SQ#52--Roster Battles vs. Unit Chemistry

Summer Quandaries #52
September 22--5 days to camp

Roster Battles vs. Unit Chemistry

While I believe this will be the most competitive camp during Danny’s tenure, I think 14 roster slots are set. Unless someone stumbles, and there are several candidates, or someone blows the coaching staff away, Tony Gaffney perhaps, the most likely outcome is for the guaranteed contracts (including partial) to make it out of camp. That leaves battles for positioning on the depth chart and ironing out unit chemistry as the major tasks at hand. These goals are, unfortunately, somewhat at cross purposes.

There are some that feel the starting Center is yet to be determined. Not me. By advantage of age, mobility, offensive and defensive flexibility, and needs of the first versus second units, I give the starter’s job to Jermaine. If you accept that premise, then also set are the center and power forward positions on the second unit which go to Shaq and Big Baby. The rest of the depth chart is yet to be determined.

Marquis Daniels could be penciled in as Pierce’s backup. Certainly no one else on the roster offers the size and mobility to match up favorably defending small forwards, except

Tony Gaffney which is why I keep looking for a way he could stick. The other fall backs are a significant stretch. Luke Harangody doesn’t appear well suited to staying with the high powered offensive players at that position, usually the most dangerous scorer on the other team. He has lost weight and I’m sure he’ll get the opportunity to try, but I am leery of the outcome since he appears too slow afoot and without the hops to be effective. Von Wafer is undersized and lacks the brawn to muscle with the LeBron’s and Melo’s of the league. He also has yet to show he has the determination and desire to be a defensive stopper. This is probably the most obvious hole in the roster and with Daniels’ history of injuries is a compelling concern.

Most feel Nate Robinson is the clear leader to backup point guard Rajon Rondo. I don’t disagree but I would argue that there is competition nipping at his heels. Delonte West offers similar outside shooting, probably a better mid-range game, similar and perhaps better basket attack skills, at least as good passing and play making, and only slightly less certain ball handling. He will miss the first 10 games suspended but will return about three weeks before December 15 which is the first date most FA summer signings could be traded.

Delonte is also a wild card for backing up Ray Allen. Von Wafer has more height and has scored effectively outside in the past. He’s been significantly less productive driving however and his defense remains a question. Delonte has proven to be effective both offensively and defensively at the two guard despite being undersized for the position. Once again, with West’s suspension, Wafer will have a 10 game run to cement his hold as shooting guard on the second unit.

The real unknown is Avery Bradley. He, like Delonte, will likely be a combo guard who will see time at both the one and the two. Whether or not that takes place this year is one of the burning questions—of the camp, of the preseason, of the first half, of the whole year. If he comes out on fire and either Nate or Von stumble, then this rookie might carve out a role with his defensive expertise before Delonte comes off suspension. The fact that neither Robinson nor Wafer is known for their defensive provides a real opening. There are ample options at both guard positions so that Bradley need not be pushed into action if he proves unready but it wouldn’t surprise me if his rookie year played out somewhat like Rondo’s where Rajon started out behind two other players (West and Sebastian Telfair) but earned more and more time throughout the season.

I would like to say that the competitions will play out quickly and that the Celtics can quickly turn their attention to generating a smooth chemistry among the second unit. I think it is critical for the second team to play more, and better, than in the last several seasons. With the aging stars it is more and more important that their minutes, and even games, be limited. Like thoroughbreds they will be best served by breaking a good sweat without pushing into exhaustion during their training, I mean regular season. A cohesive second unit, and I suppose, judicious use of the third stringers, offer the best route to achieving that aim.