are the two old guys, minus Scal (Brian Scalabrine). That's way too young."
It was hard to argue with Doc's assessment. While the early playoff exit of last year's team was predominantly due to the absence of Kevin Garnett, one can't look past the fact that the team had a largely ineffective bench, which led to starters like Paul Pierce and Ray Allen playing too many minutes.
The wish list of both Doc Rivers and most Celtics fans seemed to be 1) sign a backup big; 2) sign a backup for Paul Pierce; 3) re-sign Glen Davis; 4) re-sign Leon Powe; and 5) bring in somebody who can bring the ball up court and run the offense. To the credit of both Danny Ainge and Celtics' ownership, they implemented a plan that came remarkably close to an ideal off-season. Or, as Doc said today,
"We had a pretty good game plan this summer," said Doc Rivers. "I mean, we had Marquis or Grant Hill. Either one of them could have been a point guard (to get the ball up the floor), and that’s the way we looked at it. And we wanted Rasheed. We didn’t have a secondary plan for that, so that’s why the begging was so important with Rasheed."
Added Rivers, "We improved the way we wanted to. We didn’t upset our culture. We kind of just added to what we have, to our core. That’s exactly what we wanted to do. We didn’t want to get in a situation where we had eight new players. We’ve done that already, and we don’t need to do that anymore."
In other words, "mission accomplished".
What went right:
1) The signing of Rasheed Wallace.
Quite simply, Rasheed Wallace was the best big man on the market that was available for the MLE. Signing him should turn out to be a coup; he's still a legit, starting-caliber impact player. He's a defensive leader, a good rebounder, and an excellent shooter. Also, he brings a swagger to the bench that's been missing a bit since Posey left.
Doc summed up just one way that Rasheed has already helped the team:
"He’s been great. He’s such a high basketball IQ player. It’s amazing listening to him. I’ve had numerous college coaches who are watching practice come up to me and say, ‘Man, that’s the loudest defensive talking team I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen anything like it.’ It’s good because it’s on both units now. In the past, it’s been on the starting unit. When we had (James) Posey, there was some from the second unit. Now with Rasheed, he’s got Baby (Glen Davis) talking."
Between his defensive impact and his ability to space the floor on offense, I don't think anybody will be surprised if Rasheed gets serious consideration for Sixth Man of the Year.
2) Adding Marquis Daniels.
Daniels is another starter who took less money to come off our bench in an attempt to win a ring. His most important task will to be to fill in for Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, to allow them to get more rest than last year. Paul Pierce, for one, is happy with the signing:
"I think it’s going to help tremendously," Pierce said of the Daniels effect. "Last year we just didn’t have the depth at the wing position. We had a couple of rookies, (and) Tony Allen got hurt. So we’ve brought in a guy who can play three positions. You’re talking about a guy who started last year and you’re asking him to come off the bench. If one of us goes down he can start. That’s the value that he brings."
Above and beyond his ability to spell Pierce and Ray, Daniels also allows Doc to use Eddie House to defend opposing point guards, while having a bigger wing on the floor to bring the ball up court and initiate the offense.
3) Bringing back Big Baby.
The Celtics got a young, developing big man who had some clutch performances in the playoffs to re-sign for the bargain basement rate of 2 years, $6.3 million (with only $5 million of this guaranteed, from what I understand.) What's not to like? While BBD has some flaws in his game, he's shown potential (and actual performance) on both ends of the court. There wasn't a big man available that had his combination of size, youth, and talent.
What went wrong?
I don't think anything went "wrong". However, there are a couple of question marks left as we enter the pre-season:
1) Who plays backup point guard?
A lot of fans have lamented the lack of a true backup point guard. There were a variety of potential veteran backup point guard options -- Tyronne Lue, Chucky Atkins, Carlos Arroyo, Bobby Jackson, etc. -- but the Celtics decided to pass on all of them in favor of an Eddie House / Marquis Daniels combination, along with the long-shot rookie Lester Hudson. Time will tell if this is a mistake, but if there's any room for criticism of the team's off-season, this would seem to be where it will be targeted.
2) Can Shelden Williams fill Leon Powe's role?
The report was that the Celtics made a late attempt to re-sign Leon, leading some to question whether him departing was a mistake. Can Shelden Williams fill in for Powe?
If you're talking about a healthy Powe, Williams is an inferior player. Williams is probably about an equal rebounder and defender than Powe (perhaps a little better on the defensive end), but he's simply not as good on the offensive end.
However, the first thing we have to remember is that there's no guarantee that Powe will be healthy. He's coming off of very serious surgery, which included microfracture. There's absolutely no guarantee -- or likelihood -- that Leon would be the same player this year that he was last year. Plus, the second thing to keep in mind is that Shelden Williams isn't really replacing Leon Powe; Rasheed Wallace is. Williams is filling the role of fifth big man, i.e., the Mikki Moore role. I'm sure he can handle it.
I hated to see Powe go, too, simply because of the contributions he made here, and due to his work ethic. However, on the court, I don't think we'll miss him a ton this season, in light of the other additions the team has made.
3) Can Marquis Daniels really be the primary backup at three positions? Would we have been better off with Grant Hill?
Many fans are concerned, because Marquis Daniels is being billed both as the backup point guard and the backup small forward (as well as the backup shooting guard). The worry, then, is that Paul Pierce won't have a "true" backup. Doc fed into his concern a little bit lately when he spoke about playing Scal as a small forward when the team went to a five man bench unit.
However, I don't see this as a huge concern. Daniels will be playing two positions, not three: small forward and shooting guard. His "point guard duties" will come when Eddie House is in the game, but it will be Eddie who is playing the point guard position on defense. The only time the team will be left without Daniels available as backup small forward is when none of Rondo, Ray, Pierce, or Tony Allen is available. Under those very limited circumstances, you may see Scal or Bill Walker (once healthy) getting some spot minutes. At all other times, though, Marquis Daniels is your backup small forward.
As for Grant Hill, he was obviously the team's first choice, but in the end Daniels should be just as good of an option. Hill, for all of his strong qualities, is 37 years old (today, as a matter of fact. Happy birthday, Grant!). Daniels is 28. Over the course of a season, we may appreciate Daniels' younger legs.
Grade: A. Realistically, I don't see a lot more that Danny could have done this off-season. I'll give him an A, rather than an A+, for his failure to bring in a veteran floor general, although in the end I don't think we'll miss having one. I was one of Danny's biggest critics last summer, but this year, I'm very, very pleased by the team that has been put together.