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Reviewing my Boston Celtics preseason preview

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Grading my own preseason predictions.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Just about every writer that covers a specific sport does some kind of preview article for said sport.  It is low hanging fruit, paint by numbers, writes-itself kind of stuff.  It is also great fun and a chance for the author to stretch their legs and show off the "great wisdom" that they have.  All of which is a really big deal, ...until the first game that renders most of it useless old-news.

Because it is useless after the first game, writers rightfully discard it as old news.  But not me!  I like to go back and prove to everyone what an idiot I am.  Oh sure, there are the occasional "stopped clock right twice a day" wins here and there.  But for the most part, this is an exercise in "we know nothing!"  I always say that sports is the original and best reality TV.

So enough preamble.  What did I get wrong and right?  Shoot, let's take it a step further.  I'm gonna grade past self.  (If only I had the ability to talk to my future self - but that's another thought process for another time ...like the offseason)

Boston Celtics NBA Preview - Rajon Rondo, rumors, and rebuilding

Intro:

Rome wasn't re-built in a day you know. As much as we'd love to have a quick fix bounce back to hanging banners season, the odds heavily favor of a longer process. Which means growing pains, a mismatched roster, and most likely a lot of losses.

Sure, there is always a chance that this team could gel perfectly and exceed everyone's (including their own) expectations much like the Suns did a year ago. Or, more likely, they'll make baby steps forward in a number of areas and perhaps a few steps back in others.

The ultimate goal is to win Championships, so whatever happens on this team is with an eye toward the future.

A couple of years ago the Suns were picked to be one of the worst teams in the league and managed to surprise everyone with inspired play that netted them 48 wins.  Sadly for them, they didn't make the playoffs because the West was stacked.

The Celtics won't sniff 48 wins this year but they will be in the playoffs (albeit in the weak East).  So I'd say that's a qualified win.  They took some steps back early in the season, jettisoned some shoes, and then took some steps forward.  Not bad.

Grade B- (I'm taking away some points for leading with that lame twist on the "Rome wasn't built in a day" line)

Offseason Moves:

A more interesting topic might be "what significant moves were NOT made during the offseason?"

The 4th of July came and went, yet there were no major fireworks in Waltham. Kevin Love ended up with LeBron James in Cleveland and the capped out Celtics couldn't make much noise in free agency. Danny Ainge indicated that there were other deals he could have made which might have made the team marginally better (probably at the expense of some of our valued trade chips). But I'm guessing most of them were lateral moves and might have cost us too much in terms of future flexibility.

The "big" trade of the offseason that did happen was using the trade exception from the Paul Pierce deal to pick up Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton, and a future first round pick. They also added free agent Evan Turner on a low-risk, chance to prove himself 2 year contract.

When Marcus Smart was picked on draft night, more than a few people wondered about Rajon Rondo's long term future in Boston. Yet he's still here and it sounds like the Celtics are still very interested in keeping him around long term.

In short, it was another offseason of adding assets and potential future trade chips. The team had the resources to make a superstar deal this summer, but couldn't find a dancing partner. So Danny added more picks and players with potential to position himself to make a deal at the deadline or sometime in next year's offseason (where they'll have quite a bit of cap room).

Mostly a recap of the offseason but the theme was accurate.  Little did I know that Ainge was far from done adding assets.  I was hopeful that Zeller would be a solid acquisition (he was).  I was cautiously optimistic that Evan Turner would be found money at low risk (he was).  I was sure that Rondo was still in the team's long term plans (he wasn't).  Oh well.  Can't win them all.

Grade: C (I probably should have made a bigger deal about the prospect of Rondo being traded.  I was just trying to channel Rondo and be defiantly different despite what the experts were saying.)

Team Strengths:

If the Celtics hope to make any noise this year, they'll need Rajon Rondo to get back to being the dynamic, leading-the-league-in-assists, dominant, All Star point guard that he can be. Last year he missed much of the season returning from ACL surgery and wasn't quite the same when he finally did play. Now he's recovering from a broken hand and will likely miss the start of the season again. Still, he's in a contract year and motivated to show how much he's worth and what kind of player he can be.

Perimeter defense will be one of this team's calling cards this year. Avery Bradley is already well known for his prowess in aggravating opposing guards and Marcus Smart is already getting rave reviews for his defensive chops. In fact, they have the potential to be in the top half of the league in team defense this year. The one big drawback is the lack of presence in the paint. Which brings us to...

Whoops! So it turns out that first sentence should have read "The Celtics aren't going anywhere until Rajon Rondo heads elsewhere."  Or something like that.

Rondo is in a contract year but he didn't have quite the bounce-back year I was hoping for. The Celtics were worried about re-signing a guy that was looking for a max contract.  Ironically he probably won't get a max contract now based on his decline in play (be related to age, injury, or other).  He might yet get a max or near-max contract from a team like the Lakers (and because the TV deal has teams awash with cash), but he's really not a franchise guy anymore and the Celtics (much as it pains me to say) probably made the right move to get something for him while they could.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still a Rondo fan and I'll be rooting for him to prove his doubters wrong in the playoffs this year.  But if he goes to the Lakers he'll be dead to me.  Or at least in a coma until he gets traded.

At least I got the perimeter defense stuff pretty much right.  Smart and Bradley each lived up to their billing for the most part.

Grade: D+ (Blind faith fail)

Weaknesses:

The Celtics have a lot of "bigs" but little in the way of true centers. Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk are young players with upside. Brandon Bass is a solid veteran role player. All of them are ideally suited for the power forward spot but the team will have to ask at least one of them to play a lot of minutes at center (likely Olynyk at first).

Zeller is a nice pick up but he's not the answer as a traditional "rim protector." Vitor Faverani is still a bit of a mystery since he's struggled to stay healthy but even when he was healthy he didn't appear to be the answer either. Joel Anthony is a veteran defender, but there's not much upside in playing him big minutes either.

So the center spot will mostly be manned by Zeller and Olynyk which isn't going to do much to solve the team's problems protecting the paint. Brad Stevens is shifting to a more aggressive defensive scheme, but we'll have to wait and see how well the bigs can pick up on the rotations.

At least I nailed this one.  The hole in the middle never got filled so this team resembled a Dunkin Donut all year.  Which makes their reasonably solid defense all that more impressive.

Raise your hand if you read that 2nd sentence and said to yourself "oh yeah, we had Joel Anthony briefly this year."

Grade: A (Because I need to pad my grades somewhere)

Goals:

Get better. Not sure if I can sum it up any better than that.

Injured players need to get better (healthy) and back on the court (Rondo, Jeff Green, and Faverani have all missed the entire preseason thus far).

The team defense needs to get better and make teams work for their points. The team offense needs to get better by getting some points in transition and creating scoring opportunities in the half court set. The overall team shooting needs to get better by ...well, making shots.

High draft picks are nice and all, but if you don't make progress as a team then all you have is another return trip to the lottery. At some point the team has to make progress.

Even individual improvements would help as those players would increase their own trade value. If the Celtics want to be players in free agency and if they want to retain their own major free agent, they'll have to show signs of improvement. Speaking of which...

Well, Rondo got back on the court.  So did Jeff Green.  Vitor, not so much.

The team ended up getting better by getting rid of all those guys. Go figure.

The basic premise is still correct though.  The Celtics needed to make strides this year and they did that under the guiding hand of Brad Stevens.  I would even go so far as to say that he grew and developed a good deal himself.

Grade: B  (I got the "what" right, maybe missed the "how" but I'll cut me some slack on that.)

Big Story: Should Rondo get traded?

No.

Oh, you want me to elaborate? I suppose I can do this again (and I'm sure I'll be doing it again and again till mid February and perhaps beyond).

There's always a chance that another team will come in and give the Celtics an offer that they can't refuse. But until that happens, I'll continue to bang the bass drum that has the following words stenciled onto the side. Rajon Rondo is worth more to the Celtics than he is to any other team.

The Celtics are rebuilding right now, but they'll have a chance to get a lot better this offseason. They have more future draft picks than they could ever realistically use so some of them are going to be packaged together to bring in some help. The team will have a great deal of cap space next summer and if they want to attract free agents (or retain traded players with contract extensions), Rondo is going to be a key recruiter.

You simply don't get to be a really good team without having stars. The Celtics already have one in Rondo and they need to add more next to him. They already have draft picks and future cap space (the usual return for a star player). Unless they are getting another star in return trading Rondo is a step backwards, even if the "value" is right.

Said another way, Rondo might be 'worth" a couple of first round picks and a "nice" young player on the trade market. But he's worth more to the Celtics because he could be the Paul Pierce type mainstay if Danny Ainge can find the next Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen pieces to complete the title-contender puzzle.

(sigh)

Ahh youth.  How naive I was 6 months ago.

Turns out that Rondo was more valuable to the Mavericks than he was to the Celtics.  In the end we got Jae Crowder, a 1st rounder, and (probably) 3 2nd rounders (plus a 12.9M TPE).  Would I have been excited about that package back in October?  Nope.  But given how things have shaken out, I'd say we got pretty good value for him.  Live and learn. Let's just move on (with this article and with our collective lives).

Grade: F (Fanboy got it wrong. Stay tuned for more details.)

Summary:

Expect progress to be made this season. Expect growing pains too. Expect a number of trade rumors and speculation over Rondo's future. But at the end of the year, expect them to be in a better position than when they started.

Progress. Check.

Growing pains. Check.

Trade rumors. Check.

Better position than when they started. Check.

Nailed it! I should have just quoted the end and done some hand waiving over all the rest and called it a day.

Grade: A

So there you have it. My self evaluation is over.  The Celtics have gotten better, JUST like I said they would!  Ok, not exactly HOW I said they would.  Doesn't matter any more.  As the Bard would say, "the past is prologue."  On to the playoffs!

Overall Grade for Jeff: B- (because I'm going to grade myself on a curve, ...or something like that)

Overall Grade for the Celtics: A (because playoffs)