The Boston Celtics were one of the busiest teams in the league this offseason, and their roster experienced so much turnover that their bench is going to essentially be unrecognizable this coming season.
Boston let almost all of its bench from the 2012 postseason walk, and it replaced the departed members with better players like Jason Terry and Courtney Lee. I say "postseason" because Chris Wilcox, who was with the Celtics up until undergoing heart surgery in March, will be returning, and Jeff Green, in the same vein as Wilcox, underwent heart surgery before this past season even began and will also be back in Beantown (assuming he and the C's finalize his contract, and it's looking like it is only a matter of time before that happens).
Of course, with all of the roster changes, Doc Rivers is going to face many crucial decisions in terms of playing time, rotations, his best lineups, etc.
Let's break down six of the key decisions that Rivers will have to make in the 2012-13 season.
With the second of their two first-round draft choices, the Celtics took center Fab Melo in an attempt to remedy their lack of size up front.
At seven feet, 255 lbs., the athletic Melo is certainly an impressive physical specimen with the ability to develop into an impact player in the NBA. However, he is still very raw, and it will likely take him some time to adapt to life in the pros, especially considering he is used to playing Jim Boeheim's zone defense at Syracuse.
It will definitely be significant to Melo having Kevin Garnett around to mentor him. Who better to learn from than one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the game? Perhaps most importantly, Garnett will do all he can to help Melo develop a mean streak, much like he did with Kendrick Perkins when Perk was donning Celtic green.
The question for Rivers is how much will he test out Melo throughout the course of the regular season? I would say he should do it quite a bit, as, let's be honest: The regular season holds little to no meaning for Boston outside of attaining a respectable seed heading into the playoffs.
Yes, home-court advantage is helpful, but it is not the be-all-end-all for a team like the C's, and if we've learned anything about the Celtics over the past three years, it's that they tend not to give it their all during the regular season and only turn it on when they really need to.
Taking that into consideration, I think you'll see Rivers break his philosophy of not playing rookies and give Melo a decent amount of burn during the 2012-13 campaign, as Melo is a different animal. He is not a guard; he is a center, and Boston sorely missed having an intimidator on the inside this past postseason.
As great as K.G. is, he can't do it all by himself down there. He needs some assistance, and Melo provides the size to apply that very aid.
With their first draft pick, the Celtics selected Jared Sullinger, a 6'9", 265 lb power forward out of Ohio State.
It's safe to say that Boston went all out in trying to address its need for size in the draft, and Danny Ainge got what I (and many others) believe is a steal in Sullinger at No. 21.
Many believed that Sullinger would have been a top-five pick had he entered the draft in 2011, but he decided to stay at Ohio State an extra year, and due to the depth of the 2012 draft and the fact that Sullinger was medically flagged for bulging discs in his back, his stock dropped.
Fortunately for Boston, it doesn't appear that Sullinger's back problems are anything to worry about, as, according to his father, they were merely the result of tight hamstrings and quads.
Now, for the main point: How will Doc utilize Sullinger this season?
Well, given the fact that Sullinger is a bit of a tweener, I imagine that we will see him playing both frontcourt positions. He will certainly get more time at power forward, but when Garnett is on the bench, I think we will definitely see Sully play some center, as he obviously has the girth to bang with other bigs in the league.
The thing about Sullinger is that he possesses something that few players in the NBA have: a good low-post game.
Sullinger was the best pure low-post player to come out of this draft, and I fully expect Rivers to design some sets for him on the low block.
The C's already had a fine inside scorer of their own in K.G., and now they will be adding Sullinger to the mix. The combination of Garnett and Sully could end up being absolutely lethal up front, and that is why I anticipate that Sullinger will get big minutes in his rookie year.
Let's also not forget that the former Buckeye is a very good rebounder, and the Celtics were just putrid on the glass in 2012. That just gives me all the more reason to believe that Sully will see plenty of floor time this year.
Rondo took on more of a scorer's role during this postseason, but that was primarily due to the fact that both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were hurting. In doing so, Rondo demonstrated that he is more than capable of consistently getting buckets, as evidenced by his 44-point outburst in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Now, however, with players such as Terry, Lee and even Sullinger being introduced into the offense, will Rivers still ask Rondo to assume more of a scorer's mentality this coming season, or will he tell him to revert to the "true point guard" approach that Rondo has usually always taken?
Well, if the playoffs were any indicator, Rondo's jump shot has improved. It is still not where you would like it to be, but it has gotten better, and that leads me to believe that we might see Rondo be a bit more aggressive in looking for his own shot this coming season.
The problem with Rajon is that he is such a poor free-throw shooter that if he is continuously getting to the rim for layups, opposing players are simply going to put him on the line, and you don't want a career 62 percent foul shooter going to the charity stripe all that much.
That is what makes Rondo's mid-range jumper all the more important. Unless a defender is overzealous in going for the shot block, he is not going to be fouled out there. So if he can start hitting that shot on a regular basis, he is going to be well on his way to being the best point guard in the NBA, as that is really the only thing holding him back from earning that title.
The good thing is that, as mentioned earlier, given the offseason additions, there will not be much pressure on Rondo to score. That said, it would certainly be a nice luxury, and should guys like Terry and Lee be having off nights, expect the floor general to try and put the ball through the net himself.
The Celtics didn't just add better players this offseason; they added more athletic players that are better in transition, and that leads me to wonder whether Doc will tell his guys to impose their will on the fast break more this year.
Prior to the current group of guys, Boston never had a roster that was conducive to open-court scoring. Sure, it had Rondo, one of the game's brilliant tacticians, but the legs of players like Garnett, Pierce and Allen were just too old to constantly get up and down the floor like they did in their primes.
Now, however, the C's have infused some youth and transition savvy into their lineup by going out and getting Lee and Terry (even if Terry isn't exactly youthful, he is well-known for being a very good player on the break), and are preparing for what will hopefully be a full season with Bradley, Wilcox and Green.
While I still believe that the key to winning a championship is being able to slow the game down and execute from the half-court set, it is still important to mix it up every once and a while. With their offseason moves, the Celtics now have the personnel to do that.
In case you hadn't heard, Bradley is going to miss some time at the start of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery, possibly as much as two months.
During that time period, Lee will likely assume the role of starting shooting guard for the Celtics, and Terry will fill his usual role as the sixth man. However, the question is, if Lee does a good job filling in for Bradley, will Bradley retake the starting two-guard spot when he returns, or will Rivers just go with Lee?
Personally, I think unless Lee is putting up monster numbers, Bradley should be the starter. My reason is that he is one of the game's best perimeter defenders (arguably the best), and I think it is very important to make sure he starts the game guarding the opponent's best perimeter player so they cannot get off right from the start.
The world saw how effective Bradley was on Dwyane Wade both times he played against the Miami Heat as a starter in 2012, perhaps handing Wade the most embarrassing highlight (or lowlight) of his career. Now, why wouldn't you put Bradley on Wade right from the get-go? Not doing so will give Wade the chance to get hot early, and you never want a player of Wade's caliber to see his shots falling in the first quarter, as more often than not, that simply sets the tone for the rest of the game.
Lee is a good perimeter defender in his own right and he provides more in the way of offense than Bradley, but Bradley's defensive tenacity is just too imperative to stash on the bench. I want him defending the Wades of the world from the opening tip.
Of course, the decision is ultimately Rivers', but I think he would be best served going with Bradley.
It's no secret that Garnett and Pierce are not exactly spring chickens. At age 36 and 34, respectively (and Pierce will be 35 when the season starts), neither player can play the kind of big minutes that they once did in the primes of their careers.
It is also no secret that, along with Rondo, K.G. and P.P. are the Celtics' most important players, and if they are not right come playoff time, Boston won't be winning a title (as evidenced this past year when Pierce was playing on a sprained MCL in the postseason).
So, how will Rivers handle their minutes?
Well, I think he should take the Gregg Popovich approach and try his best to keep them under 30 minutes a game each. With all of their offseason moves, the C's now have enough depth to accommodate for Garnett and Pierce spending extended periods of time on the bench, and, once again, the regular season does not mean all that much to the Celtics. What matters the most is that they are healthy come late April, and limiting K.G. and Pierce's floor time will go a long way to assuring that that happens.
We all saw how rejuvenated Garnett looked in these past playoffs, and that was with him playing 31.1 minutes per game during the season. Just imagine how fresh he'd be if Rivers could shave a few minutes off of that average? It might not seem like much, but every minute K.G. could save for the postseason would be precious, and the same goes for The Truth.
Heck, it might not even be a bad idea to limit Rondo's minutes a bit this season. Yes, he is only 26, but regardless of how old you are, your body is going to take a pounding over the course of an 82-game season, so any extra rest you could get over that period of time would be huge.
As many have been saying, this year is all about banner No. 18, and the more Rivers can keep Garnett and Pierce ripe for the playoffs, the bigger of a chance there will be of another banner raising at the start of the 2013-14 campaign.