Boston Celtics: Which Summer Pickup Will Make the Biggest Impact in 2012-13?
The Boston Celtics looked primed for a rebuild after they fell just short of a Finals berth last season.
Instead, GM Danny Ainge made all the right moves, and turned the impending rebuild into a reload.
There were plenty of questions about the future of the Cs following a tough Game 7 loss to the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat. PF Kevin Garnett and SG Ray Allen, two of the centerpieces of the Cs "Big Three" title run in 2008, both faced free agency. SF Paul Pierce, the Celtics' franchise player since 1998, was rumored to be considering retirement after the 2012 campaign.
Ainge managed to bring back Garnett on a three-year, $39 million deal, and Pierce decided to stay on through the end of his contract next season. Allen did ultimately defect to the rival Heat, but the Celtics made a series of shrewd moves to replace him. With major budget constraints, Ainge somehow managed to add depth and firepower to a team that severely lacked scoring off the bench.
Now, a Celtics team that many figured would be dismantled after last season returns with added depth and talent.
It's clear that the re-signing of Garnett was the most important offseason move. Let's take a look at the rest of their major acquisitions and see which player will play the biggest role next year (in ascending order of impact).
1) Fab Melo
Draft pick C Fab Melo has the size the Celtics sorely need: He's a big boy at 7'0", 255 lbs.
Players with his size and defensive potential (he averaged 1.5 blocks per game in summer leagues) have value from the get-go.
The concern regarding Melo is that he's raw. He played a "2-3" zone defense at Syracuse and never had to master defensive rotations as complex as the ones Coach Doc Rivers runs with the Celtics. He also has limited offensive skills in the post at this point, and he needs to work on boxing out.
Ultimately, Melo is a project, and one that's probably a few years away at this point. He likely won't see major minutes unless the Celtics are hit by serious injuries.
Melo's got room to grow offensively and could be a defensive stalwart, but he likely won't have much of an impact on the Cs next year.
Impact: Garbage-Time Player/D-Leaguer
2) Chris Wilcox and Jason Collins
There's not much else to say about either pickup.
Wilcox re-upped with the Cs after missing most of last year with a heart irregularity. He's able to score in transition, and he runs well with PG Rajon Rondo. But his limited post moves and poor perimeter defense make him a below-average NBA starter if KG goes down.
Collins is a limited player on both ends of the court, but one who can eat minutes at center and has a reputation for slowing now-Lakers C Dwight Howard.
Both are nice end-of-the-bench players, but neither should be more than role players on next year's Celtics roster.
If either player makes a larger impact on the Celtics than any other Cs acquisition, then Boston likely won't be going far in the playoffs next year.
Impact: Role Players/Frontcourt Depth
3) Jared Sullinger
PF Jared Sullinger, the 21st overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, fills the Celtics' biggest need from last season: low-post offense.
The Cs frontcourt starters, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett, are both floor-spacers who are primarily mid-range jump shooters. Both have decent post moves, but neither has the size to score consistently near the rim.
Their lack of potency down on the block was one of many reasons why the Cs had such a historically bad offensive-rebounding percentage. Easy offensive rebounds come as a result of low-post offense, not jump-shooting.
While there are other factors at play (including Doc Rivers' emphasis on transition D and a lineup that featured four below-average rebounders and PG Rajon Rondo), having a banger like Sully down low can only help in that department.
Sully has red-flags, including a history of back issues, but if he stays healthy, he could contribute significantly off the bench, spelling Bass and KG for long stretches. He's fundamentally sound as a post-up player, can use his body to create scoring angles and open up passing lanes, and he is a great rebounder.
If he can stay on the court, we'll be seeing a lot of Sully off the bench next season.
But he won't be the biggest contributor of all the 2012 offseason acquisitions.
Impact: Rotation Big off the Bench
4) Jason Terry and Courtney Lee
Celtics fans, you have little reason to fret about the loss of Ray Allen.
Unlike the 37-year-old Allen, neither Terry nor Lee require set plays nor roaming picks to free them for shots. That will prevent stagnant sets, where Rondo holds the ball at the top of the key until the shot clock winds down, waiting for Allen to get open.
Terry is a lethal three-point shooter who can run the point, provide instant offense off the bench and play much tighter D than Allen could. He won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year as recently as 2009, and was a key cog in the Mavericks' 2011 title run.
Lee will likely start at shooting guard until Avery Bradley returns from double shoulder surgery. He's a young slasher who plays tight perimeter D and has the athleticism to play beautifully with Rondo.
He's also a threat from the outside (though no Allen or Terry), shooting a respectable 40 percent from beyond the arc last season.
Terry and Lee will likely be two of the primary scoring options off the bench. They're half of a formidable four-pack of Boston guards, and they'll greatly improve the Celtics' bench scoring.
Still, there's one more acquisition that will rise above even these two great pickups.
Impact: Primary Options Off the Bench
5) Jeff Green
Without question, this is a risky pick.
It would have been much safer to go with Jason Terry or Courtney Lee as next season's biggest contributor to the Cs success.
Even "Sully" might make more sense to some.
SF Jeff Green, who was acquired in a 2011 deadline deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder for C Kendrick Perkins, struggled mightily in his first half-season with the Celtics. He looked lost amid the Cs complex defensive rotations, shot 29.6 percent from deep and lacked aggressiveness off the bench.
His struggles, coupled with a season lost to a heart ailment—as with Chris Wilcox—have soured many Celtics fans on Green.
In fact, the small, sample-size struggles of Green have clouded many onlookers to his true potential.
The Celtics gave him a four-year deal this offseason, and while the contract looms large, critics are ignoring a fundamental reality of the NBA: There simply aren't many available 26 year olds with Green's athleticism and potential.
Green has the versatility to play either forward position, which is key for the Celtics. He can spell Pierce for long stretches and cover elite small forwards (a weakness of the Celtics' bench the last few seasons) and he has the size to play power forward when the Celtics play small.
He's also got great athleticism and can run with Rondo, so plays like this one will be a lot more common next season.
With scoring ability and the potential to be a lockdown perimeter defender, Jeff Green will quickly grow into an elite bench option for the Cs. With a full Cs preseason under his belt, this may even be the year that Green starts to take the torch from Pierce as a key part of the Celtics' future.
Call me crazy, but I think Jeff Green will be a fan favorite by the end of this season.
Impact: 6th Man of the Year/Most Improved Player Contender