With the Boston Celtics entering a summer full of tough decisions, now may be the most difficult time to make predictions for next season. But hey, why not?
While we are not sure what exactly will happen with the likes of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, what we do know is that guys like Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green will almost definitely be coming back. Doesn't it seem appropriate to start prognosticating about how the future faces of the franchise will perform in 2013-14?
Instead of musing whether or not Danny Ainge will "bring the band back together," let's take a look at some of the other players on the Celtics roster and take some stabs at guessing what will happen with them.
Rondo will change his game
Regardless of whether or not Garnett and Pierce return next season, Rondo is going to need to become more assertive.
Rondo still has a tendency to pass out of open layups, a habit that some attribute to "stat padding." While I think that argument is a little ridiculous and that Rajon is trying to make what he really thinks is the best basketball play, Rondo needs to start looking for his shot more.
If KG and Pierce are back, then Rondo must take on more of a scoring role to take some of the load off of the two veterans. If they don't return, then Rondo becomes the unquestioned leader and best player on the team, and with that comes more responsibility offensively.
The constant dribbling the air out of the ball at the top of the key by Rondo waiting for someone to get open must cease. It results in poor, wild shots late in the clock too many times.
Instead, Rajon should attempt to create more dribble penetration and use his unfathomable court vision to make plays from there.
Rondo has also developed a nice little mid-range jump shot. The general consensus is that No. 9 can't shoot, and that is just not true. Not anymore, anyway. Take a look at his shot chart from this past season (courtesy of NBA.com):
Clearly, Rajon has improved as a jump shooter and should aim to make it a bigger part of his arsenal, especially if opposing guards continue to give him room from 16 to 18 feet out. Until his counterparts learn that Rondo can hit that shot, he should keep taking it.
What concerns me quite a bit about the headstrong floor general is how his win shares per 48 minutes have dropped every year after the 2008-09 campaign. That season, Rondo averaged .179. He has trended downward ever since, posting averages of .156, .126, .121 and .108 in the years that followed.
Now obviously, that stat is not the be-all, end-all to Rondo's overall performance, but it is still fairly alarming. Given that Rondo tore his ACL and is likely hungry to return to the floor and produce, I'm going to predict that we will see a significant spike in that number for 2013-14.
Rajon is going to be more aggressive and will take on more of a leadership role, resulting in what will be the best season of his career.
Green will challenge for an All-Star spot
I still think many people do not truly realize how good Green was in 2012-13, particularly when his role increased after Rondo went down with the ACL tear in late January.
Green started 17 games this season. During those contests, he averaged 20.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, shooting 52.3 percent from the floor and 51.9 percent from three-point range.
Yes; 51.9 percent from three-point range.
It wasn't like he only attempted a few triples, either. He took 52, connecting on 27 of them.
Then, in the playoffs, Green averaged 20.3 points and 5.3 rebounds. The most encouraging part, though? He got to the free-throw line 7.5 times per game, converting on 84.4 percent of his foul shots. That is outstanding. His field-goal percentage dipped to 43.5 percent, but he shot a very impressive 45.5 percent from downtown.
The numbers that Jeff put forth as a starter this year were All-Star numbers, and you can only expect him to improve in 2013-14.
What you have to love about Green is his versatility on both ends of the floor. He has turned into a Swiss army knife offensively, capable of exploding to the rim, posting up and knocking down the three-ball consistently. He has also proven to be a force defensively, coming up with numerous highlight reel blocks this season.
With a healthy Rondo back in the fold, Green should flourish even more.
Seriously, keep this in mind: Jeff put up those numbers without a point guard. With someone like Rondo feeding him the ball now? Phew. As ESPN's Stephen A. Smith would say, it's over.
All of that said, Green's touches will obviously depend on whether or not Garnett and Pierce are members of the team.
Brandon Bass will be shopped aggressively
Don't let his lack of offensive production fool you; Brandon Bass was absolutely sensational during the Celtics' first-round loss to the New York Knicks.
The reason why Bass didn't have much of a role within Boston's offense was because he was expending all of his energy on the other end of the floor defending—and containing—Carmelo Anthony. He was outstanding, getting into Anthony's body and not permitting him any space to get off his one-dribble jumpers that he likes so much.
He also displayed excellent lateral quickness by staying with Anthony out on the perimeter and not allowing him to blow by.
Not only that, but Bass had been playing very well going into the playoffs. He shot 56 percent from the floor throughout March and April combined and averaged 13.9 points per game during April, by far his best for any month during 2012-13.
Clearly, Bass' trade value has skyrocketed, as the remaining two years and $13 million on his deal don't look half-bad now.
There are a lot of teams that can use a guy like Bass, someone who steps his game up on the big stage. This is two years in a row now where the forward has risen to the occasion in the postseason for the C's.
I will not go as far as saying that Brandon will definitely be traded, but I do believe that Ainge will shop him rather aggressively this offseason. It's like they say: Strike while the iron is hot. Bass has some value right now, so don't be surprised to see Ainge try and sell high.
Jared Sullinger will challenge for Most Improved Player honors
All of the talk this year in Boston was about Rondo's injury, but what many neglected to realize was that the season-ending back injury to Jared Sullinger—which required surgery—was nearly as debilitating.
Sullinger was having a great rookie campaign, averaging 10.9 points and 10.7 rebounds (3.7 offensive) per 36 minutes and posting a total rebound percentage of 17.5 percent. He was also improving rapidly as a defender, taking on a Glen Davis-type of role by becoming very adept at drawing charges.
Look for Sullinger to make big strides during his sophomore year.
It doesn't even matter if KG is there; Sully will see more minutes, either because he will be needed to get Garnett extra rest or because he will be starting in the event that KG is no longer in Boston.
Sullinger has displayed an outstanding basketball IQ, knowing exactly where to be on the floor on both ends. He is also very talented on the low block, resembling an Al Jefferson-type player with his savvy in the post.
Hopefully, Sullinger's back is 100 percent and never gives him any more problems, because we really could be looking at a special talent if he stays healthy.
If he is "right," Jared will have a significant impact in 2013-14.