Boston Celtics: 5 Key Ways Next Season's Team Will Surpass 2011-12
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In case you've been asleep for the past two months, or simply just forgot, the 2012 Boston Celtics staged what was a surprising and remarkable run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, just one win away from a third NBA Finals appearance in five years and a shot at a second championship of the new Big Three era.
The dream was not realized, as the C's blew a chance to close out the Miami Heat at home in Game 6, then withered away down the stretch of Game 7.
Still, the C's playoff performance represented a magical, last roundup style storyline for this storied franchise that rose from the ashes in the summer of 2007 and became one of the league's elite teams again.
It's tough to imagine too many things surpassing what the Celts accomplished this past season outside of winning it all.
But now that the roster has undergone a few tweaks, injured players are expected back healthy and the front office has continued to operate with a "win now" mentality, it's not terribly difficult to look into the not too distant future and imagine the 2012-2013 squad not only reaching similar heights as this past year's team, but potentially going further.
Here's a look at a few ways this might be possible.
Bradley should be back in December, one of the many injured the C's need to return healthy.
Think back to that playoff run. Remember the Celts' rotation?
Headed into the first-round series against Atlanta, the bench consisted of Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling, Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins.
By halfway through the Eastern semis, Allen was back in the starting lineup thanks to Avery Bradley's bum shoulders, leaving an already super thin second unit even thinner.
It's impossible to predict injuries; anyone can go down at any time. But the Celtics, who lost Bradley, Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O'Neal for the season at one time or another, have to have better luck in the health department if for no other reason than the law of averages.
Injuries should never be used as an excuse. Still, one can only wonder how much further the Celts could have gone had health been on their side.
Green's return will help the C's depth immensely.
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Along the same lines as the previous page, the Celts have to have better luck depth-wise in '12-'13. They're certainly making strides toward addressing this issue.
Green and Brandon Bass have been re-signed. Jason Terry is in the fold. Courtney Lee is being, well, courted, according to the Boston Globe. And all three of the team's 2012 draft picks could see significant time, particularly first-rounders Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo.
And there's always the possibility the C's could try to bring in another big man, whether it's someone like Wilcox returning or another name.
The point is, the C's need to be equipped to be at their strongest come playoff time. In case you missed it, this is a veteran team and fatigue played a huge part in the loss to Miami.
You can't have too much depth. It stands to reason that the Celts know this as well as anyone.
The next edition of the C's should be able to move Garnett around a lot more.
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When O'Neal and Wilcox went down last season, Garnett, a power forward his entire career, shifted to center.
The move was brilliant. Garnett looked and played as though he'd taken a time machine trip back to the 2007-2008 season and was as productive and vital as he'd been at any point in his Celts' tenure.
But moving him up weakened the Celts in terms of what other combinations they could run out on to the floor.
Thanks to the drafting of Melo, if the C's do in fact look into bringing in one more big man, they will be able to play KG more at the 4 again and could potentially run a big lineup utilizing Bass (as a big 3) and Green (on the wing).
Or, with KG still playing in the middle, Bass and Green could complete the frontcourt trio and slide Paul Pierce to the 2, where he would instantly provide a matchup nightmare for smaller shooting guards on the offensive end.
There will certainly be other combinations coach Doc Rivers can play around with. The Celtics' ability to throw more different looks out there than they could as last season wore on can only enhance their chances of winning more games.
If there really was tension between Rondo and Allen, the Celtics will be better off with Ray out of the picture.
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There were never any overt chemistry problems on the Celtics in 2012, nor did anything that may or may not have been going on behind the scenes negatively affect the team's play on the floor either last year or at any point during the Big Three era.
But with Allen's departure to Miami this past week came reports of some serious friction between him and Rajon Rondo. Some reports even indicated that Rondo was behind Allen's removal from the starting lineup when he returned from ankle problems.
Whether or not this is true, whether or not Allen and Rondo liked or disliked each other off of the court, any issues between the two will obviously no longer matter now that Ray has left town.
There's no telling if everyone will get along on the 2012-2013 Celtics. But with one alleged problem now out of the way, the chemistry on the current roster is instantly improved.
5. The New Big Three
Behold the new Big Three.
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Allen may be gone, but he was already mostly usurped as a member of the Big Three by Rondo, who had been coming on for a couple of years before completely exploding in 2012.
Remember, Allen had been relegated to the bench before Bradley's injury. And the C's were a lofty 16-4 without him in the lineup during the regular season.
Does this mean that he was lousy? Of course not. What it means is that the Celtics managed better than fine without him and that his role had changed to the point that Rondo had overtaken him in a metaphorical sense.
There will be no confusion about roles next season. Terry or a free agent yet to be signed will likely start at the 2 while the C's await Bradley's return. And everything will revolve around and run through Rondo, Pierce and Garnett.
If you haven't heard that phrase—New Big Three—enough yet, get used to it.