2013-14 record: 25-57
Key Additions: Marcus Smart, James Young, Evan Turner, Marcus Thornton, Tyler Zeller
Key Departures: Kris Humphries, Jerryd Bayless
Projected 2014-15 Lineup: PG: Rajon Rondo SG: Avery Bradley SF: Jeff Green PF: Brandon Bass C: Kelly Olynyk
On paper, there are drastic gaps between certain teams. You can look at their talent, see what players have done in the past, and fairly accurately gauge where a team is going to end up. But, every year there are exceptions. The extraordinary can happen. Players can grow, the ball can bounce the right way, and teams are able to over-perform. That’s the reason you play the game. Every team has a chance to do well.
On second thought, maybe not every team.
Among the teams who have a full roster of NBA players (I don’t count the Sixers in this group), it doesn’t get much worse than the Boston Celtics. They’ve got limited talent, even less experience, and a fan-base that isn’t used to losing. Things aren’t going to be pretty in the Garden this year.
I had to rewrite a good chunk of this preview after Rajon Rondo broke his hand. I know he’s only supposed to be out for 6-8 weeks, but that’s enough to knock the Celtics down a couple spots in my final wins ranking. With Rondo all year, I’d say they’re better than a few teams who I have ranked slightly higher, but things are close enough that the loss of Rondo means the loss of wins. That will bode well for a top pick next season, though if Danny Ainge thought that there wasn’t any talent in the 2014 draft, I can’t imagine what he’s going to think of the 2015 draft.
For Rondo to be a dominant player, he needs talent around him. You can’t be a pass-first point guard when you have no one to pass to. Rondo isn’t going to score on his own, so the problem comes up of who is going to transfer the ball from Rajon’s hands into the basket. Avery Bradley got signed on long-term in the offseason, and while he’s competent on offense, his value is really on the other side of the ball. Between Bradley and Rondo, this could be the best defensive backcourt in the league, but unfortunately, defense only goes so far when you can’t score.
Outside of Rondo, this team is desperately lacking in star power. And that’s not a good thing, especially when success in today’s league is so driven by superstars. Say what you want about the Spurs having a balanced roster, but they’ve got three Hall of Famers on their roster, and none of those three is their best player at this point.1 Still, they do have some ridiculous depth, almost too much when it comes to the guards. Obviously Rondo is going to get minutes, but Marcus Smart is the real deal. If they get him on the court, he can be a Rookie of the Year candidate, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be a big part of the rotation. But he’s not going to play more minutes than Rondo. And it’s said that he can play both guard positions equally well, but the Celtics have Marcus Thornton behind Bradley, so there’s no lack of depth at 2. That’s a crowded backcourt rotation. Then you have Evan Tuner and rookie James Young who should both get minutes on the wing, but are behind Jeff Green. Young may play a bit of 2, and Turner is likely to play both guard positions, lessening the available minutes for Smart even further.
Sullinger has looked better, and should continue to improve on his 2014 line of 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Earlier in the summer there were reports that he was in the best shape of his career, so hopefully he’ll be more mobile and thus more effective on both ends of the floor. Still, he hasn’t been in good shape since his back surgery, so I’m skeptical that he’s going to retain any semblance of fitness, or at least a high enough level to play in Brad Stevens’ fast-paced offense. I’d say his minutes are severely limited by Bass and Gerald Wallace.
I do think Stevens has a lot of potential as the coach of this team. Much like Jason Kidd, he may be well-suited to develop players, and he’s going to have ample opportunity to do that in Boston. The Celtics have a lot of potential in their young players, and I look forward to seeing what Stevens can turn that into. Unfortunately, it isn’t likely to be turned into much of anything this season. This is a team made up almost entirely of role players, but that isn’t enough to be successful in today’s league, despite how good of role players they might be.
The Celtics floor isn’t quite as low as some other young teams, but their ceiling also isn’t as high. I’d be shocked if they’re above 30 wins, and by the same token, shocked if they’re below 22.
X-Factor: Kelly Olynyk
Maybe I’m a sucker for long-haired, goofy looking big men, but there’s something about Olynyk’s game that I find captivating. Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s over 7 feet and can actually move, or maybe it’s that he shot over 35% from beyond the arc. Regardless, I think he’s got a lot of room to grow if the team gives him a bigger role this season. He averaged 5.8 boards at only 20 minutes per game last year. I could easily see that approaching double digits in 2014-15.
Best Case: Rondo returns quickly, Smart is a Rookie of the Year finalist, and Jeff Green plays up to his contract. The team wins 30 games.
Worst Case: Rondo is traded for draft picks mid-season, Smart disappoints, and Brandon Bass is the team’s best player for the second year in a row.
Who Has The Most To Prove: Evan Turner
Turner was once touted as a future superstar, but in recent years has been relegated to being a marginal role player. He did almost nothing valuable for the Pacers in the playoffs last year, even when they were struggling, and his time on the Sixers was just a regression into mediocrity. Now, in Boston, he’ll have a chance to play a bigger role than he did in Indiana, but with the depth in the backcourt, it’ll likely be at small forward for the most part, although he’ll see time at point guard with Rondo’s injury. Still, Tuner has shown flashes of brilliance before, and if he’s able to replicate that, he’ll be a player that’s in high demand after his two year deal with Boston is up.
Why They’re Worth Watching:
This team does have some really interesting players. As I’ve detailed, I’m very excited about their rookies, especially Smart, and Olynyk could end up being one of the league’s next great centers. While great play from Smart, Olynyk and Young is likely a couple years off, it’ll be fun to watch them develop and there’ll be flashes of brilliance along the way. I’ll be looking for Bradley to make the leap from capable role player to genuine starter, and that progression alone should be enough to tune in for at least a few games.
Projected Record: 25-57
That’s Leonard, and that’s a discussion for another team’s preview ↩