The trade deadline dominated the news for a few weeks there, but we are back to basketball and remembering what it is that we love so much about this team. We have 25 games left before the playoffs take over, but there's still a lot of intrigue left. Here are some stories to watch as we finish out the season.
1. Playoff seedings - The Celtics are currently in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference Standings. They have a winning percentage of .579, which would put them on pace for 47 to 48 wins (depending on how you round). That's pretty much in line with what we thought/hoped they would be coming into the season. On the other hand, as Coach Stevens points out, they are closer to 9th place than they are 2nd. The Celtics are 4.5 games behind the Raptors but just 3.5 games ahead of the 8th-place Pistons. So while the Celtics have a great shot at making the playoffs, where they land in the seedings and who they'll play is anyone's guess.
2. Holding the fort with Olynyk out - We already discussed how Olynyk is going to be missed from the offense. It will be up to Tyler Zeller and Jonas Jerebko to step up and contribute in their own ways. Interestingly, David Lee might have been one to step in and help in just such an occasion, but the team waived him knowing full well that Olynyk would be out for several weeks. Coach Stevens has to keep putting everyone in positions to help the team generate offense, and every guy on the roster has to be ready to be that "next man up." Perhaps in time we'll even see Jordan Mickey get non-mop-up-minutes too.
3. Our own free agents - Zooming back to the big picture, Danny Ainge will have a lot of decisions to make this offseason. Not just with who to bring in, but who he wants to keep and at what price. The team has options on Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko. They could pick up those options and keep them around or renounce the options and free up more cap space to chase other free agents. Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller will both be restricted free agents, so the Celtics will have the ability to match any offer, but will they? (Note with Zeller how quickly he's gone from afterthought to key piece again) Evan Turner is totally unrestricted, so he can sign anywhere this offseason, but would he really want to leave after seeing his career rejuvenated in Boston? How the rest of the season plays out could have a major impact on both the teams' decisions and the individual players.
4. March Madness (and the Lottery) - March is a wonderful time for NBA fans to get a little better acquainted with the kids playing down a level. It is important not to overrate the tourney too much and to pay attention to scouting reports like the ones from our own Kevin O'Connor. But it is fun to see how the kids play in a pressure-packed situation. One of the top 5 or 6 of those guys could be in a Boston uniform next year.
5. Future Celtics? - I don't know about you, but the trade deadline gave me lots of ideas for what Ainge could have cooking for this offseason. I'll be watching Jahlil Okafor's career with renewed interest now. I'll be tracking Al Horford closely. I think I'll pay close attention to Blake Griffin's recovery. And yeah, sure, I guess I'll keep one eye on Kevin Love, because old habits are hard to break.
There's a lot to look forward to and track between now and the playoffs. We'll flush out these stories and many more in the days and weeks to come.