Will the Celtics starting 5 look the same?
The Boston Celtics have had an absolutely manic free-agency period. At season's end, there were 11 players no longer under contract, excluding both Chris Wilcox and Jeff Green, who were lost for the season.
With their depth chart due for some changes, they have made moves to bring a few of those players back. They also lost a big player in Ray Allen, utilized three draft picks and signed an outsider in Jason Terry.
There could have been a massive overhaul for last season's Eastern Conference runner-ups, but it appears GM Danny Ainge has focused a lot of his energy on bringing back last year's team. There will be a lot of familiar faces in green next season, but the depth chart will see some significant changes as well.
With Allen gone and incumbent Avery Bradley recovering from shoulder surgeries, the SG position may be up for grabs to start the season. As will be the frontcourt position not held by Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett.
The returning players will have a leg up in knowing coach Doc Rivers' system, but there are a bunch of newcomers, young and old, who will soon be clawing their way up the depth chart.
Rajon Rondo had a breakout season and postseason last year.
In reality, this spot will rival some of the shortest depth charts in the NBA. The point guard position in Boston will be manned by pretty much one man for the entirety of the season. He is now the best player on this team and has both the ability and desire to lead the league in minutes played.
1. Rajon Rondo
Rondo led the NBA in assists last season, tallying 11.7 per game during the regular season. In the playoffs he upped that to 11.9. He is the most talented distributor on the planet right now and has emerged as the young leader of this Celtics team.
He proved a lot during the playoffs, leading the Celtics through two rounds and to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals. He scored, distributed and rebounded at a high rate throughout the three series. There is no one in the NBA who can do the things that he can do, and that is the biggest advantage Boston will have.
He blended perfectly with new running mate Avery Bradley, and the two exemplify the future of the Boston Celtics.
Moore is performing well in the Summer League.
2. E'Twaun Moore
The Celtics have lacked a serviceable backup to Rondo for some time. Going into this season, there is still yet to be a serious backup for him, and E'Twaun Moore may be the best option.
The 2011 second-round pick has been playing well in the Vegas and Orlando Summer Leagues. He has also been taken under the wing of longtime backup PG Tyronn Lue, who is coaching the Celtics team in Orlando and Las Vegas.
Moore has always had more of a scorer's mentality, putting up 18 points per game as a senior at Purdue. He has been working on the distribution and communication aspects of his game this summer and fighting to earn a spot on the Celtics.
3. Jason Terry/Avery Bradley
Expect to see Boston's two shooting guards spend time running the point with the second unit if Moore is still not ready or flounders early.
Avery Bradley may not be ready to start next season.
The shooting guard spot on the Boston Celtics' depth chart needs a big, fat asterisk. The Celtics front office seems doubtful that Avery Bradley will be ready to start the season. This opens up the door to a wide array of possibilities, like Boston starting a big lineup or moving 2009's Sixth Man of the Year, Jason Terry, to the starting role.
1. Avery Bradley
If he is ready to go, then the starting job is his. He provided the late-season spark that reignited the Celtics' flame and pushed them to the top of the Atlantic Division. His rabid defense helped to personify the Celtics game, and his surprising offense greatly lessened the blow of Ray Allen's injury.
Unfortunately, Bradley will be coming off surgeries on both shoulders and may not be ready to start the 2012 opener. It is too early to tell if this is a red-flag type injury, but having double shoulder surgery before your 22nd birthday can't be a good thing.
The Jet is on its way to Boston.
2. Jason Terry
While the Celtics' plans for Terry are still a little fuzzy, as it stands right now, he will slide directly into Ray Allen's second-half role. Around late March last season, Bradley began seeing the starter's minutes and Ray Allen took a backseat when he returned from injury. Terry will take that backseat, albeit more willingly than Allen did.
Terry has been a great reserve player for the better part of the past five years in Dallas. His leadership and late-game confidence helped the Mavericks win a championship.
The question is whether he can start if Bradley is unable to go at the outset of the season. It is important for Terry to fit directly into his long-term role with a new team, and I would think Boston would look elsewhere for a replacement starter.
3. Dionte Christmas/E'Twaun Moore
As of right now, Boston is still in talks to land free agent Courtney Lee. Should they succeed, this is his spot. However, if Lee is headed elsewhere, Christmas has shown a lot of game during the Summer League. If not in Boston, he will get a serious look elsewhere in the NBA.
Nobody is taking the captain's spot.
The top of the Celtics depth chart at small forward will look identical to that of the past 14 years.
1. Paul Pierce
The longtime Celtics captain showed a decent amount of age last season, but don't expect him to relinquish his starting post any time soon.
He scored 19.4 points per game and showed serious leadership in the playoffs. Of course, what stands out was Game 2 in the Atlanta series when he absolutely took over. While he showed he is relatively unable to keep up with the likes of LeBron James anymore, he is still a great player.
On top of his age-defiant offensive skill set, Pierce is easily one of the best leaders in the game.
Pierce will continue to need more and more rest time as he continues into the twilight of his career. This increases the demand of having a legitimate backup at the 3.
Jeff Green is the Celtics biggest wildcard.
2. Jeff Green
At 6'9" Green has the size to play the 4 and will definitely see plenty of time there. Though, I believe a major role for him will be spelling Pierce for long stretches. He will be just 26 next season and will need to use his athleticism and stamina to play big minutes at both positions.
Green is a massive wild card, coming off of a missed season due to a serious heart issue. At his best, he is a 15-points-per-game scorer who does a lot of intangible things really well. At his worst, he disappears into the background and isn't useful at all.
He will need to prove early on that he can still be a valuable role player on a good team.
3. Kris Joseph
Joseph has been the most pleasant surprise on the Celtics Summer League team. He has shown a lot of offensive talent and is working hard on his aggressiveness and defense. If he can perform this well in training camp, he could find a role here as a third-string SF.
Jared Sullinger is proving himself in the Summer League.
This is where things can get interesting. Boston has a large number of players who can play anywhere in the frontcourt, and that means any variety of lineups could take shape. When Kevin Garnett left this spot vacant with his move to center, Brandon Bass stepped in and started. This year he may not have to.
1. Jared Sullinger
Do you normally get starting power forwards with the No. 21 pick in the draft? No, absolutely not.
However, Sullinger makes a lot of sense as the starting 4 for Boston. He will be battling Bass and Jeff Green for the role, but Green is an unknown and has more of a SF-type game anyway, so there could be an opening.
As he is proving to everyone in the Summer League, Sullinger is a dynamic low-post scorer—something the Celtics lack greatly in their starting unit. Kevin Garnett is more of a perimeter player offensively and could use help rebounding the basketball.
At the outset of the season, Doc Rivers may not want to start a rookie, but by the end of the year he will have proven his worth.
It might seem like a long shot right now, but Sullinger gives Boston a lot of what they lacked last season.
Bass should return to his reserve role.
2. Brandon Bass
Bass performed admirably all last season and even took over a playoff game, nearly single-handedly winning Game 5 of the Philadelphia series with 27 points.
He did seem to disappear for long stretches of games particularly in the postseason. I believe that is because he was largely playing out of position. Not position as in power forward, but position as in starter.
Bass began the season as Boston's de facto sixth man. He was later forced into a starting role by season-ending injuries to Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O'Neal. He was kept there because there were no other options. Bass is a great role player and would thrive even more off the bench.
3. Jeff Green
Green has the size to play the 4 spot but was never much of a rebounder and plays the game more like a small forward. Still, don't rule him out as a surprise starter at the 4 due to his versatility.
4. JaJuan Johnson
The jury is still largely out for Boston's 2011 first-round draft pick. He has not shown much in either his time with the Celtics or on this year's Summer League team. Still, it is hard to imagine him not at least earning a very low roster spot.
Kevin Garnett needs to stay at center.
The Celtics may not have a true center on their roster, but that is fine with them because Kevin Garnett can shred NBA 5s like few others can.
1. Kevin Garnett
The most talked-about storyline surrounding the Boston Celtics late last season centered on Garnett's move to the center spot. It instantly changed everything about this team. The switch jump started the surge that would take Boston all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Garnett's increasingly perimeter-oriented game was getting him beat up by opposing power forwards. The move meant he would be seeing more favorable matchups against slower 5s. The NBA centers, for the most part, cannot keep up with Garnett's offensive skill. On defense, he remained the same intimidating force as always, but the switch gave him added versatility.
It is imperative for him to stick with the starting center role no matter how much he dislikes the title.
Wilcox is still young and athletic.
2. Chris Wilcox
The second member of the Celtics with heart complications figures to be Garnett's main backup at the 5. With Greg Stiemsma, whose spot this was last season, likely headed to Minnesota, there is an opening.
Wilcox saw time in this role early last season before he left for heart surgery. During his playing time, he thrived running the floor with Rajon Rondo. Despite bouncing around to six different teams during his career, he is only 29 years old. His athleticism will be huge for Boston as Garnett resumes his five-on/five-off routine.
3. Fab Melo
Boston's second first-round pick has not been lighting the Summer League on fire. As expected, he is taking time to adjust and learn the NBA game. He may even have to spend some time in the D-League, but with the lack of depth in the Celtics frontcourt, there will be minutes for him if he chooses to take advantage.