Early Predictions for Boston Celtics' Starting 5 Next Season
It's never too early for predictions, especially when discussing a Boston Celtics team in full rebuilding mode.
Nobody quite knows what Boston's final roster will look like by training camp, never mind the opening tip of 2013-14. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge has a plethora of young talent, a couple of major positional logjams and frankly, no clue whatsoever who will comprise his starting lineup in October.
How could he? Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will be gone as of July 12, departing with Jason Terry for greener pastures, a.k.a. the Brooklyn Nets. The weekend will be the culmination of a three-week wait after Ainge pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade involving the veterans for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph and a bevy of draft picks (it couldn't be approved until the three-month period elapsed on Joseph's contract).
Long story short, Boston has no “Big Ticket,” no “Truth” and no “Jet.” In fact, players with nicknames are few and far between at this point. And so are the acquisitions.
The Celtics will apparently grab Brazilian big man Vitor Faverani. Have no fear: If the deal goes through, TD Garden will be graced with two years of a big Portuguese guy called “El Hombre Indestructible” (the Indestructible Man). Well, he may not be able to score with the best of them, but Ainge will take the indestructible part, considering Rajon Rondo is still rehabbing his knee and Jared Sullinger had back surgery in February.
Still stuck with a bloated payroll and excess players, Ainge will certainly wheel and deal some more prior to the summer's end. But for the sake of good fun, let's engage in some way-too-early starting lineup prognostications for the coming season.
PG: Rajon Rondo
The aforementioned Rondo seems to be healing well, so expect him to be on the floor when the season begins in late October. The floor general and new leader of the squad will not want to miss the start of a new era for Team Green, especially with a new coach and an extremely young team under him.
Rondo, who comes off a shortened season in which he still led the league in assists per game (11.1), says he can't wait to start working with new head coach Brad Stevens, a 36-year-old analytical genius. These two seem to have mutual respect for one another and could really make some magic happen together.
The longest-tenured Celtic by far (Avery Bradley's the second-longest member with three years in Boston), Rondo will do his best to prove his detractors wrong. Many, including yours truly, have doubted his ability to lead, citing his immaturity, outbursts and occasional streaks of unselfish selfishness (he may have coined the term “pass-hog”).
But he deserves a chance.
Rondo will be the glue that holds this ship together during the rebuild. If he falls out of line or fails to stay on-board with the organizational mission, the entire thing could fall apart. It seems like he can make it happen, fueled by the knowledge that he will be the head honcho next season and for years to come.
However, keep an eye on him. Undrafted rookie Phil Pressey (Missouri), a Waltham, Mass. high-school baller and impressive summer league addition, will be waiting in the wings if Rondo messes up and needs to be shipped out.
SG: Avery Bradley
Not a surprise to anyone, Avery Bradley will be returning to the role of 2-guard after having to hold court as the point-man during Rondo's absence. He's more than likely elated at the notion.
AB had a rough stretch toward the end of last season and into the playoffs.
He crumbled during crucial moments, losing focus and turning the ball over. He shot without confidence (when he even had the guts to take open looks). His assists plummeted, and his turnovers skyrocketed. It wasn't the Bradley Celtics Nation had come to know and love.
Much of this can be blamed on the tired squad around him, considering then-coach Doc Rivers played only seven players (three of which were in their mid-30s) in Game 1 of the playoffs. But most of his deficiencies stemmed from playing out of position.
Plain and simple, Bradley never stood a chance against his playoff counterpart, Raymond Felton of the New York Knicks. The matchup might have been the X-factor of the entire first-round series, where New York eliminated Boston in six games. Felton worked an inside-outside clinic on Bradley, to the point of utter embarrassment.
It's up to to the 22-year-old to go out and forget about the entire experience. He still has arguably the best set of hands and feet of any guard in the pros, remaining an absolute menace on man-to-man defense. He still has a strong first step to the basket and a decent jump shot to continue developing.
Expect him to rebound and take the added opportunities during this rebuild to improve on his skill set.
SF: Jeff Green
For Celtics fans still lamenting the loss of their iconic captain, Paul Pierce, the only possible solace lies in Jeff Green.
The "man who still needs a nickname" emerged in the second half of last season, combining aggressive drives to the hoop with deadly three-point jumpers.
Green's ascension to stardom remains extra sweet given the fact that he missed the entirety of the previous 2011-2012 season because of heart surgery. He suffered from a condition called an aortic aneurysm, and doctors feared his aorta could balloon and essentially rupture, very likely causing death.
After a successful surgery, Green amazingly returned to play the Celtics' entire 81-game season. Not only that, he defied the odds by becoming the go-to scorer. He dunked in defenders' faces. He nailed huge threes. He hit game-winners. He was becoming everything Ainge thought he would always be—and more.
Green led the Celtics in three-point shooting percentage last season, knocking down 38.5 percent of his attempts. He finished with 12.8 points on 46.7 percent shooting, adding 3.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 27.8 minutes per game.
But remember: The second half was his time to shine. After the All-Star break, Green averaged 17.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 blocks and 0.8 steals. He shot a staggering 49.3 percent from the field and an unfathomable 43.9 percent from long range. Not to rip off Scarface, but "the world was his."
And the team is his to lead in scoring next year. Not unlike James Harden last year with the Houston Rockets, don't be surprised to see Green step up as one of the league's elite offensive talents. He might even crack the top 10 in scoring, especially if Rondo has anything to say about it.
Unless Ainge can manage to dump Gerald Wallace's contract before the season begins, expect the veteran dread-head to serve as Green's backup.
PF: Kelly Olynyk
Here's where it gets tricky. The Celtics started 2012-13 with Brandon Bass as the lead power forward, but he had a truly disappointing post-contract year.
Then impressive rookie big man Jared Sullinger took over, bringing his wide base and rebounding prowess to the frontline. But his impending back issues caught up to him, and he was forced to undergo season-ending surgery. Enter Bass again to essentially struggle with just about every facet of his game until finally playing some tight defense in the postseason (all for naught).
Now, to confuse things even more, Ainge netted Kris Humphries—the infamous ex-Kardashian who tussled with Rondo in a Nets-Celtics showdown last year—in the KG/Pierce trade. He may earn $12 million this coming season, but he certainly doesn't play like a guy who should be beating out three other competitors at the four.
Oh, and did we mention that Ainge drafted Gonzaga seven-footer Kelly Olynyk, the sharpshooting phenom who basically has become the talk of the town during the Orlando Summer League? Yeah, he wants KO to be a stretch-4 as well.
So, that leaves four willing and able big men at the power position. Either Ainge plans to deal one (or two) of them out—cough cough, "Bass! Humphries!” cough cough—or the Celtics have a real conundrum on their hands.
So, here goes nothing: Olynyk will start the season as the starting power forward. He has too much versatility as a scorer to play in the middle, even if he does stand 7'0”, 238 pounds. He needs to dribble around, utilize his motor and take shots from deep. He needs to work on the high post.
Olynyk cannot be confined to the low post on offense or defense—he often struggles against bigger opponents on defense and on the boards.
Logic (and hope) leads the educated mind to guess that Bass will be traded, possibly with Courtney Lee and/or Gerald Wallace. Bass will make $6.45 million next season (and $6.9 million the following year), while Lee stands to earn between $5.2 million and $5.7 million every year until 2016. Are you hyperventilating yet? Gerald Wallace will make $10.10 million each of the next three seasons.
Somebody's gotta go.
That leaves the rebounding presence known as Sullinger as the backup power forward, and the former Kardashian...well, you'll see.
C: Kris Humphries
Is it possible to hear the boos of a reading audience before even finishing typing a sentence? It's completely understandable if you react unfavorably to this slide, but let's face it: The Celtics don't really have a true center besides Fab Melo.
I would advocate for Shavlik Randolph, but folks have hammered me in the past when I suggested he deserves to start. Plus, he's played more as a power forward, and more importantly, he hasn't even had his option picked up by the Celtics.
I would say Olynyk should be the center, but he really does need to play in the stretch-4 position. And Vitor Faverani would be a long shot to start considering he only averaged 9.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in Spain last year.
That leaves Humphries, who fits best in the middle with his 6'9”, 240-pound frame and penchant for rebounding. He and Olynyk would clearly share duties down low on the defensive end, considering one is a bit tall and lanky and the other is shorter but sturdier. Hey, it could work.
Humphries has never been praised for his defense, or raw offensive talent for that matter. But he knows how to rebound, a quality the Celtics desperately need after finishing second-to-last in boards last season. If Green and Olynyk will be throwing up jumpers, Boston will need more control on the glass.
Randolph and Faverani would capably serve as backup centers should Ainge accept Shav's option and seal the deal with Vitor (the Brazilian's contract with Spain runs until 2015, so Ainge would have to buy it out).
As for Melo, he may either be D-League-bound once again or just waived completely. The patience seems to be wearing thin on all fronts with this particular Brazilian. He displays poor instincts, constantly seems fatigued, often ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and even gets dunked on—a lot. Sometimes, he returns the favor and dunks on others. Other times he tries to dunk and clangs it off a rim.
Fab is lost without the directions home. Ainge needs to show him how to get to Interstate 95 so he can head back to Maine.
Hopefully the rest of the roster will find itself in the meantime.