Blazersedge contributor Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. We begin in the Atlantic Division. All 2013-14 team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 41-40, No. 3 in Atlantic Division, No. 7 in Eastern Conference
Roster additions: Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Jordan Crawford, Kris Humphries, Vitor Faverani, Kelly Olynyk (Rookie, 13th overall), Phil Pressey, Gerald Wallace
Roster subtractions: Leandro Barbosa, Jason Collins, Kevin Garnett, Kris Joseph, Fab Melo, Darko Milicic, Paul Pierce, Shavlik Randolph, Jason Terry, Jarvis Varnado, D.J. White, Chris Wilcox, Terrence Williams
Five previews in, and we're already to our second team "tanking" for the opportunity to receive a higher pick in a strong 2014 draft. Boston, though, is in a bit of a grey area. If Brooklyn put all their cards on the table and doubled down for immediate success, and Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie depleted his roster of proven talent in order to secure a better position in the lottery, then what exactly are Boston GM Danny Ainge's plans for this roster?
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry were sent to the Nets this past summer for a combination of role-playing veterans and future draft picks. Even though the trade signified the end of an era, there's some pretty good talent still left on this Celtics roster. Doc Rivers packed his bags for the west coast to coach the Clippers, and 36-year-old Brad Stevens was brought up from the mid-major college ranks to usher in the next phase of Boston Celtics basketball.
Rajon Rondo, considered by many to be an elite point guard when healthy, should come back from a serious knee injury before the All-Star break. He's not a scoring point guard - his career points per game average is 11.1, shooting 24.1 percent from outside - but he's been one of the best passers in the league and hasn't averaged below 11.1 assists per game in his last three seasons. At 27, he should be right in the prime of his career. If his numbers drop, it will most likely be due to him coming off an ACL injury. Until Rondo plays himself back to 100 percent, point guard Avery Bradley will run the show for the Celtics, with no real threat to his playing time until Rondo returns. Bradley is by no means elite, but he should be able to manage the uptick in playing time as he's shown plenty of potential to Boston fans in his first three seasons.
Small forward Jeff Green will slide into a starting role, and the Celtics organization hopes to see his numbers rise with his minutes. He may have to look over his shoulder at Gerald Wallace, but at 31 and coming off his worst season in years, Wallace's best playing days are behind him. Besides, what does Boston have to gain by putting a rapidly-aging small forward on the floor in place of a younger Green who can make more of the minutes given to him? Most likely, not much.
Brandon Bass is the starting power forward by default, but his fixture in Ainge's long-term plans remains in question. He's a serviceable power forward, but he probably wouldn't start for a top-level team. Bass is more suited for a reserve role, and the Celtics are banking on forward Jared Sullinger to improve on his promising rookie season, when he averaged almost 6 boards in fewer than 20 minutes. At that pace, Bass won't make it half the season before Sullinger starts soaking up his minutes at the four spot.
Kris Humphries had a few decent years rebounding the ball in Brooklyn, but he really bottomed out last season when his minutes were cut almost in half. His $12 million contract comes off the books in July, so expect Ainge to either shop him near the trade deadline for young talent and picks or let him walk following the season. In the Celtics' ideal world, Humphries' stay in Boston is a short one, as the cap space his expiring contract will provide is much more valuable than he is as a player.
Courtney Lee will most likely start at shooting guard, but he's been inconsistent throughout his career and he has a few promising guys on the bench behind him in MarShon Brooks and Jordan Crawford, both younger and probably better scorers. Kelly Olynyk is a 7-foot power forward loaded with potential who lit up the 2013 summer league. Although Celtics fans are excited about him after a nice performance in the Orlando Summer League, he was taken 13th overall in what was considered to be one of the worst drafts in years and summer ball isn't known for its high level of play. Still, the organization hopes that the 17.8 points a game he averaged at Gonzaga will translate to the pro ranks on the offensive side of the ball. If he can grasp the concepts of NBA defense early on, he can steal some minutes from both Bass and Humphries.
The Celtics were a pretty good defending team last season, but they didn't do anything at a totally elite level. Regardless, the Celtics have a brand new coach with no NBA experience and lost Garnett, the heart of their defense. It's impossible to look at stats from last year and surmise much, but due to Rondo's injury and the current talent on the roster, expect this defense to struggle early. If Sullinger, Olynyk, and Brooks or Crawford start seeing extended minutes over the veterans in front of them, you can really expect a porous defense.
This Boston Celtics team is in a weird position. On one hand, they have arguably one of the best point guards in the league in his prime to go along with Green, an all-around contributor who many expect to have a breakout year. There are some serviceable backups and some promising young guys. On the other hand, there's no guarantee that Rondo will come back to form or that Green will turn the corner on his career and become a borderline (or better) star player. Ainge may also blow up the roster by the deadline, as he has multiple contracts that can be moved for picks or cap space.
The Celtics won't be as bad as Philly or Charlotte, but they're nowhere near the top teams in the east, either. At this point, they are firmly in the middle of the pack and will either hover at that level all year, or drop to near the bottom of the rankings, depending on what Ainge and coach Stevens decide to do with the roster and the available minutes, respectively. The most interesting storyline for the Celtics this year figures to be the development of the young guys, while Ainge keeps his eye on the enticing 2014 draft and decides whether or not to shake things up before the summer hits.