Here we go. Time to kick off the NBA Previews and kick off our coverage of the Boston Celtics 2012-13 season (as if we ever stopped talking about the Celtics here).
This is the the year that almost never was. The team could have decided that enough was enough and gone their separate ways (well, one guy did, but we'll get to that). Going back even further, just 6 months ago everyone was ready to blow this thing sky high. Everyone was ready to call an end to the era.
Well, almost everybody. Not me. Before we look forward, let's take a brief look back (and pat myself on the back in the process). In February the team looked old and overmatched and the cries were getting loud to "blow up the team." I was having none of that.
I'm a bit of a broken record these days, but I'm going to keep on preaching until I convert you all or get proven wrong. This team has no reason to "blow it up." None. The facts (as I see them) are these: 1. This team still has an outside shot at doing something in the playoffs. 2. Even if they don't, they are set up well to start over in the summer and start the rebuild process then.
There was a practical side to my position, but a very definite element of faith. I had faith that this team could and would turn things around and at least go out in a blaze of glory. You see, these guys are very proud and they don't take losing lightly. They proved to me in 2010 (and on a smaller scale every year) that they are a group that cannot ever be counted out until the final bell. As a result, I'm never going to count this team fully out until KG and Pierce both ride off into the sunset. And even then I'll have a lot of faith in Rondo.
So with that as the backdrop, it seems that Danny Ainge had enough faith in this group that he decided to give them another run or two - this time with a reloaded lineup with a younger and more athletic supporting cast. On to the preview.
Team Name: Boston Celtics
Last Year's Record: 39 - 27
Key Losses: Ray Allen, Greg Stiemsma
Key Additions: Jason Terry, Courtney Lee
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
In one sentence, Danny Ainge perfectly summed up the Ray Allen situation. "I don't feel like we lost Ray, I feel like Ray left us to go to Miami." That's about all there is to it, isn't there?
Before Ray even left, Danny Ainge had secured Kevin Garnett at a deep discount, which allowed him to sign Jason Terry. The plan was to pair him with Ray Allen but that didn't happen, so the backup plan eventually ended up being a sign-and-trade for Courtney Lee - who at this point in their careers might be a better option than Ray Allen anyway.
Ainge used the rest of the team's cap room to bring back Brandon Bass and Jeff Green and used minimum salary slots to bring back Chris Wilcox and add guys like Jason Collins and Darko Milicic.
They also added draft day slider Jared Sullinger, who should get some playing time this year and help out immediately on the boards.
The only other player we didn't bring back that we wanted to was Greg Stiemsma. He simply got a better offer than what we could give him from Minnesota.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
Defense. Year in, year out, this team is one of the best defensive groups out there and usually ranks number one or two in just about any defensive metric. Assistant coaches come and go, the bench gets rebooted every year, and some of the starters have come and gone. But the constant is defense and you can thank Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett for much of that.
We've already gone over the intangible of pride with this group. You can couple that with a sense of team-first attitude (or Ubuntu if you will). That was perhaps challenged a bit in the last year or more if rumors of a rift between Rondo and Ray Allen were true. But according to everyone involved, it never translated on the court. Again, this team follows Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett. KG leads by making everyone around him better - usually at the expense of his own stats. If anything Doc has to encourage him to be more aggressive and take the shot instead of looking for the next option. Rondo falls into that category as well.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Age and injuries are the biggest threats to this team. Ainge went a long way towards making the overall team younger, but 3 of the stars are on the wrong side of 35 and eventually that has to catch up with them. Will it be this year, next year, or (knock on wood) 3 years from now? We'll see.
All we can focus on for now is this year. And to get us through this year, Ainge has secured talented youth to provide depth at just about every position. That will give the vets more chances to breathe and take some of the load off their shoulders. When the game is on the line it will still be up to the stars, but if they can get there with fresher legs, that will help a lot.
Not much you can do about injuries, but if you believe in the law of averages then maybe this will be a lucky year (after last year's endless string of bad luck).
Another weakness to keep an eye on is the offense in general. You'd think that with multiple Hall of Famers and the best distributor in the league that offense wouldn't be hard to come by. However, this has been an average at best offense for the last few years and it is trending in the wrong direction. The defense wins us a lot of games, but that doesn't always work against offensive Juggernaut teams like Miami.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Win an NBA Championship. Same as it always is with this group. A nice secondary goal would be to knock off the Miami Heat in the process and if the Lakers are the ones that we beat in the Finals, even better. But the banner is all that really matters.
5. What will it take to knock off the Miami Heat?
First of all, they'll have to maintain the league best defense. They will continue to look for ways to take Wade and LeBron out of their comfort zones and hope that Chris Bosh doesn't step up like he did in the playoffs last year.
Next, they'll have to generate some offense somehow. I think an emphasis on the running game would help a great deal as it would lead to easy buckets. This team couldn't run in the past because of age and injures. This year, however, we'll be getting Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox back to full speed and adding Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley to the mix (as soon as he's given the green light). Rondo must be licking his chops at the opportunity to run with those athletes.