Coming into the 2011-'12 NBA season, the Boston Celtics were already dealing with a host of issues, including injuries (Paul Pierce's heel and Jeff Green season-ending aortic aneurysm), depth issues behind the starting five (the loss of Glen Davis and the lack of a back-up pure point guard to name a few), and of course the increasingly old Big Three.
Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers went to work to revamp the Celtics roster, especially the bench. The team re-signed Sasha Pavlovic, brought back Marquis Daniels and brought in the talents of Greg Stiemsma, Chris Wilcox, Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling and Mickael Pietrus. Avery Bradley stuck around and JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore were drafted out of Purdue this past June.
After a whole lot of hand-wringing and sleepless nights on the part of Celtics fans, the roster was complete by the time the Celtics took the floor at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks on Christmas Day.
Although only five games have been played, we can begin to examine the Celtics bench to consider the team's needs and what each player needs to do in order to contribute to another Championship run.
Here, we'll take a look at what each bench player needs to do in order to help the Celtics raise their 18th banner in 2012.
When Glen Davis was shipped out to Orlando after the end of the lockout, the Celtics needed another big man to who could serve as an athletic back-up to Kevin Garnett. A guy who Doc Rivers has said will play fewer minutes this year, at least in the regular season.
Although the trade was "equal" on paper (as all trades are technically supposed to be), the Celtics certainly got the better of the deal, as they acquired Brandon Bass in exchange for Davis. Bass is a huge upgrade over Big Baby; he's still big, but leaner than the—uh—rotund Davis and he's far more athletic and agile. He's more consistently aggressive than Davis ever was. He is a more consistent contributor in terms of scoring and rebounding in the paint as well.
Plus, he exhibits far more maturity than Big Baby; he never appears to quit (as Glen Davis did at times when he didn't get his way) and he's yet to shed a single tear in the face of criticism from a teammate.
Bass has shown himself to be a workhorse in the paint. With Kevin Garnett limited by age, Bass needs to be the anchor of the Celtics' interior defense to a far larger extent than Glen Davis ever had to be. He'll play some significant minutes down the stretch this year and he may very well have to carry the front-court, especially if the injury bug bites KG and/or Jermaine O'Neal.
Bass is the youth the Celtics need to get through this year; he'll need to be a big contributor if Boston wants to fight its way through a tough Eastern Conference.
Jeff Green was brought to Boston to be the next weapon on the perimeter alongside Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. He's an athletic wing scorer who can do a bit of rebounding, much like Pierce. The hope was that he could help guide the Celtics past the Big Three era while the front office began building for the future.
Those hopes were dashed for the time being, however, as Jeff Green will sit out the entire 2011-'12 campaign with an aortic aneurysm that was discovered during training camp. The Celtics were left scrambling to replace him and were very successful in the process as they landed recently-waived Mickael Pietrus.
Pietrus needs to be what Jeff Green wasn't during his half-season in Boston: a consistent backup for Paul Pierce. Green struggled to adjust to the Celtics' system after leaving Oklahoma City; perhaps Pietrus will have the benefit of playing a full season in Boston before the Playoffs come around. Pietrus won't need to be to Pierce what Brandon Bass will need to be to KG, but he'll need to be able to help maintain leads once Pierce goes to the bench and provide bursts of scoring if the Celtics fall behind in stretches.
Although Pietrus will be out for a few more weeks as he strengthens his knee following an injury last year he is already learning the Celtics' playbook and should be ready to go, gameplay-wise, once his knee is fully rehabbed. Hopefully he will prove more consistent than Green and be the threat on the perimeter the Celtics need, especially if Pierce's production declines.
No one can do what Rajon Rondo can. With his hot start to the 2011-12 season, Rondo has shown that he can indeed compete with the likes of Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the areas of both scoring and assists. Rajon Rondo undoubtedly has a lot to prove this year. It's clear all that trade talk is motivating him to step up his production in all areas of his game.
With that being said, he can't run the floor all by himself. After the Avery Bradley disaster last year, the Celtics moved him over to the two and brought in Keyon Dooling from the Milwaukee Bucks to serve as a true backup point guard for Rajon Rondo.
The way this team is built, the only times Doc Rivers will take Rondo out of the game will be during garbage time at the ends of victories and during mid-game stretches when the Celtics have a comfortable lead. If Dooling can manage leads and keep the offense going until Rondo re-enters the game, then he will have done his job.
Keyon Dooling is nowhere near the floor general that Rondo is, but he's still a veteran point guard who knows the game well. If he can provide leadership for a young bench in addition to his on-court contributions, that will be a huge bonus in the way of team chemistry, which is still suffering from the Kendrick Perkins trade last February.
As Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O'Neal continue to age, their interior defense will inevitably be further exposed and create problems against atheltic teams like Chicago and Miami, who can easily penetrate the paint and score. With that in mind, the Celtics signed Greg Stiemsma out of the NBA Development League and acquired Chris Wilcox from the Pistons.
Both are fairly young (Stiemsma, 26; Wilcox, 29), which will help the Celtics retain some youth in the face of an aging core group. Although neither are elite paint defenders, both are capable of tough defense and have the athleticism to get up and haul in rebounds at both ends of the court. This will prove critical down the stretch if Doc Rivers wants to limit the minutes of both KG and Jermaine O'Neal in preparation for the Playoffs (assuming the Celtics are in at that juncture).
Both of these guys will earn their keep on defense; the offense has enough weapons for now. As long as Stiemsma and Wilcox can keep opponents out of the paint and create offensive opportunities out of defensive stops, things will be looking up for the Celtics.
Despite their advancing age, the Celtics still have quite a bit of talent on the roster. Behind their established starting five, they have a good group of veterans with the experience and talent to get to the Playoffs and, if everyone stays healthy and remains productive, possibly make one last run to the NBA Championship.
Because of this situation, rookies JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, both drafted out of Purdue in the past draft, may not see significant minutes for some time.
Johnson was drafted to shore up the Celtics' interior defense and provide inside scoring and rebounding, while Moore was supposed to be another outside threat and serve as a backup for Ray Allen. However, with the depth chart largely set by the time the season opened, Johnson and Moore have been limited to garbage time through five games.
Their job this year should be to gain experience and prepare themselves for bigger roles in the future. Once the Big Three and the other veterans start to retire, Johnson and Moore will step into larger roles and fill holes in the roster. For now they're both learning the ropes in the NBA and will need time to become fully acclimated to the professional game.
Although it was great to see Marquis Daniels return to action after bruising his spinal cord in a scary fall last February, he hasn't been quite as productive as one might like.
Also, although Sasha Pavlovic is undoubtedly an athletic presence, he's nowhere near as productive as he should be.
I have a hard time seeing either of these players as significant contributors to the Celtics this year, largely because of the superior talent around them. If anything, they each may have a handful of big games this year, but by and large are going to stick around to fill out the roster and relieve the starters and the primary bench players.
They'll play for small stretches simply to give starters rest and hopefully manage games to some extent—maybe they'll provide some extra scoring in the process. Overall, however, count on the starting five, Mickael Pietrus and Brandon Bass to do the bulk of the work.
In all honesty, I really have no idea where Avery Bradley fits in on this team.
He was supposed to be Rajon Rondo's back-up, but as it turned out, he didn't have the court vision or the ball control necessary for the job.
He was then moved over to the shooting guard position, but Doc Rivers seems to prefer E'Twaun Moore at this point. It seems as if Bradley simply doesn't have the shooting prowess or selection ability for that either.
At best, Avery Bradley fills out the roster and serves as another young, healthy body who can provide relief for short stretches. At worst, he seems like a regretful draft choice. Perhaps it's time for a trade or another trip to the D-League.