CelticsLife Atlantic Divison Preview: YOUR Boston Celtics

2013/14 Record: 25-57
Expected Starting Lineup & Summary

Rajon Rondo
Avery Bradley
Jeff Green
Jared Sullinger
Kelly Olynyk

So we've come to this. The final team in the Atlantic Division, YOUR Boston Celtics. This preview will be a little bit different. And before you get nervous, first question where you are in life where you get nervous about a format change in an Atlantic Division preview on CelticsLife, and secondly, take a look at that sweet picture of Marky Mark, and know everything is going to be all right.

Because here's the thing. It doesn't really make sense to expand upon our normal topics (new faces, trade targets, hot takes) because they've been written about, like, a lot on this site. Instead, we'll spend most of the time on looking into the Celtics over/under.

But first, last year's dunk of the year. Executed by one of the two players on our team who can dunk.

Dunk of 2013/14

Kidding, guys. But also kind of not

New Faces, New Places

Key Additions: Marcus Smart, James Young, Evan Turner, Marcus Thornton, Tyler Zeller, Dwight Powell
Key Losses: Kris Humphries, Jerryd Bayless

Boston Celtics over/under 26.5

Matt Richissin: Over

I think a lot of people will take a look at the additions this team have made, figure our young bigs will make significant progressions this season, and then remember that we went half as season without Rondo (and half a season with half of Rondo) and jump to say 'Over!' Or maybe not literally say that aloud, but maybe look around to see who can see their screen, and then checking out ways to bet the 'Over.'

But the Eastern Conference is better than people think. While last season's top two seeds figure to vacate anywhere between 50 and 60 wins throughout the league, nearly every other team added significant pieces to their core.

It's not just the Cavs and Bulls. The Hornets added Lance Stephenson and Noah Vonleh, the Wizards replaced Trevor Ariza with Paul Pierce, the Nets & Hawks will see their All-Star centers return, the Pistons & Knicks replaced their incompetent coaches (with a really good coach, and uh, probably a more competent one), the Raptors added Lou Williams, the Magic added two lottery picks, and the Bucks added the most-NBA ready rookie, replaced their head coach, get LARRY SANDERS (!) back, and have convinced OJ Mayo to try out the South Beach Diet.

That's not to say I haven't been encouraged by what I've seen in the pre-season. I did pick the Celtics to go 'over' after all. Just a reminder that expectations might need to be tempered.

So far, the Celtics have made drastic improvements when it comes to playing with pace, and moving the ball with purpose. The second part of that might even be more important. Too often, the Celtics spent last season swinging the ball aimlessly side to side without any real progression towards a simpler shot. Well, provided James Harden wasn't on the court.

The preseason has seen the Celtics doing a lot more. Ball rotations are met with weak side picks, wings slashing, and tons more action. Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk in particular seem to have a much clearer understanding of where they should be on the court at all times. While they've always been smart and active players, this pre-season they've become more robotic (in a good way). Gone are the days where there's a momentary pause to think AND THEN action, now it's just a very "I do this, then I do that, then I do this."

Simply understanding where to be on offense won't make either elite players, but it's a major progression for them that should see both players improving their overall play this season.

I'd be remissed if I didn't mention how impressed I have been with Marcus Smart. I don't understand how a rookie can be this good defensively. It's not just that he's a bulldog. The way he houdini's himself through picks is remarkable. In eight years of experience, Rajon Rondo (who when he wants to be, can be excellent defensively) still frequently gets caught on picks. Smart, doesn't just avoid getting stuck on picks, he somehow never seems to give up an inch of space from his man in the process. He finds a way through the pick, and the instant he's through he's right back to being inches from his man.

Offensively, anything he can give us is a plus. One thing he's done a few times that I really like is that he'll occasionally post up after a cut through the paint when the ball is being rotated. With the amount of shooting the team has on the perimeter, it provides him the space needed to allow him to exploit his size, and utilize his post game (which he's actually pretty good at).

Padraic O'Connor: Under

My prediction for the 2014-15 Boston Celtics is going to be the East Coast version of the 2013-14 Suns. They'll surprise some people, be fun to watch, and ultimately miss the playoffs.

With that said, I'm hoping they have more "fun losses" than they do wins, so that way Danny Ainge can still take advantage of the Draft Lottery. This shouldn't be an issue as the East is much better than it was last year, so even a marginally better Celtics team is still going to lose a lot of games.

If this year's draft is even half as good as last year's draft a nice high lottery pick will erase the bad taste of 50+ losses.

Mike Dyer: Over

I have the Celtics finishing 30-52 (12th in the East), and that thought process is based on a few different things.

1. I think Rajon Rondo is here all season. I've lost count of how many times I've written about why, but the basic just of it is that the Celtics value Rondo very highly, and there are very few contending teams with both a need at point guard and the assets to get a deal done. So Rondo stays, and that makes the Cs better.

2. Brad Stevens is in year two, and will steal a few wins. I have a belief that every NBA team has a certain win total based on their talent, and their coach then moves that total 5 wins in either direction. And as Stevens enters year two a more confident coach, he's going to start moving that total up a few wins each season. I look for Stevens to take advantage of the Celtics roster construction by shooting a ton of threes (something we've seen in the preseason), and by pressuring the hell out of opposing guards with Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Rondo and Phil Pressey. Stevens will maximize the pieces he has, and that will up the win total just a bit.

3. The Celtics young core is going to have a nice development year. I think Jared Sullinger becomes a 16/9 guy this year, Kelly Olynyk matches his second half production (11/7/2 with good shooting percentages), and Marcus Smart makes the nonexistent All-Rookie defensive team. All three guys have their warts (conditioning, defense and shooting respectively), but all three also have major NBA skills -- and I expect Brad Stevens to put them in a position to succeed (see paragraph 2).

So with all of this sunshine, why is the win total not higher? Well, not everything is peachy with the current roster..

1. I expect Brandon Bass and Jeff Green to be traded. It's completely possible another year passes with these guys on the roster, but since both have expiring deals (Green only if he opts out of his contract, but most people figure he will with both the influx of cash coming next summer, and Green's ability to turn a 1-year deal into a 3 or 4 year deal, even if it's for a slightly smaller yearly salary) I expect something to get done. Why wouldn't a team looking to contend trade a big expiring contract plus a decent asset for these guys? Hell, you could throw in Marcus Thornton as well. The Celtics need to make playing time for guys like James Young and Marcus Smart, and trading vets is the way to do it.

2. They still don't have a center. Maybe Tyler Zeller can give them 20 decent minutes, but even if he can, the Celtics remain woefully thin at the 5. And I don't care what his starting spot tells you, the answer is not Olynyk, who will never be able to guard opposing centers. Nor is it Sullinger, who try as he might, just can't get the job done at 6'8". Whether it be through the draft (the 2015 draft has a lot of intriguing big man options), or free agency (ditto), the Celtics must address the center position next summer. But for this year at least, it's another season of cringing when Andre Drummond and the like get the ball down low.

3. The East is deeper. Cleveland has become Miami, but Miami is a hell of a lot better than Cleveland was last year. The Bulls are completely healthy and added Pau. The Raptors and Wizards lost very little and added Lou Williams and Paul Pierce respectively, making them both safe bets to improve upon last year's success. Charlotte added Lance Stephenson to a playoff roster. The Hawks will continue to shoot a million threes as they try and build "Spurs-East" in the ATL, and Al Horford is back. Neither the Nets or Knicks look particularly good, but if Brook Lopez stays healthy, and the Knicks get anything out of Melo's supporting cast, it's easy to see both teams right around 40 wins this year. And if the Pistons can just avoid playing Josh Smith at the 3 by any means necessary, there's enough talent on that roster to make a playoff run. That's 10 teams that are pretty good or better, and it's hard for me to envision the Cs jumping any of those teams, with the possible exception of the NY duo if either (or both) implode. However, I do expect the Celtics to out-win the Sixers (duh), Magic, and Bucks, with the Pacers being the wild card that could win anywhere from 20 to 40 games. So that's why I have them 12th in an improved East, finishing right at the 30-win mark.