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Boston Celtics 2015-16 Preview

Last year's Celtics exceeded expectations and earned the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Keep your eyes peeled in 2016, because this team is fun to watch and they are ready for another playoff run.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

2014-15 IN REVIEW
40-42
2nd in Atlantic Division
7th in Eastern Conference

Coming into the 2014-15 NBA season, the general consensus amongst critics and fans was that the Celtics were going to struggle. The majority expected a second consecutive lottery season, and nobody knew exactly what was going to happen with Rajon Rondo.

After starting the season winning nine of their first 22 games with Rondo in the lineup, it was time for a change. The writing was on the wall, with ongoing rumors circulating around the likelihood of his departure from Boston, and Danny Ainge began his heavy streak of wheeling and dealing just before Christmas. After Rondo was traded to Dallas in late December, it felt like nobody was safe as the domino effect was on blast to set up a series of moves that would not only reshape the roster, but surprise us all by perhaps saving the entire season.

Rondo was dealt to Dallas, Jeff Green was traded to Memphis and Danny Ainge treated the next few weeks like he was managing a fantasy basketball roster with how many moves he was making. Guys like Tayshaun Prince, Jameer Nelson and Brandan Wright were flipped almost as quickly as they were acquired, and the Celtics found a spot for newcomers Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome.

The most meaningful mid-season acquisition, of course, was Isaiah Thomas. The 5'9" assassin was acquired in February in a three-team deal with Phoenix and Detroit, the same deal that landed Jerebko and Datome in Boston, and Thomas provided a lift that the team desperately needed in order to make a playoff push. Even though he came off the bench for all 21 games with the Celtics, Thomas was the best player on the roster and certainly the most dynamic shot creator that Brad Stevens had to work with.

Thomas put up 19 points and 5.4 assists per game to close out the season, giving the Celtics a big time offensive weapon and an edge that contagiously leaked through the entire team.

Evan Turner exceeded expectations, appearing in all 82 games as the primary ball handler in the majority of situations, resurrecting his career to a certain degree as he put up 9.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game while embracing his role as "point forward." As a starter in 57 games, Turner produced 10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.4 assists, relieving a lot of pressure off of Marcus Smart to run the offense as the primary quarterback in his rookie year.

Tyler Zeller also stepped in to play a key role in his first year with the Celtics, putting up over 10 points and five rebounds per contest while earning the starting center position throughout the last five months of the season. The third-year seven footer posted career highs across the board at an ultra-efficient 55% clip from the field, acting as an excellent pick n' roll reciever and reliable bailout option late in the offense.

Sixth overall pick Marcus Smart had some ups and downs, shooting under 37% from the field and slowly but surely learning how to run an NBA offense. At the same time, however, he proved that he may already be one of the most lethal perimeter defensive players the game has to offer and there weren't many rookies that had as much of an impact on winning as Smart did. As a result, Smart found himself on the All-Rookie 2nd Team and showed a great deal of potential as a two-way difference maker going forward.

The Celtics proved the doubters wrong, falling just one victory short of a .500 record and earning the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Of course, their postseason run would be cut short as the eventual Eastern Conference champions in Cleveland took care of business with a clean four-game sweep in the first round. Kelly Olynyk did all he could to dismember Kevin Love and change the outlook of the series, but Cleveland was simply on another level.

With that said, the Celtics have nothing to be ashamed about regarding that sweep. They played an elite team tough and physically, holding their own and earning their respect by putting up a fight every night.

Not many people expected a playoff push before last season started. The young guns are growing up and gelling together quicker than expected, buying into what Brad Stevens preaches and really putting the Celtics in a great position to build going forward. This team doesn't have that transcendent superstar just yet, but they have a winning culture and a great group of guys that compete every night.

You can't ask for much more than that; the rest will take care of itself.

SUMMER OF 2015

Key Additions - David Lee, Amir Johnson, Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, Jordan Mickey
Key Losses - Brandon Bass, Gerald Wallace, Phil Pressey

The Celtics finally found a trade partner willing to take on Gerald Wallace's hefty price tag, and even though they had to wait until it turned into an expiring contract, they found a way to use it to upgrade their talent level. In late July, Boston sent Wallace and Chris Babb to Golden State while the 2014-15 champs granted David Lee a new opportunity to play a larger role with the Celtics.

Health and Golden State's style of play diminished the kind of impact Lee was able to have on last year's squad, but this guy has been a consistent double-double threat since 2006 and with a new opportunity to prove himself again, Boston might just resurrect his career in terms of production.

As Brandon Bass moved on as a free agent and turned himself into an enemy by joining the Lakers following four years with Boston, Danny Ainge used the free agent market to add another veteran big to the mix by signing Raptors free agent Amir Johnson to a two-year deal worth $24 million. The contract acts as a low-risk, high reward deal as the second year is a non-guaranteed team option, and Johnson is the kind of two-way contributor that can help a team win games.

Averaging just under 10 points and seven rebounds per game over the course of the last three years in Toronto, Johnson is an active, high-IQ ballplayer that will provide the Celtics with a hard worker, a quality team defender, a vet that does the "little things" and will serve as a respectable pick n' roll option that can also do damage as a mid-range jump shooter.

Jae Crowder isn't going anywhere, either, as Boston inked the gritty forward to a five-year, $35 million deal to keep him in green. Crowder put up just under 10 points and five rebounds per game with the Celtics last season, providing a big time spark every time he was on the floor and showing a lot of people that he has more to his offensive game than originally expected. Crowder fits the culture perfectly, and you can expect him to play a meaningful role for years to come.

Combo forward Jonas Jerebko re-signed with Boston on a two-year, $10 million contract extension as a serviceable stretch four that can slide over to the three-spot in bigger lineups and help spread the floor.

Despite all of the hype leading up to June's NBA draft, the Celtics were unable to find a trade partner that allowed them to move up into the high lottery or swing a deal for a high-impact veteran. Rumor has it that Charlotte turned down a package from the Celtics for the ninth pick that could have included as many as six picks, but you don't always get what you want. To everyone's surprise, perhaps including Danny Ainge himself, Boston stood pat with their picks and tried to make the most of what they had.

With the 16th overall pick, Boston went with Louisville guard Terry Rozier to add another high-level, defensive-minded athlete to the backcourt. Rozier isn't a "pure point guard" by definition as he is more of a score-first player that struggles with his outside shot and isn't the kind of guy you would necessarily call a natural floor general, but there is a chance he can make a difference on both ends of the floor. He's athletic, scrappy, really pressures the ball and while he certainly has weaknesses to tighten up on the offensive end, he has the physical ability to get into the lane and put pressure on the defense. He may have a hard time earning heavy minutes early on when Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley are all healthy, but if he gets a chance to play as a rookie, he could provide a nice spark off the bench.

At 28th overall, the Celtics got good value with Georgia State's R.J. Hunter, who scored just under 20 points per game as a junior last season. The lanky 6'6" swingman shows a lot of promise as an outside shooter and a guy that has a chance to disrupt opponents defensively, while something about his demeanor rubs me the right way. He's focused, hard working and appears to be the kind of guy that is willing to put the work in to get better. Don't be surprised if Hunter spends some time in the D-League as a rookie, but this could turn out to be a nice draft night steal down the road.

Boston got excellent value in the early second round, as well, coming away with LSU's Jordan Mickey at pick number 33. The incredibly active 6'9" power forward could really turn out to be a key rotation player down the line, and his first impression with the Celtics in summer league had everybody in his corner. Mickey lead division one NCAA basketball with 3.6 blocks per game last season, along with 15.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per contest. Once again, Mickey's activity level is outstanding and his potential as a high-level team defender is very promising. He can knock down that mid-range J, as well, and he's not afraid to mix it up on the glass.

If you're looking for an NBA comparison, Mickey is very reminiscent of Taj Gibson in a lot of ways and in two or three years, there may be a lot of teams wishing they grabbed him while they had the chance in the first round.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C
- Amir Johnson / Tyler Zeller
PF - Jared Sullinger / David Lee / Kelly Olynyk / Jordan Mickey
SF - Evan Turner / Jae Crowder / Jonas Jerebko
SG - Avery Bradley / James Young / R.J. Hunter
PG - Marcus Smart / Isaiah Thomas / Terry Rozier

Between Johnson, Olynyk, Lee, Sullinger and Zeller, there is going to be some serious competition for playing time up front all season long, and coach Stevens has some tough decisions to make. Perhaps certain guys will play more depending on situations and matchups, but at some point a regular rotation will need to be established and it's going to be very fun to watch how the lineup shakes out among the bigs.

X-FACTOR - David Lee
David Lee's role was limited on last year's Warriors squad due to an early-season hamstring injury along with the fact that Draymond Green better suited the team's style of play, but make no mistake about the fact that Lee can still produce. In just over 18 minutes per game last year, Lee produced 7.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, which translates into a cool 15 and 10 per 36 minutes. Let's also not forget that just one year prior in 2013-14, Lee put up over 18 points and nine rebounds per game and is currently just two seasons removed from his second NBA All-Star appearance.

From 2008-2014, Lee was a walking double-double both in New York and Golden State and assuming he is given an opportunity to step back into a more meaningful role in Boston, you can expect him to produce. There's a strong chance that Lee is the best rebounder the Celtics currently have, as well, and coach Stevens will find a way to integrate him in a way where he can make an impact.

If Lee can re-establish himself as a consistent double-double threat, that could make a difference in the standings and really help the Celtics make some more noise in the east.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2015-16
In the eyes of the average critic, Boston exceeded expectations last season and coming into the year, there weren't many people who expected the Celtics to make the playoffs. They did, however, and even though they finished with a losing record at 40-42, it was good enough to lock up the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference


The east has gotten a little bit better over the summer, with teams like Miami back healthy while Indiana's Paul George is finally back into the full swing of things. Milwaukee put together a good season a year ago, and now they've added a quality big man in Greg Monroe to add to their mix. Chicago may or not perform at a higher level under Fred Hoiberg, while you'd have to expect Cleveland to operate even more cohesively now that they've had a year with one another.

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.

PROJECTED STANDINGS
2nd in Atlantic Division
8th in Eastern Conference