6 Questions Boston Celtics Fans Must Ask Themselves This Offseason

Geoff Ratliff@@geoffratliffContributor IIIAugust 17, 2012

6 Questions Boston Celtics Fans Must Ask Themselves This Offseason

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    The Boston Celtics quickly moved on from a disappointing Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals and went on to have a fantastic offseason.  

    A year ago, Boston fans were wondering if the team had enough talent and energy left for one last run at another NBA title. But this summer, Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ Executive Director of Basketball Operations, made a number of moves that will keep the team’s championship window open for the foreseeable future. 

    With roughly six weeks remaining before NBA training camps officially open on September 29, here are six questions that every Celtics fan should be asking themselves heading into the 2012-13 NBA season.

Is Losing Ray Allen A Good Thing?

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    When Ray Allen left the Boston Celtics (for less money, mind you) to join the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat in July, Celtics fans understandably felt betrayed. 

    My reaction was a little more extreme, but I was also in a bar in Oxford, Ohio at 1:30 a.m. when I got the news, so I wasn’t exactly in a stable mindset. 

    Now that a cooler, more sober head has prevailed—Okay, I’m still really ticked off, but I’m not inebriated—and Danny Ainge has (almost) finished retooling the Celtics’ roster, Boston appears to be better off without Allen. 

    Jesus Shuttlesworth is known as one of the most well-conditioned players in the NBA. But the Celtics needed to get younger fast, and Allen had clearly become the most fragile of the Big Three over the past two seasons.

    Adding the more versatile Jason Terry—who is not only more comfortable coming off the bench, but can play point guard as well as shooting guard—and the younger Courtney Lee (40.1 percent from three-point range last year) more than make up for the loss of Allen. 

    There will also now be less pressure on Avery Bradley to feel like Allen could reclaim his  spot as the starting shooting guard, and the rumored Rajon Rondo-Ray Allen beef is officially a thing of the past.

What Should the Celtics Expect from Jeff Green?

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    The Boston Celtics really don’t know what to expect from forward Jeff Green, who’s returning to the team after missing the 2011-12 season recovering from heart surgery needed to repair an aortic condition. But assuming they eventually finalize a deal to bring him back this season, he’ll be a welcome addition to a bench that lacked much firepower last year. 

    All indications are that Green is 100 percent healthy and ready to become an impact player for Boston. With Paul Pierce not getting any younger and Mickael Pietrus not providing the spark that the Celtics expected off the bench, Green will be counted on to provide solid defense and some offensive versatility to the Boston lineup.

    Celtics fans would be wise to temper their expectations for Green, at least through the first half of the 2012-13 season. He’s been out for an entire year, and the roster has changed dramatically since he last suited up for Boston. 

    Given the first 20 or 30 games to get reacclimated to the NBA game and figure out his role with the new-look Celtics, expect Green to emerge as a consistent double-digit scorer and plus defender by the time the calendar turns to 2013.

Will Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo Become Substantial Contributors?

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    The Boston Celtics will enter the 2012-13 NBA season with varied expectations for their two first-round draft picks.

    The Celtics turned some heads when they selected Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger and Syracuse center Fab Melo with the 21st and 22nd picks of the 2012 NBA Draft respectively.

    But Boston doesn’t need either rookie to come in and immediately be one of their top seven players, so the potential upside for both players was well worth the risk.

    Sullinger scared off many interested teams with concerns about the health of his back. There still doesn’t appear to be any consensus on this subject, but Sullinger’s camp vehemently denies that he has any chronic back issues that would prevent him from having a long and productive NBA career.

    If that assessment is accurate, he could contribute off the Boston bench immediately as a backup to starting power forward Brandon Bass, giving the Celtics a more skilled version of what Glen “Big Baby” Davis did for a few years. 

    Melo is a work in progress and the Celtics knew that when they drafted him. Melo could spell Kevin Garnett at center in short spurts and still provide a valuable defensive presence. But he shouldn’t be expected to contribute anything offensively. 

    If the raw but talented rookie emerges as anything more than a more athletic Greg Stiemsma this season, it’ll be a bonus for Boston.

Is This Paul Pierce’s Last Season as a Celtic?

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    Boston Celtics fans don’t need to worry about Paul Pierce leaving New England any time soon.

    The idea of Pierce leaving Boston seemed plausible as recently as this past June, when the Celtics were fresh off a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals and the 2012-13 roster was in flux. 

    Now that Ray Allen is gone and Danny Ainge has smartly retooled Boston’s roster, only five of the 15 Celtics (assuming Jeff Green is re-signed) are older than 30.  

    While that’s great for Boston’s future, it also means that the veteran leadership and playoff wisdom of Pierce and Kevin Garnett are still needed if this team expects to continue to be a title contender.

    Pierce only has one partially guaranteed year left on his contract beyond 2012-13. Given Ainge’s recent approach to handling the Big Three (re-signing Garnett and attempting to re-sign Allen), it’s unlikely that he would trade Pierce away from the only NBA team he’s ever played for.

    Pierce will be 36 when his current contract expires at the end of the 2013-14 season. Whether he re-signs with Boston, moves on to another team or decides to call it a career will likely be determined by how the Celtics perform over the next two seasons and what the roster looks like at that time.

    I’d be willing to bet that No. 34 won’t be taking his talents to South Beach.

Is Boston a Better Team Entering the 2012-13

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    Whether or not the Boston Celtics enter the 2012-13 NBA season as a better team than the one that came within one game of reaching the NBA Finals this past year depends on your perspective. 

    If Celtics fans are using preseason expectations as a barometer of future success, then this year’s version is light years ahead of the 2011-12 team. 

    Remember that last year’s Celtics began the season with questions about whether the Big Three could endure the stress of the condensed, lockout-shortened schedule and whether or not Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce would still be playing in Boston at season’s end. 

    Taking a 3-2 series lead over the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals was not in anybody’s Magic Eight Ball. 

    Boston fans now have the benefit of knowing that a healthy and rejuvenated Kevin Garnett has plenty of gas left in his tank, Brandon Bass is a great complement to KG in the low post, Avery Bradley is more than capable of being the starting shooting guard and that the Celtics have a bench that is an asset, not a liability. 

    So unlike Boston’s 2011-12 team, the 2012-13 Celtics head into this season as the clear No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Miami Heat.

Is the NBA Championship Window Still Open?

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    The Boston Celtics will begin the season as heavy underdogs to the defending NBA champion Miami Heat. But that doesn’t mean that their window for winning the franchise’s 18th championship has closed.

    The Celtics begin the season as the sixth most likely team to win the 2013 NBA Championship—Las Vegas places their odds at 20:1 behind the Los Angeles Lakers (5:2), Heat (9:4), Oklahoma City Thunder (9:2) and Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs (both listed at 10:1). 

    No one realistically expects the Bulls to be championship contenders with Derrick Rose’s uncertain return from a torn ACL suffered during Chicago’s first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers

    That makes the Celtics and Heat the clear favorites to stage a rematch of last year’s seven-game Eastern Conference Finals.

    NBA Finals MVP LeBron James can only get better after getting the championship monkey off his back. And the Heat made notable additions of their own by getting Ray Allen from the Celtics and forward Rashard Lewis, who was amnestied by the Washington Wizards.

    But as Kevin Garnett so eloquently stated after the Boston Celtics won the 2008 NBA title, “Anything is Possible!”