Who's New: F Amir Johnson (free agent), F David Lee (free agent), G R.J. Hunter (draft), G Terry Rozier (draft), F Perry Jones III (trade), F Jordan Mickey (draft)
Who's Gone: C Brandon Bass (free agent), F Luigi Datome (free agent), F Gerald Wallace (trade), G Phil Pressey (waived)
Off-season Grade: C+. They marginally improved the roster but mostly struck out in free agency, and they couldn't parlay their notorious stack of "assets" into any lottery picks.
2015-16 Slogan: "Come see our coach wring 40 wins out of this roster."
What Else Is New?: Besides GM Danny Ainge failing to turn his precious assets into actual talent for the third straight year? Well, Evan Turner was flirting with the idea of getting a second job as an Uber driver in the off-season. I guess chauffeuring narcissists with too much disposable income to their desired destinations appealed to him after he was torched repeatedly by LeBron in the playoffs.
Your Likely Starting Lineup:
C Jared Sullinger
PF Amir Johnson
SF Evan Turner
SG Avery Bradley
PG Marcus Smart
My heavens, where is the shooting going to come from here?
Sullinger continues to develop and add post moves, but he's relatively short, ground-bound, injury-prone and seemingly incapable of getting to the free-throw line. He attempted 3.2 threes per game last year and made a whopping 28.3 percent of them. Johnson, who was signed away from the Raptors after the Celtics struck out on Kevin Love, if a far more efficient shooter and someone who should've played more for Dwane Casey last year, but he's also a poor rebounder for his position and a so-so defender. Their backcourt features two of the more tenacious guys in the league in their own end, but neither Smart nor Bradley create for others very well and they're lousy shooters. Smart is very athletic and you can project him to be another Eric Bledsoe eventually, but he's also a bit of a hothead. It's difficult to see Bradley improving much, and ideally he'd be a third guard for somebody. Turner is their point-forward and most skilled all-around player, but his shot is broken and he doesn't seem to know how to score. A former second-overall pick who's already on his third team, Turner is probably two more seasons and one more squad from being out of the league altogether.
G Isaiah Thomas
F Jae Crowder
C Tyler Zeller
F David Lee
F Kelly Olynyk
G R.J. Hunter
F Jonas Jerebko
G James Young
For the third straight year, I'd wager on the Celtics bench to destroy their starers in an intrasquad scrimmage. This is one of the deepest reserve units in the East if not the league. Thomas can fill it up with anybody, especially if he's going against backups, and he's deadly as long as you ask him to not to do anything else. Crowder is a bruiser who'd be better served playing closer to the rim, but he plays hard every game. The guy who really improved by leaps and bounds last season is Zeller, and he's by far the best defensive big on the team. Maybe they'd be better served starting him. Then there's the rookie, Hunter, from Georgia State, who's got some serious range, but he was pretty atrocious in Summer League for what it's worth.
Hunter slid in the draft because scouts worried that he wasn't athletic enough and that he'd be a terrible defender. In an interview with Comcast Sports, he said his goal is shut down Kevin Durant once. Just once.
"I guarded him in his camp," Hunter explained, "and he gave me like nine straight buckets. So I'm just trying to get one stop."
His best chance might be stepping on KD's foot. Those four are guys I'm pretty sure will be in the rotation. Terry Rozier from Louisville was drafted ahead of Hunter and is probably the most natural point on the team, but with Thomas and Smart already in the squad, he might be headed to the D-League for seasoning.
I'm less certain about what the Celts will do with their glut of power forwards. They traded for Lee, who's one of the better pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop fours in the league, but a liability in his own end. Lee is going to make more money than anyone on the team, and Johnson is an eight-figure salary guy too, so you wonder how many minutes will be left for Olynyk, the fellow who infamously dislocated Kevin Love's shoulder in the playoffs. Olynyk is a decent stretch guy and he made strides defensively last year, but how is there room for him in the rotation? Jerebko and Jones are also dudes who can space the floor from outside.
Your Coach: Brad Stevens
Is there a more respected young coach in the league than Stevens? Steve Kerr just won 83 games and a championship his first season and he's still not as respected within the coaching community as much as Stevens is. Kerr had a phalanx of experienced assistants like Alvin Gentry and Ron Brown dialing up the X's and O's on either end of the floor, and relied on advice from his personal assistant to pick his starting lineup in the Finals. Stevens, by contrast, is the whole show in Boston, forever trying to make Boston clam chowder with Rocky Mountain Oysters.
Stevens rose to prominence guiding mid-major Butler to consecutive Final Fours despite not having nearly the talent on hand of the big-name programs (he only had Gordon Hayward for one of them, by the way), and now he's trying to do the same thing in the professional level, where talent matters considerably more than coaching.
I doubt Stevens would've taken the job if Ainge had told him that he'd be starting his third season with Isaiah Thomas as his best player, but to Stevens' credit he hasn't made any "Larry Bird isn't walking through that door" speeches yet.
Bottom Line: Though the Eastern Conference figures to be a bit more competitive, the Celtics will have the benefit of coaching and continuity. If their young players continue to show moderate improvement, a 45-37 record and maybe a sixth seed are reasonable, but they could bottom out as well, and don't put it past Ainge to tank completely for Australian Ben Simmons if the season starts poorly. It would be a better plan than targeting Love, who didn't lead Minnesota anywhere, to be your savior.
* * *
A Rant To Get Off My Chest: Speaking of Simmons, America's most famous Boston homer has ignored the Celtics the past few months because he was caught in the grip of "Deflate-Gate" mania. Bill Simmons' Twitter account is now completely devoted to defending Tom Brady and his beloved Patriots against those who accuse them of impropriety and attacking NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
I give you these tweets, as a representative example:
1. Tom Brady testified in a federal court, under oath, that he had absolutely nothing to do with any football deflation scheme.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) September 6, 2015
2. So why do certain media types continue to insist *something* happened? They really think Brady would risk perjury/jail over this? Morons.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) September 6, 2015
Of course if you were at all familiar with Judge Richard Berman's ruling, you understand that Brady's suspension being overturned had nothing to do with his guilt or innocence but rather with the NFL conducting an investigation that violated the rules of its Collective Bargaining Agreement and wasn't nearly as "independent" as it claimed.
I bring this up because neither Simmons nor the overwhelming majority of his media peers have been nearly as empathetic when it comes to another superstar athlete who went to Serra High School in my neck of the woods.
The federal government couldn't convict Barry Bonds of committing perjury when he testified that he never knowingly took performance-enhancing substances and recently an appellate court ruled in his favor on obstruction of justice charges as well. As far as the U.S. legal system is concerned, Bonds is in the clear.
So where's his benefit of the doubt from Simmons -- or anyone else?
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