Jobu previews the 2012/13 Celtics.
I know you must be thinking… where’s Jerry Ballgame? Well basketball is one of the few sports where he and I actually see eye to eye, so I’ll be previewing the Celtics for 2012/13. I’m sure he’ll have his own thoughts on the team too, so never fear.
The Celtics enjoyed a pretty solid season last year. Despite being thought of as too old, on their way back down the standings and running out of time to win more championships before rebuilding, they caught fire in the second half and pushed the eventual world champions to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference Finals. Not bad for a bunch of old guys, right? As soon as the season ended, however, attention turned to the big three, and what the Celts would do to remain competitive. Despite their loss in game one to the hated Miami Heat, I think that Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers have done a wonderful job of re-tooling for this season, and here’s why.
Sometimes, when you want to remain competitive, you have to say goodbye to certain players. This off-season, the Celtics had to say goodbye to a future Hall of Famer (and my favorite player in the NBA) in Ray Allen. Allen gave the Celtics five great years. I grew up watching him play at UCONN, so it was a real treat to be able to root for him for my favorite NBA team the last five seasons. Allen was just fun to watch. He basically could spend 23 of the 24 seconds on the shot clock running around the perimeter and baseline, catch a pass just beyond the arc with a second left to shoot and nail a three pointer every time down the court. His smooth outside touch is really unparalleled in my opinion, and he really earned his keep as part of Boston’s “Big Three.”
That being said, he’s kind of on the downswing of his illustrious career, which became evident last season. Allen was only able to play in 46 of the team’s 66 games because of injuries. This is kind of a red flag for me, especially when a young and exciting player like Avery Bradley is there waiting in the wings (more on him later). That being said, the Celtics offered Allen a solid deal and the veteran actually took less to join the rival Miami Heat. Reportedly, a rift between he and Rondo is had a huge influence on Allen’s departure. If that’s the case, sorry. I’ll take the 26 year old best true point guard in the league over an aging Ray Allen any day. I really don’t know how I feel about him going to the hated Heat though…I expected him to have a good game in the opener against the Celtics though, and he did. Coming off the bench, Allen used just seven shots to collect 19 points in 31 minutes. You knew he was going to come out motivated, so I won’t evaluate them letting him go based on this one game.
Avery Bradley, whom I mentioned a bit ago, is the future of the Celtics shooting guard position. Bradley was pressed into action last season because of Allen’s injury, and he really opened some eyes. In fact, he basically pushed Allen to the bench even after the veteran returned from his injuries (not sure if it was because the Celtics were trying to keep Allen fresh, or if they really liked Bradley that much better, but still). The Celtics lost Bradley to a separated shoulder in the finals, which may have turned the tables in the Heat’s favor (who knows). Those shoulder problems, which were reoccurring throughout the post season, led to off-season surgery for Avery and he is expected to be out until December. Hopefully he can heal up and come back to play the majority of the year. That would be very helpful.
If Bradley can’t return, the Celtics should probably still be alright, as they’ve been very busy fortifying the perimeter this off-season too. They brought in long-time Maverick Jason Terry to be their sixth man, and former Rocket Courtney Lee in a sign-and-trade too. Although he’s 35 years old, Terry is a quality sixth man and he’s coming from a team that won the NBA championship two years ago and is in constant playoff contention every year, so he knows what it takes to win. For me, Lee might be the most exciting pickup of the off-season. Here’s a guy who shot over 40% from behind the arc last year, and could really make us miss Ray Allen a whole lot less if he has the kind of year he’s capable of having.
As I mentioned before, the Celtics still have Rajon Rondo, which is a big leg up on a championship already. The guy knows how to play and I think is one of the most talented players in the entire league. His court vision, defense and knack for the big play is not matched by too many people. I’m very glad the Celtics decided not to trade him. If Rondo ever gets his head on straight, he might end up in the Hall of Fame. The C’s also brought in veteran Leandro Barbosa to back up the SG/PG positions. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Brazilian born, former first round pick, but he impressed me greatly in the season opener. Barbosa only played 16 minutes, but had 16 points on 6-8 shooting, including 3-3 from behind the arc. Barbosa was once a pretty promising player, so he really could make an impact off the bench for the C’s as well.
As if I even had to mention it, Paul Pierce is back manning the small forward position. Pierce is the leading scorer in Celtics history, and he’s not going anywhere. It took him a while to shake the rust off in the opener, but he ended up with 23 points. They’ll have to find ways to keep him fresh as well, either with Jeff Green (more on him in a bit) or a guy like Kris Joseph from Syracuse.
Welcome Back, Big Man
The status of the “Big Three” was very much up in the air going into this off-season. As we just discussed, Ray Allen chose to take his talents to South Beach. Would the Celtics be able to bring back Kevin Garnett, or would they lose him too? Luckily, they were able to bring KG back. The length of his contract (three more seasons) might be a little concerning, but looking at the contracts received by Jason Kidd, Tim Duncan and Marcus Camby, that seemed like the standard length this off-season… even for old guys. At the end of the day, KG makes Boston a much better team, so I’m glad he’s back.
Unlike other seasons, though, KG seems to have quite a bit of help in the front court going into the 2013 season. The Celtics drafted Syracuse big man Fab Melo and signed Jason Collins. Those two guys, along with newly signed Darko Milicic (yes that Darko) should make up for the loss of Greg Stiemsma to the T’Wolves and give Doc Rivers the players necessary to keep KG fresh for the entire season. Let’s face it. When KG came out of the game last year, the Celtics didn’t have much to rely on.
The other front court position has some exciting and interesting faces in it as well. The Celtics also drafted Ohio State phenom Jared Sullinger in the first round. As exciting as he has been during the summer league this year, he might actually have some trouble getting on the court his rookie season. The Celtics signed Jeff Green, who was on injured reserve last year with a heart defect, two a 4-year, $36 MM deal. He can play the four, and maybe even a little three. The Celtics also brought back Brandon Bass, a guy many Celtics fans fell in love with last year. He’s a big man with a soft touch, and even had a couple of explosive playoff performances to boot! Bass will most likely be starting, as he did in game one against Miami (15 points, 11 rebounds).
Irish Spring: Can They Win It All?
Any time you have to go up against a team like the Miami Heat, you’re going to have a big challenge on your hands. Lat season, the Celtics took the eventual NBA Champions to the brink, barely losing in seven games of the Eastern Conference Finals. This year they have brought back two of their big three and surrounded them with some solid depth, skilled shooters and big men. The key to how far the Celtics will go sits squarely on the shoulders of Rajon Rondo. Rondo might be one of the younger guys on this team, but he is clearly growing into the role of a team leader. He’s got the potential to spark championships on and off the court. If he continues to improve his game, as he has done the last few seasons, it’s going to be hard to be the newly re-staffed Celtics. I’m not going to go ahead and say that they’re the favorites because, until someone beats the Heat, the Heat will be the favorites, but the Celtics have as good a chance as anyone to dethrone the King.
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