The new and improved Boston Celtics will reclaim their spot as a serious contender in 2012-13. Although their conference is steadily getting better, the C's will still have one of the best records in the East.
The Celtics were a talented team last season, but they were missing a few major pieces to the puzzle. During the offseason, general manager Danny Ainge specifically addressed the team's biggest shortcomings, including the lack of depth on the bench. Boston didn't have to rebuild its team, but they reloaded it to the max.
The biggest change this year was the loss of Ray Allen to the Miami Heat. The C's quickly bounced back and replaced Allen with Jason Terry and Courtney Lee. Truthfully, it was more of an upgrade than an actual loss.
Although Allen is the best three-point shooter in NBA history, the combination of Terry and Lee's talents will be better for the team. Last season, we saw Allen's scoring start to diminish as he struggled to stay healthy. Terry and Lee are both versatile players whose overall talent is worth more than Allen's scoring.
Jason Terry, in particular, will give the Celtics a major boost in offense. He is the leader of the new Celtics bench, a role the former NBA Sixth Man of the Year is very familiar with. Last year, Terry scored 15.1 points on 31.7 minutes per game and shot 43 percent overall. The Celtics desperately needed someone who could come off the bench as an offensive threat and keep the tempo going, and it seems like Terry is their man.
The Celtics will be a better team in 2012-13 because Rajon Rondo has assumed his role as leader of the team. The star point guard had a monster season last year, and he hasn't even reached his prime. Rondo led the league in assists with a career-high 11.9 per game. He's arguably the greatest facilitator in the NBA, and now he has even more options. Rondo excels at making the players around him better, which is a great thing for a Celtics squad full of role players.
Last season, veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett averaged over 36 minutes per game. That number is ridiculously high considering the wear-and-tear on their bodies over the year, as well as how important they are in the postseason. Due to the improvements on the bench, expect Doc Rivers to give Pierce and Garnett more rest during the regular season.
The return of Jeff Green will alleviate some of the pressure on Pierce to always guard the opponent's best power forwards. Not only can Green play starter's minutes at the swingman position, but he's also a tough defender and good rebounder. His defensive contributions will dramatically help the Celtics match up against the best teams in the league.
Without a doubt, Boston will be the top team in the Atlantic Division. Although the Nets and Sixers made great strides this summer, the Celtics still have more talent, depth and experience.
The Celtics will finish the 2012-13 season a bit stronger than last year. They have addressed their weaknesses and reloaded at every position. I predict the Celtics will finish at 54-28. That's a .658 winning percentage, a significant improvement over last year's .591.