The Boston Celtics are about to begin their preseason schedule with a team that bares little semblance of the Eastern Conference contender that has patrolled the parquet floor of TD Garden the past six seasons. With a new head coach and a bevy of assorted cast-off players, there is mych uncertainty surrounding not only the team’s composition, but also their actual performance. As the preseason begins, here is a six-pack of questions to be mindful of.
1) When (if ever) will Rajon Rondo play for the Celtics?
With a team in clear transition mode, Boston’s most valuable commodity is their All Star point guard Rajon Rondo. Since team president Danny Ainge proclaimed Rondo is not expected back until early December, there will be ample time to assess the remaining talent on the team. I would not be surprised to see Rondo return to action to demonstrate he is fully healed from his knee injury; only to be traded in order to hasten the rebuilding. There is little doubt that the team’s most valuable commodity is a healthy Rondo, so look for a slow return and ample time to either showcase his skills to interested suitors or be part of the Celtics future.
2) How will mis-matched players respond to young, inexperienced head coach?
On new coach Brad Stevens’ side, he signed a long-term lucrative contract; a clear indication that the Celtics front office has their man and is willing to be patient with the team’s progress. The only player on the roster who could be difficult for Stevens to manage is the aforementioned Rondo. If Rondo can be on the same page as his rookie head coach, there is a chance that this relationship could blossom over the years. If Rondo remains the stubborn player that often irritated former coach Doc Rivers, then Boston fans will be in for a long season full of drama.
3) Where will the team’s scoring come from?
No longer does the Celtics possess a true star player who can score at will. With three active members of the 20,000 point club (Allen, Pierce, Garnett) no longer here, the team will struggle early to find a reliable scorer. Of the current players on the roster, Jeff Green and Gerald Wallace have shown flashes of scoring potency; but without a legitimate point guard to set them up, look for the Celtics offense to falter often. If Rondo returns healthy, he will be asked to shoulder more of the scoring burden; something that he has proven to be unwilling or incapable of doing in the past. The All Star point guard has improved slightly from the perimeter over the years, but an off-season of rehab will certainly curtail progress this season. While some of his reluctance could be attributed to deferring to better scoring stars (Allen, Pierce, Garnett), there will be no player whose career resume suggest Rondo should defer again.
4) What will the contributions of Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace be?
The two key components in the off-season trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett arrive in Boston with mixed reviews. Their acquisition was a clear indicator that team president Danny Ainge saw the former team’s championship window had closed and decided to give his future Hall of Famers another championship run with a contending team. In return, Wallace and Humphries bring some skills to bear, but offer not much in terms of long-term possibilities. In fact, these two players are simply matching salaries that provide some short-term (Humphries) and intermediate (Wallace) salary cap relief. Humphries is a rebounder, but not much else; while Wallace is an aggressive forward who can play defense, although his best days are behind him.
5) What can be expected from the remaining holdover Celtics?
Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, and Jared Sullinger are the only players other than Green and Rondo that were on the team’s opening night lineup last season. Each player offers a varying level of skills; with Bradley an elite defender and Sullinger a strong presence in the paint. Bass and Lee have had their moments, but are unlikely to have much upside as the duo of Bradley and Sullinger can. The second year Sullinger is coming off season-ending back surgery and a domestic violence arrest in the offseason. Just prior to his injury (one that was anticipated by the Celtics medical staff when he was drafted), Sullinger was demonstrating that he was a lottery selection that slid down the draft amidst report of a back issue. IF healthy, Sullinger should see significant playing time and build on his production in the 2012-13 season; but do not look for the team to gamble with his health as a low playoff seed is not worth risking a potential foundation player. IF Bradley can remain healthy (something that has been a challenge), he is a solid building block who can defend either guard position and take an opponent’s top backcourt scorers out of the game. As for Lee and Bass; simple and consistent contributions are all that fans should ask for.
6) Can center Kelly Olynyk make a meaningful contribution as a rookie?
The former Gonzaga big man impressed in the summer league and raised expectations that the 7-footer could be a solid player sooner than some might have initially expected. If his plantar fasciitis has been healed and the increased competition of the regular season does not overwhelm him, you might expect 20-25 minutes of perimeter proficiency resulting in 6 to 8 points and approximately 5 rebounds per contest. Based on the skills he demonstrated over the summer, there is talent that can be developed into a legitimate NBA center over time.
Celtics fans have to get used to inconsistency and frustration during the 2013-14 season. Rondo and Sullinger are not expected to contribute from the start and there are a lot of mis-matched players on the roster. Oh, and there is the rookie head coach who has to piece this all together while learning to coach at the NBA level as well. As presently constituted, there are no players who should be treated as untouchable and Boston should look to package any player if it means a long-term slide can be averted. As a fan that had to endure a 22-year championship drought filled with a lot of roster turnover and a lot of false hopes; perhaps this incarnation of Celtics management and ownership do not repeat the painful history that many Boston fans have experienced in the past. Answers to the aforementioned questions will help clarify just what kind of team the Celtics have currently, as well as for the future.
Founder, Senior Contributor – Banner Day Boston
Host – Banner Day Boston Radio