Seven reasons to watch the Celtics this season - even if they're not very good
Two days. The Celtics start in two freaking days. If it seems like forever ago that the Cs nearly erased a 26 point deficit before falling short against the Knicks in Game 6 - that's because it was. That game was on May 3rd, and it was the earliest the Celts had been eliminated since they missed the playoffs in 2006-07.
Speaking of 2006-07, as this new era of Celtics basketball gears up, I am reminded of the ill fated '06-'07 campaign. The team has one star (Paul Pierce then, Rajon Rondo now), some nice expiring contracts, a few good young players, and very little hope of being good. Coming off of the incredible six year "Big 3 era" - this sucks.
But all is not lost. There are still reasons to watch this team, and to be excited for the season. Many in fact. But I'm focusing on the following seven reasons to tune in to the 2013-14 Boston Celtics.
#1. Everything to do with Rondo - As we enter the 2013-14 NBA season, there may be no more interesting player than Rondo. He's coming off of an ACL injury, and we have no idea when he'll return. Could be December 1st, or February 1st. He may come back looking like DRose this pre-season, or he may have some serious rust to shake off.
We also will finally get an answer to the "can Rondo lead?" question that has seemingly been asked for about five seasons now. There is no doubt that this is his team now. Pierce, KG and Doc are gone. Rondo is the one superstar remaining. Whether he becomes the centerpiece of the next era of Celtics basketball or the centerpiece of the next humongous trade is still unknown. But what we do know is that this is a massive year for his future in green..and we all have a front row seat to see how it unfolds.
#2. Trader Danny - If you've ever watched Felger & Mazz - you know that they love to rip on Danny Ainge for failing to make bold moves. They call him "Trader Danny" in strange mocking voices and say he's all talk when it comes to making the big move. Only they are dead wrong.
Consider this - Since 2003 (when he became President) Ainge has:
- Traded Antoine Walker
- Traded Kendrick Perkins
- Traded Paul Pierce
- Traded Kevin Garnett
- Traded Doc Rivers
- Traded for Ray Allen
- Traded for Kevin Garnett
And those are just the blockbusters. That doesn't count the Ricky Davis/Mark Blount deal or picking up Rondo on draft night or swapping Big Baby for Brandon Bass. These are just the ones that were known blockbusters at the time they were made.
Now take a look around the league and tell me how many other franchises have had as many blockbuster moves in the past decade? Not many. Why? Because pulling off absurdly large deals within the intricacies of the NBA cap is very difficult. Yet Ainge found a way to set up the 2007-2013 run with trades, and he found a way to hit the re-set button this summer. Does that mean all his moves are good? Of course not. Rip on him for his seemingly endless list of crappy 1st round picks, or for replacing P.J. Brown with Patrick O'Bryant in the summer of 2008, or for letting Tony Allen go in 2010. But to say he's afraid to make big moves simply means you haven't been paying attention. And with nine first round picks in the next five seasons, $20 million in expiring deals, a $10 million trade exception, Rondo, and a few good young players in house — the assets are there for another major move. Maybe he waits to see how the draft lottery goes first (ala 2007), but eventually the other shoe will drop. And it's going to be fun.
#3. Brad Stevens - What happens when a 37 year old who never played above D III takes over an NBA franchise just entering a rebuild? I have no idea..but I'm interested to see how it goes. I'm admittedly a Stevens fanboy, and think he'll eventually be a phenomenal NBA coach, just as he was a phenomenal college coach. But I doubt that happens overnight. There are certain to be some frustrating times ahead for a guy who has only won in his career as he takes control of a team set to lose anywhere from 45 to 65 games this year.
How does he handle angry players? How does he handle NBA egos? How does he handle the first eight game losing streak? All of these questions need to be answered. Personally I think he'll pass all the tests..but that doesn't mean it will be a smooth ride this year. Stevens is likely in for the roughest year of his career thus far.
#4. Will the real Jeff Green please stand up? - The biggest battle between Celtics fans over the past few seasons has undoubtedly been: Rondo - trade him or keep him? But the second biggest has become: Jeff Green - love him or hate him?
Green goes for 25 points and looks engaged and people fall in love with his skills. He pulls a disappearing act for a game or two and the "HOW DID WE TRADE PERK FOR THIS GUY" crowd starts chirping.
This year we finally get an answer on Green. Is he a legit #2 option for this team? Or is he a super talented guy who will never put it together mentally and be more than a tease?
Or..is it possible both sides are right/wrong? Is it possible that Ainge made a good trade, trading a guy in Perkins who was on the precipice of a full fledged collapse as a player for a better player in Green, but that Green is simply not the type of guy who can lead an NBA team? That he's more of a 3rd/4th option on a good team? Because that's what I'm thinking he is. I think that Green's second half of last season showed that with enough touches, he'll be productive. And I think that he has definite value, even at his current $9 million price tag. But I do not expect him to ever be the 2nd best guy on a playoff team.
He seems better suited for the role he held in OKC, 3rd banana behind two stars. Where he can lift his team on his "on" nights, and fade into the background on his "off" ones. That's why I think he will probably end up having more value as a trade chip for this club. But in the meantime everyone enjoy the "on" nights because the man can put on an absolute SHOW.
#5. The Avery Bradley show - You know what is fun? Watching greatness is fun. And Avery Bradley is right on the verge of becoming the greatest on ball defender in basketball. Sure, we have no idea if he's any good offensively. It's quite possible he sucks after what we've seen over the past four seasons (including his year at Texas). But on the other side of the ball..Bradley puts on a nightly show.
According to Synergy Sports, AB allowed only 0.73 points per play last season, ranking 16th in the NBA universe. He also allowed his opponents to shoot only 32% from the floor - a downright staggering number.
And that was while recovering from double shoulder surgery. This year it's possible we see an even better Bradley (it doesn't hurt that he's also in a contract year), as he enters his first season as a healthy starter. There aren't many players on the Celtics with even one truly exceptional skill. In fact, I count three:
Considering Rondo is hurt and Hump figures to be in a timeshare with four other guys for two spots, Bradley may be the only one we get to see a lot of early on. Cherish that.
#6. The Sully/Olynyk combo - Two young bigs with very different, but very intriguing skillsets. Sully is old school. A grinder down low with serious rebounding chops and the ability to back you into the post with the power of his ass. His vertical leap is about 4 inches, but he can beat you without ever leaving the floor.
Olynyk has some of the same old school attributes (namely the post skills and lack of athleticism), but is the rare seven footer who can beat you both from the post and while pulling up from 25 feet out.
I think both of these guys are in for long careers as damn good role players, but I'd be thrilled to be proven wrong and have one of them turn into a star. They're both young enough where the thought of "what they may become" is just as important as "what they currently are". And that's going to be fun to watch.
#7. Because they're the god damn Boston Celtics - Some of us want them to win 20 games and position themselves for the future (me), some of us want them to go all holds barred for the 8-seed. But whatever your hopes are for this team..we're all going to watch.
We watched in 1996-97 when they won 15 games and we watched in 2006-07 when they won 24 (and lost 18 in a row). Now we get to watch a young team try and find their sea legs again as the next era slowly takes shape. We'll watch to see if this is finally the year that the team actually kills Tommy, and we'll watch what Ainge has in store, and how Stevens looks in year 1, and what Rondo looks like when he comes back, and if Green has heart, and if Bradley has an offensive game, and if two young big men who can't jump over a newspaper can put the time machine back to 1964 and help this team win games.
But mostly we'll watch because they're the Celtics. And because winter wouldn't be the same without them.