Team Name: Boston Celtics
Last Year's Record: 50 - 32
Key Losses: Tony Allen, Rasheed Wallace
Key Additions: Jermaine O'Neal, Shaquille O'Neal, Delonte West, Von Wafer
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
Imagine if you were the GM of the New Jersey Nets or some other team with gobs of cap room and only a few players (say a young point guard and center) locked in. Say you went out and signed Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Nate Robinson, and Marquis Daniels and you got them all for relatively short years and fairly cap friendly deals. You're doing cartwheels right? Fantastic, A+ summer haul.
Well, that's just the guys that the Celtics re-signed. Toss in Jermaine O'Neal, Shaquille O'Neal, Delonte West, and Von Wafer and you are talking about an exceptional offseason. Especially when you consider the only realistic alternative would have been to detonate the whole thing by letting Ray Allen walk and shopping Kevin Garnett around to anyone who would take him. Rebuilding can wait. I'll take another shot or two at banner 18.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
Defense, defense, defense. Granted, the team lost their defensive guru in Tom Thibodeau and they will be missing Kendrick Perkins for half a year (at least), and of course everyone on the team got a year older. Oh yeah, and we added the world's worst pick and roll defender who happens to be 38. But with all that said, the team is going to be better defensibly than about 85 to 90 percent of the league.
Continuity helps. These guys know each other and they bought into the system long ago. In fact, as Nate found out, unless you buy into the system, you don't play. Simple as that.
A mostly healthy Kevin Garnett should help matters even more (knock on wood). Jermaine O'Neal won't be too much of a drop off from Perkins and Rondo has become one of the best defending guards in the league. Ray is surprisingly good at what he does and Paul Pierce really doesn't get enough credit for the work he does on that side of the ball. Overall, this team is still capable of locking down an opponent for long stretches and mostly taking away the other team's strengths.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Offense, offense, offense. You wouldn't think that a team with so many All Stars and future Hall of Famers would struggle on offense. But that's what killed them down the stretch last year. The Celtics advanced in the playoffs despite coming up short in several 4th quarters and it ultimately caught up to them in the Finals. Great defense still wins championships, but if the other team happens to be playing great defense as well, then eventually someone has to score the ball.
The Celtics added the O'Neal boys, Delonte, and brought back Nate Robinson. So the 2nd unit will have a great deal more scoring punch than it did a year ago. If we can keep the starting unit mostly healthy, that will help a great deal as well. As they get older, however, I think you'll see a lot more inconsistency from these guys on the offensive side of the ball. Paul can't carry the team for months at a time like he once could. Ray Allen is getting very streaky. Garnett was never aggressive with his offense to begin with. Rondo will likely take another step forward to try to mitigate some of this, but he can only do so much.
4. What are the goals for this team?
What was the goal last year and the 2 years before that? Nothing but a championship will be considered a true success. The odds are getting longer and the competition is getting better, but the goal remains the same.
5. Will this team coast and flip the switch again?
Did the team coast last year? The official excuse for their poor regular season was that they had so many injuries that it was difficult to get any kind of groove going even when they had a mostly healthy lineup. But I don't really buy it. I think they spent so much time worrying about limiting minutes and easing guys back from injuries that they mentally took the foot off the gas for long stretches at a time last year. With the Finals being the only true goal, the shorter term goals (like winning games in the regular season) just didn't matter that much.
When the playoffs rolled around, they flipped the proverbial switch, focused on defense, and took people a little by surprise with their Finals run (running over Wade, LeBron, and Dwight in the process).
Will they try to do it again? I hope not. I don't think they can pull it off again. But what do I know? I was preaching all along last season that they wouldn't be able to turn it on and they proved me wrong (before running out of gas at the end). Give credit to Doc Rivers for always believing in his team (at least publicly) and standing behind them during the bleakest of times.
Looking ahead to this year, I think home court will be important in the playoffs and I think getting everyone on the same page during the regular season is going to be even more critical this year. On the other hand, I also think we'll see another year of frustrating injuries that take our top players out for long stretches at a time.
So I think they'll do better than the 50 wins from last year but I don't think they're going to be lucky enough to get to 60 wins. So my prediction splits the difference at 55 wins.
Predicted Record: 55 - 27