Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Boston Celtics

Coach: Doc Rivers
Last Season: 62-20, lost in Eastern Conference Semifinals
Key Additions: Rasheed Wallace (Free Agent, Detroit Pistons), Marquis Daniels (FA, Indiana Pacers), Shelden Williams (FA, Minnesota Timberwolves)
Key Losses: Mikki Moore (FA, Golden State Warriors), Gabe Pruitt (FA)

Offseason: The Celtics' biggest offseason addition has to be a healthy Kevin Garnett. After KG's knees broke down last February, the Celtics, one year removed from the title, survived an epic 1st round playoff series against the Bulls, before bowing down to the Magic. However, the Celtics wanted to insure that whatever the case, Brian Scalabrine, Mikki Moore (who has since left), and their type won’t get major playoff minutes in the frontcourt this season. To address this, the Celtics signed former All-star Rasheed Wallace. Rasheed, coming off a terrible season in Detroit (despite putting up 12 and 7, he visibly quit on the team, highlighted by his 6 pts and 6 rebounds per game in the playoff sweep vs. Cleveland). The Celtics, however, seem confident that Rasheed’s decline was a result of the Pistons going nowhere, and that on a title contender, and more importantly, with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce as a positive influence, Rasheed will do just fine. The Celts then resigned restricted free agent Glen Davis, who had a very good postseason, specifically improving his mid-range shot (including a game winning jumper in game 4 against Orlando). With Wallace, Davis, Garnett, and the ever-improving Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics now have 4 strong big men, with Shelden Williams, the disappointing 5th pick of the 2006 draft, brought on as an insurance policy.

The Celtics’ other free agent signing was Marquis Daniels. Daniels played as a swingman his whole career, but due to his strong ball handling skills, is expected to play point guard for the Celtics. The Celtics hope that Daniels can fill the gaping hole the Celtics have at backup point guard, and plan to play him in together with Eddie House, enabling House to guard point guards, but relieving him of running the offense. However, this is a huge gamble, as adjusting to a new position is never easy, and Daniels is already 28. Daniels’ contract was signed at the value of the bi-annual exception (slightly under 2 million), meaning he is a bargain financially-wise no matter how this pans out, but he has only once topped 62 games in a season, and isn’t a strong defender. I see Daniels more as a last resort signing, due to the lack of decent point guards on the market, and the desperate need to upgrade the bench (Tony Allen, the Celtics’ back up shooting guard, just isn’t a very good player).

The surprise of the Celtics’ offseason, however, was the trade that didn’t happen. After being the Celtics’ best player last postseason, Rajon Rondo was openly shopped for a short period of time, raising questions regarding the Celtics’ willingness to offer him a contract extension (he is posed to become a restricted free agent next summer). The talk eventually dulled down, but it will be interesting to see if it affects Rondo’s play.

-Kevin Garnett’s knees: Basically, no matter what else happens, it all comes down to this. Garnett is the Celtics’ best player, best defender, emotional leader – you name it, he does it all. With him, they’re title contenders, without him, they’re not. It’s that simple. At the age of 33, after playing over 1100 games in full gear, and a very, very difficult procedure, medicine is not on his side, but Garnett has the heart of a lion, and all of the regular season to get into shape. Therefore, judging this team before the playoffs is ridiculously premature.

- James Posey: Posey left after the 2008 title to sign with New Orleans for more money, and the Celtics still haven’t found a replacement for his leadership, defense, and shooting of the bench. Who guards Lebron/Vince/Kobe/Manu/Wade? Daniels is not a good defender or a good shooter, and Paul Pierce can’t be asked to carry such a huge load both on offense and on defense. In my opinion, this was the fatal flaw in Boston’s offseason plan – not bringing in a player to fill a role that proved crucial for them in the past.

- Age: Garnett is 33, Allen 34, Pierce 32, and Rasheed 35. The Celtics were absolutely exhausted last postseason, and though it can be attributed to their short rotation, age must be a concern. Doc Rivers needs to get his team fresh to the playoffs, or they won’t have much of a chance to advance past Cleveland and Orlando.

- Chemistry: Rasheed Wallace has always had character questions; Marquis Daniels has similarly been somewhat problematic, although not as volatile; the reason to the Celtics shopping Rondo, reportedly, has to do with him not fitting in very well; and Ray Allen, despite being one of the leagues perennial “nice-guys”, is in a contract year, playing for what would probably be his last NBA contract. All of this adds up to some serious question marks. Seeing how this team’s togetherness was a huge factor in winning the title two years ago, if the players can’t get along it will be disastrous for their second bid.

Prediction: The difference between the 3rd place and the 4th place in the East is huge, so the Celts will finish 3rd at the very least. However, I don’t think they’re deep enough to be considered on par with the Magic and Cavs, especially considering their old age. Many questions are still up in the air – which Rasheed will the Celtics get, how much Pierce and Allen have in the tank, and can Rondo continue his meteoric rise. Even if Garnett is healthy, that’s just too many questions for me. 57-25, 3rd in East.

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