Multiple ESPN writers/predictions agree: The Celtics will be terrible this year

Even the most optimistic Celtics fan is likely to agree with the following statement: The 2013-14 Celtics will be worse than they were in 2012-13.

After all, the C's summer revolved around the mega-deal that sent Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets for three first round picks and a host of average (at best) NBA talent. There is no question that the trade weakened Boston in the short term in exchange for (hopefully) improving them in the years to come.

However, while just about everyone is likely to agree that the Celtics are worse now than they were when we last saw them, there is quite a bit of disagreement in how much worse they will be. Some folks think they are destined for a top 5 pick in the NBA draft, while others think they should be considered one of the favorites in the race for the 8th seed in the East. Personally I fall closer to the latter, believing that the East is so weak that the Celtics, while far weaker than they have been at any time in the past six years, are still in position to compete for the final playoff spot in the East. When I did my summer power rankings series I had Boston 22nd overall, but 9th in the Eastern Conference.

However, ESPN clearly disagrees. The worldwide leader has been doing their own power rankings, using the ESPN Forecaster, a tool that takes the aggregate predictions of many "experts" and combines them into a final prediction.

During their Summer Forecast, ESPN ranked the Celtics 12th in the East, with a final record of 29-53. While Boston was just two wins shy of 11th place Milwaukee and four wins shy of 10th place Toronto, the Forecaster does not like the C's chance to compete for the 8-seed, putting the Green 10 wins below the Cavaliers (predicted to go 39-43 and take home the final playoff spot).

The Summer Forecast wasn't the only result computing device that doesn't like the Celtics chances. NBA writer Bradford Doolittle predicted each teams scoring margin for this season (I'm guessing with some kind of analytics tool, although he doesn't clarify with what in the article). He then compared the margin with the teams scoring margin last year and came up with a list of risers and fallers. In other words, which teams would be in for the biggest improvement (He settled with Cleveland at #1, Detroit at #2 and Dallas at #3) and those who would be in for the biggest fall from grace.

The #1 faller: The Oklahoma City Thunder, who Doolittle predicts will see a 7.1 point drop in scoring differential. Considering OKC was +9.2 last season (best in the NBA), Doolittle predicts they will be +2.1 this season. Still good, but far from elite.

Coming in at #2 on the "fallers" list: Your Boston Celtics. Doolittle has Boston dropping 7.0 points in scoring differential. Considering the C's were basically average last season (-0.2) that means he sees them falling all the way down to -7.2 in differential this season. To put that in perspective, only the Bobcats (-9.2) had a worse scoring differential last season. The Orlando Magic (-7.0) were closest to what the C's are projected for..and they won a whopping 20 games last season.

Here's what Doolittle had to say about the Celtics.

Hey, Danny Ainge had to know this was coming. He won't admit to tanking, as no one should, but let's get real here: The Celtics are lottery bound, with the 28th-projected offense and a dead-last defense. This is all by design, Celtics fans, so just grin and bear it.

Emphasis mine. 28th on offense and 30th on defense? I mean maybe I'm the one way off base here, but projecting the C's to be the 3rd last team offensively seems extremely pessimistic unless Rajon Rondo decides not to come back at all during the coming season. Rondo rounding into form with a viable scoring wing in Jeff Green and a host of solid role players would seemingly lift Boston above teams like Philly, Orlando, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Utah and Phoenix who don't have a player even remotely as talented as Rondo.

Defensively, again, this seems pessimistic. I certainly expect the Celtics to be below average, but dead last? The presence of Avery Bradley alone may prevent that (Bradley allowed only 0.74 points-per-play last season, 16th in the NBA). Throw in Jared Sullinger (0.74 PPP allowed), Rondo (0.77), Green (0.81), Brandon Bass (0.81), Gerald Wallace (0.84) and Courtney Lee (0.84) — and the Celtics have a ton of guys who were average to well above average defensively last year. Sure, losing KG is a major blow. But this team will also have a lot of guys either fighting for their next contract (Bradley, Kris Humphries, Rondo (in 2015)), trying to prove that they were worth their last one (Green, Wallace, Bass, Lee), or trying to establish themselves in the NBA (Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk). When you also consider that their incoming head coach has a phenomenal defensive track's hard for me to imagine a scenario where the Celtics are dead last defensively.

Again, this is not to say that we should be printing playoff tickets, or that fighting for the 8-seed in a terrible Eastern Conference is something to be proud of. It's not. But I am a little perplexed by Doolittle's projections, which seem to hint that the Green will win around 20 games. But maybe I'm the crazy one for thinking they'll win 32 or so (barring another major move..which I still think is very possible).

What do you guys think. The ESPN forecaster has them at 29 wins, Doolittle thinks they'll be one of if not the very worst team in basketball, and I have them at 32 wins at the moment. Let us know in the comment section what this roster is capable of.

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