Hollinger: Celtics to finish third, eyeing future

ESPN's John Hollinger predicts the Celtics to finish third in the east. I guess I'm just rounding up all of the "expert" picks. He doesn't necessarily say the Celtics are just looking towards the future. You can get the impression from the players that they are prepping for one last run at a championship. However, he does bring up that after this year only two players should be under contract for the Celtics and they will have two picks in the first round. I don't think most Celtics fans care where Hollinger thinks they will finish, but that last tidbit is something to note.

This excerpt comes from the ESPN Boston Celtics blog:
Boston Celtics (43-23)

It's amusing that the same Celtics fans who wanted Jeff Green tarred and feathered last spring now think they're hosed because he's out for the season. It's a loss, but he's a backup small forward and they can do other things with their lineups to mostly cover his absence. As long as they can avoid playing Sasha Pavlovic in an actual game, they'll be fine.

The more worrying problem for Boston is the grueling nature of the schedule, which will be magnified for the Celtics because of their age and mediocre bench. The theft of Brandon Bass from Orlando should help, and I suspect they'll get a lot more from Jermaine O'Neal than they did last season. Still, this team tied for 17th in offensive efficiency in 2010-11 and should be mediocre again; Boston is counting on its defense being at or near the top of the league to keep it in contention.

Perhaps it will be, but the combination of age, schedule and coaching staff defections (Tom Thibodeau left two years ago and Lawrence Frank this past offseason) might cause some slippage. All of Boston's bench players are good defenders except offseason pickup Chris Wilcox, but the C's still will have great difficulty retaining their No. 2 ranking in defensive efficiency.

Here's one other bummer for Boston: There are no games before Christmas this year. Over the past four seasons, the Celtics were a ridiculous 94-14 (.870) before Santa's arrival and a much more pedestrian 140-80 (.636) afterward.

In the big picture, the Celtics shape up for this season as Mavericks East: They're a Tier B contender, but rather than ride their veterans slowly down the tubes, they've built around short-term contracts and given themselves an opportunity to completely reshape the roster after the season. Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo are the only rotation players with contracts for next year, presuming Bass opts out, and Boston will have more than $20 million in cap space and two first-round picks next summer.