Team Name: Boston Celtics
Last Year's Record: 40-42
Key Losses: Brandon Bass
Key Additions: Amir Johnson, David Lee
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
You could make a solid argument that no franchise-altering moves were made during this offseason. There was a lot of anticipation of pyrotechnics that never materialized and the team didn't make any big mistakes either. They just held serve with a couple of solid moves and an ok draft.
Amir Johnson is a great pickup because he does all the things that coaches love and he fills the need of paint protector on defense. I don't even mind making him the 2nd highest paid player on the team because his contract is only for one or two years and the cap rising skews everything upward anyway.
Gerald Wallace was traded for David Lee. That's a no-brainer kind of deal that (baring injury or other complications) gives the Celtics a year of actual production that they wouldn't have gotten from Wallace. Both are positive locker room veterans, but only one of them is capable of playing competitive NBA basketball at this point and Lee proved that he could very valuable in the NBA Finals a few months ago.
As far as the draft goes, I think most were surprised at the Terry Rozier pick at 16 but that was mostly offset by seeing shooter R.J. Hunter slip to 28. Adding Jordan Mickey with the 33rd pick was good value as well. Again, as far as I can tell these were solid-if-unspectacular moves that were overshadowed by the one move that didn't happen, a draft night trade for Justice Winslow that fizzled. Enjoy Frank Kaminsky Charlotte.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
Defense and depth should be this team's calling cards for the immediate future. Consider the defensive prowess of a lineup that Stevens could run out with Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, and Tyler Zeller. (Ignore the question of who would score in that lineup, that will be addressed in the next section.) If this team wants to get stops and shut an opponent down for critical stretches, they should find some success doing so.
Brad Stevens likes to tailor his gameplan based on the opponent. Doing so means he needs maximum flexibility in his players and his lineups. Danny Ainge has given him a roster that could go 11 players deep on any given night and most of them are capable of playing multiple positions on the floor. In fact, Stevens is going to have his work cut out for him getting all the qualified players enough playing time, and that doesn't even take into account any of the rookies that might make a surprise push to get into the rotation.
Speaking of Stevens, he might be the single most important member of the Celtics and our brightest star. He's already widely respected and the more experience he gains, the more his reputation grows. Former players rave about him to their new teammates and other coaches are already stealing plays from him. He's a wiz at ATO (after time outs) plays and LeBron James went out of his way to praise Stevens' game plan in the playoffs last year. In short, I hope Brad Stevens is the coach of the Boston Celtics for a good, long time.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
This is a team full of good-not-great players. Some of them have the potential to be great, and some could even make a leap this year to get into that conversation. But until they prove otherwise, the team is lacking a superstar to lead them to a potential title.
Mind you, I'm not talking about "who takes the big shot?" Because I've seen Brad Stevens call plays to make guys like Tyler Zeller, Evan Turner, and Jeff Green take and make game winning shots. I'm not even talking about a 20 points per game volume shooting producer. I'm talking about a guy that can consistently put the team on his back and say "follow my lead, we're winning this game." Kevin Garnett used to do it on defense. At times during his career Rajon Rondo did it with passing and guile. Paul Pierce did whatever it took and used his sheer force of will to win the game. Each of them were stars because they did it consistently.
This team has a lot of guys that can do that on any given night. There are a few guys that have those star qualities within them (Isaiah Thomas might be the closest to achieving that status). But right now there's just no single player that you can point to and say "that's our star." Which is why I'm convinced that Danny Ainge is going to make a move for someone like that sooner or later.
Another concern I have is on offense in general. This team could be dominant on defense but may find itself struggling on offense unless a lot of players make improvements in their game. As a team they need to shoot better from the outside which would space the floor better. Our guards need to attack the paint (looking at you Marcus) and our bigs need to be available in the paint (staring at you Sully). I have confidence that Brad Stevens will make it work, but he can only do so much wizardry from the sidelines.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Development and improvement. It seems odd to say that development is a top priority and in the same breath say that the rookies might not see consistent minutes all season. But that speaks to how young this squad is. We need to see what we've got in Marcus Smart, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder, Tyler Zeller, James Young, and maybe Perry Jones III. Even some of the veterans on the team (like Bradley and Turner) could improve aspects of their game.
If you want a more tangible goal, I'd say winning a first round playoff series would be a good start. Obviously the goal is always to add to the banners in the rafters, but barring an enormous deal it feels like that's at least a year away from being a realistic goal.
5. Will there finally be fireworks this season?
I always think there's a move coming just around the corner and lately I've been disappointed (if you don't call last year's fire sale). So I'm going to say "no" and hope I'm wrong.
I guess I just don't see the next superstar becoming available mid-season. Maybe DeMarcus Cousins finally forces his way out of Sactown, but maybe not. I'm not exactly crazy about adding a 31 year old Carmelo Anthony to the team and hoping that he ages well. Sure, I'd love to snag Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, but I'm not holding my breath for either of them to become available to the Celtics any time soon.
So we may have to continue to slowly build through the draft and development and hope that next superstar player emerges from within. For now, Brad Stevens and his deep, flexible squad of overachievers is going to do whatever damage they can this season and continue along the path of progress.
Additional Celtics Previews:
There is no question that the Celtics should be in the mix to make another postseason push, and it is more than realistic to expect that. With that said, it's not going to be easy and you shouldn't be surprised if they have to endure another late-season fight for their position in the top eight. By all accounts, Boston has slightly upgraded their talent level over the summer and the young guns have had another period of time to mature. They should be better, and Boston fans have every reason to remain optimistic about watching the green and white earn another postseason berth.
The real meat of the improvement here should come from Marcus Smart. If he starts to reach his potential, the Celtics go from interesting to dangerous, especially Stevens' acumen, Avery Bradley's defensive talent and Isaiah Thomas' willingness to take 20 shots a game off the bench. That's such a fun backcourt only likely to get better. I'm bullish on the Celtics in the short and long terms.
I love defensive players. I love the line from the movie "The Air Up There" where Kevin Bacon tells the natives he is coaching that "defense is more important than breathing." Defense wins games and I love the fact that Danny has gone after so many players who play tough defense. Of all of the tough defenders on the team, Jae Crowder stands out as the top defender.
The difference between Boston's second-best player (Marcus Smart?) and its 10th-best player (Evan Turner?) is virtually non-existent--the reserve unit will likely be just as effective as the starters. The Celtics should have a huge advantage in most games when opposing team's benches are on the floor.
Boston's youth is a double-edged sword. Though there's a lot to be excited about with a roster full of future NBA contributors, with age comes experience and frankly the Celtics don't have much of that. Aside the team's very brief appearance in the playoffs, most of this roster lacks the post-season mileage that the Eastern Conference powerhouses have. Yes, this group will grow and mature, but the only way to become more confident in the playoffs is with more postseason experience.