Kevin Garnett has a lot of reasons to be excited with the new look bench
The Celtics have made a number of valuable additions this offseason that will enable them to remain contenders in the Eastern Conference.
Between the NBA draft and their free agent signings, they have added complimentary pieces that should improve the team on both ends of the court, while also lending Doc Rivers more flexibility with lineups than he had last season. He was often forced into playing Kevin Garnett and others out of position just to keep his best players on the court rather than match up on a per-position basis.
Development of the rookies will be key, but it is also vital to integrate the new pieces smoothly into both offensive and defensive schemes. We'll take a look at how the roster is likely to shape up, including possible tweaks the C's may need to make in order to balance the roster and keep the rotation solid and palatable for competition against the East's best.
Could Kris Joseph see decent minutes playing behind Pierce & Jeff Green?
The final spots on the roster are going to come down to a battle between Dionte Christmas, Jamar Smith, and Kris Joseph.
I think most anyone would agree that Joseph owns these three in a potential showdown after his productive career at Syracuse. But Joseph is a second round pick, so there is no guarantee of this, nor is he getting a guaranteed contract.
Kris Joseph is younger than both Christmas and Smith and always seemed as though he had even more scoring potential than he exhibited in college—which is saying something since he did still put up a respectable 13.4 points per game. He can shoot the ball very well and will make a cheap option for bench scoring in the same mode of Eddie House during the championship run in 2009. That is likely a best case scenario.
Dionte Christmas is a bit of an X-factor in many ways. He had a collegiate career equally as decorated as Joseph's, if not more so, playing for Temple back in 2005-2009. With the Owls, he led the Atlantic 10 in scoring his sophomore year and followed it up with approximately 20 points per game the next year as a junior.
Christmas was considered an All-American candidate his senior year and he lit up then eighth ranked Tennessee for 35 points on national television and won ESPN's Player of the Week. He finished his career at Temple with over 2,000 points, becoming only the fourth player in the touted program to have done so. He was the first A-10 player to lead the conference in scoring for three straight seasons.
Oddly, he went undrafted in 2009 and earned a camp invite from the Clippers, but was waived and has toiled away in Europe from that time until now. Could he be a surprise in camp? Maybe. The problem is that he plays shooting guard and the C's are already stacked at that position, so I'm not sure what they are going to do if Christmas comes out and shocks everyone. The D-League may beckon, but he'd likely head back to Europe for more cash.
Jamar Smith hails from the D-League already, where he put up 13.6 points per game and dished out 5.0 assists as a member of the Maine Red Claws last season. He's not young and it's hard to imagine he is going to suddenly break out at age 25 and become anything more than practice fodder until the season gets going. This happens every year with every team, but hey, we're noting who is and who isn't going to make the squad, right? Expect to see Smith suiting up for the Red Claws after his celebrated practice stint with Boston this fall.
Rondo is lookin' cool, but has he honed his game this offseason?
The Returning Starters: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley (more on this next slide), Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass, Kevin Garnett
Rondo will be doing his usual thing, leading the Celtics by dishing the ball and providing leadership—and missing key free throws. Rondo still needs to improve several aspects of his game, and he's still a work in progress, but a very good work in progress. As Michael Sykes detailed for Hardwood Houdini, a popular Celtics blog, the obvious need for an improvement in his jump shot and being more selective with his scoring opportunities will be key this season.
Paul Pierce is winding down what is sure to be a Hall-of-Fame career and has shown few signs of slowing down. He'll still be the go to guy and he'll still likely make another All-Star appearance, as he has now for the last five seasons, part of his ten total appearances. He's passed Larry Bird on the all-time Celtics scoring list and has now officially gone down as an all-time Celtic great.
Brandon Bass emerged as a true starting power forward after spending his days with the Magic in a time share situation with Ryan Anderson. I wrote last week he was the best acquisition of last offseason and played an instrumental role in the 2012 Playoff run.
It's likely that Garnett will start out of position again at center. KG is now 36, but at 6'11" he is the Celtics only true option at center until rookie Fab Melo proves himself ready. I would be more than shocked to see Doc Rivers move KG back to power forward and start Melo, especially this year. In time, that may be the look we see, but Garnett is only under contract for the next three seasons, so maybe that bridge will never be crossed at all, as Melo is still raw and undeveloped.
Could future coach pet Courtney Lee become a full time starter?
There's no guarantee here that Avery Bradley starts over Courtney Lee, but it seems to be that Bradley will indeed start when he returns from injury in December. What would make me think otherwise is that Courtney Lee was so highly praised and courted by Doc Rivers himself.
Lee was particularly impressive in his last stint with a contending team during the Orlando Magic's finals run in 2009. Prior to receiving the Dwight Howard elbow in practice that led to him missing several games and having to wear a mask for the remainder of the playoffs, Lee was starting to hear the chatter of people saying he may be a future All-Star.
Lee never seemed to truly find his niche in either New Jersey or Houston, but he is an exceptional defender and a very good three point shooter (over 40% from distance for both of the last two seasons). Expect Lee to make a case for himself as the full season starter in the time until Avery Bradley returns from injury. As of right now, it is Bradley's job, but that is very ethereal until we see how Lee performs in a Celtics jersey.
Jason Terry will likely fulfill his usual sixth man role, which will prove crucial to the Celtics in the aftermath of Ray Allen's departure. In Terry, the Celts have a guy who can nail the open shots, score in bunches, and maybe win Sixth Man of the Year again as he did in 2008-09 as a member of the Mavericks.
Terry we've already mentioned will be the sixth man in all likelihood, and his role will not change much from his days in Dallas. Lee, too, we discussed in the shooting guard battle that will occur for the Celtics.
Kris Joseph, assuming he makes the squad, will receive fringe minutes here and there, but when rotations tighten up in closer games and in the playoffs, barring a huge breakout year, he will be riding the pine. There's just no way he can leap frog Jeff Green, and Pierce is part of the heart and soul of this squad.
Jared Sullinger may be the most intriguing of all the new comers. I wrote about how he performed great during summer league, and has shown significant promise as he was once considered a top five pick before questions regarding his health and work ethic caused him to plummet in the draft. So far, all indications have been that the Celtics may have the steal of the draft.
Fab Melo is just too raw to be a huge factor, but seven-footers—even rookies—will get time on any team. He'll give the Celtics a legitimate center even if he is not quite ready to play major minutes. Expect to see Rivers attempt to work Melo into the rotation as much as possible to hone his skills as the C's attempt to develop a player who I feel favorably compares to a young Sam Dalembert.
Jason Collins is nothing more than a big body to come in and pick up fouls. OK, so maybe he'll grab a rebound or two, but I mean that—literally a rebound or two. I hear he has a high basketball IQ, and he is another seven-footer, but other than that, I have no idea how he has remained in the NBA so long. I truly don't. His outstanding career averages of 3.8 points per game, 2.6 rebounds per game, and 41.2% shooting in 21.4 minutes of play per night only further substantiate my complete bewilderment.
Fab Melo's potential is high, but will that result in playing time?
Here's a look at the Celtics' depth chart. We've outlined the major position battle, and the rest of the order of the rotation will be developed as time goes on.
Fab Melo may or may not be the fourth string center if he proves his weight over veterans Jason Collins and Chris Wilcox.
Lee may start, as I said.
Kris Joseph will see very few minutes backing up Pierce and Green, notwithstanding that Pierce is now about to turn 35 and Green is coming off heart surgery.
Bass and Sullinger may eventually end up splitting minutes evenly, and if Sullinger is as good as he has shown both at Ohio State and in summer league so far then he will have a big role as well.
Sykes predicted the depth chart to shape up similar to this:
PG- Rajon Rondo / Keyon Dooling / Jamar Smith (?)
SG- Avery Bradley / Jason Terry / Courtney Lee
SF- Paul Pierce / Jeff Green / Kris Joseph
PF- Brandon Bass / Jared Sullinger
C- Kevin Garnett / Jason Collins / Chris Wilcox / Fab Melo
The C's really could have used Stiemsma's defense and hustle this year
What do the Celtics need to do to make the rotation balanced?
A quick glance at the C's depth chart quickly reveals the need for a third point guard. Jason Terry can play the point in a pinch, but he is best suited for coming off picks and spotting up for threes. They need another ball handler in case Dooling or Rondo goes down, or even if they are in foul trouble.
The problem for the Celtics, and for many other teams in the league in need of point guard depth is that there are very few solid free agent point guards to be had. That is what leaves the door open for the aforementioned Jamar Smith to make the team. More likely, however, is that the Celtics make a trade, possibly giving up a second round pick to land someone that can play point if needed.
There is also the lack of a true starting center. Garnett is not a center, make no mistake. This is what made allowing Greg Stiemsma to walk even more perplexing. Re-signing Ryan Hollins also would have made sense. Either Danny Ainge is higher on Fab Melo than any of the rest of us, or he has something up his sleeve because Collins and Wilcox do not have starter potential—at least not on a contending team like the Celtics.
A trip to the eastern conference finals could be possible, but beyond that?
The Celtics were a bit of a surprise in the 2012 Playoffs, but not really much of a surprise if you consider they won a title just four seasons ago and their core has remained the same since then.
Ray Allen was the first of their original Big Three to leave , but Allen obviously felt his chances for another title were greater in Miami, not to mention the fact he never felt appreciated by management and feuded with Rondo.
There are a lot of question marks, as we've discussed. The issue at center is the greatest problem, but the East is low on quality centers (as is the entire NBA) and other than the Atlantic Division rival 76ers with the newly acquired Andrew Bynum, the Celtics can likely get by with playing Garnett at center for a full season.
Bynum could be a real problem, but I wrote that I felt the Sixers were a couple years away from posing a true threat to the Celtics.
Beyond the Sixers, who's going to give Garnett more problems defensively, Joel Anthony or Joakim Noah? That's a trick question, because the answer is neither. The Celtics greatest issue may be a non-factor altogether.
Overall, we're looking at a Boston team that will continue to contend, but contention is a rather shaky thing in a league which is so top heavy. The fact that they pushed the Miami Heat further than the Western Conference champion Thunder did speaks volumes, though, so to count the Celtics out because of a couple iffy roster holes would be quite foolish.
With Derrick Rose's injury removing Chicago as a threat, it will come down to either the Celtics or Pacers as the likely opponent for the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, which may become known as the official game of the runner up, because even the Miami Heat have little chance of beating the now overly stacked L.A. Lakers. All that aside, Boston will be in the hunt and their roster is rather predictable, with the likelihood of trades to balance the roster still rather high.