A look at the Celtics roster shows what kind of transition period they're in, with a few promising young guys, a number of veterans on bad contracts, and one Rajon Rondo all comprising this green and white jigsaw puzzle.
Starting 5: PG Avery Bradley (until Rajon Rondo is fully rehabbed from ACL surgery), G/F Gerald Wallace, F Jeff Green, F Brandon Bass, C Kelly Olynyk
Key Bench: F Kris Humphries, G Courtney Lee, G Jordan Crawford, G MarShon Brooks, F Jared Sullinger, C Vitor Faverani
With Rajon Rondo rehabbing from ACL surgery, no one really knows who the Celts will trot out as a starting five from night to night. Truly, any of the above twelve players could easily find themselves in a starting role at some point early in the season. Of course, the uncertainty is due to the loss of Garnett, Pierce, and Jason Terry to the Nets, who clearly seem to be under the delusion that stocking the roster with older, breaking-down stars will somehow allow them to win now against the likes of the SuperHeat and the TeamSport Pacers.
Prediction: The Bean Town Ballers will eke out 20-25 wins, which is probably more than they should. They won't be Phoenix-bad, but they'll be bad. Also, Rondo and Humphries will be dealt for still more draft picks to pair with the scads they received in the Brooklyn deal.
Rebuild mode is on.
Danny Ainge has shown plenty of faith in his star college coach signing from Butler, Brad Stevens, giving him a rare six-year deal. Such a show of faith and understanding from the front office should help Stevens deal with the massive learning curve ahead of him.
Compared to a college season, the NBA schedule is far more rigorous. He'll have to lean on his staff more than ever before to have his young roster duly prepared for powerhouse NBA franchises, night after night. The natural pressure of coaching in this league will be unlike anything he faced in college, and he'll have to do it as the league's youngest head coach.
But Stevens is approaching his new job with a different point of view than many college coaches who tried to make the jump before him, such as Rick Pitino, who tried to run the Celtics with the same kingly bravado he had used to build his Kentucky dynasty with. But it didn't wash in Boston. Stevens, on the other hand, seems to be approaching his job with a rational, thinking humility that understands the difficult days ahead as he and his young players learn how to win at this level together.
Youth is a wonderful thing. It makes life exciting. Never a dull moment with a bunch of kids running together. The loads of draft picks in years to come will keep the youth movement strong. With the possible departure of Rondo, Humphries, and even Ainge-favorite Green, this team could get younger still. Plus, youth generally comes cheap, and youth means potential. It means hope for improvement. Room for growth. Olynyk, Faverani, Bradley, these are the Celtics of the future. It's not so terrible a future.
Of course, youth comes with its own obvious drawbacks.
The same kids that get a big win against a team far superior to them can go on a losing streak that ruins their season. Momentum, inspiration, environment... these are important to the success of any franchise, but they're vastly multiplied with youth. A lot will ride on how well Stevens can adjust to earning his team's respect and employing his indisputable basketball mind at the highest level of competition.
Fortunately for Boston, they play in the same division as the hapless (and somewhat hopeless) 76ers, so they shouldn't finish last in their division. The Raptors have been in a rough patch for a few years, but they could climb back out this year into a low playoff spot. The Knicks and Nets will once again battle for the division lead, but the Celtics are out of that picture now. On their schedule, likely losing streaks of five or more games are rampant, including the first ten games of January, which will be a brutal stretch of Western Conference stalwarts. Their kindest month should be February, and they could conceivably piece together a winning record during that time.
On the whole though, this season will be a forgettable one for a Celtics team that just recently claimed four future Hall of Famers and won an NBA title just five years ago. But with a talented young head coach, they could be steered back in the right direction soon.
Other Celtics Predictions:
- Jared Sullinger will win Least Improved Player of the Year
- Kelly Olynyk will be the Gonzaga guy who finally makes good in the NBA.
- Jordan Crawford will lead the league in most field goals attempted and least made.