5 Biggest Hurdles Boston Celtics Must Overcome to Prosper in 2012-2013 Season
After coming agonizingly close to a third trip to the finals in five years last season, the C's have retooled in preparation for making another run with much of the same core that helped return the franchise to prominence over the past five years.
Still, as happens to all teams with title aspirations, the Celts will enter the season facing some true, legitimate challenges. Getting to the playoffs and advancing is tough enough. Actually winning a title increases that degree of difficulty exponentially.
With their preseason trip to Turkey and Italy only days away, it's time to take a closer look at what kinds of obstacles the C's will face in their efforts to raise an 18th banner to the TD Garden rafters next summer.
Here's a look at some of the challenges they may face.
When the Celtics effectively replaced Ray Allen (age: 37) with Jason Terry (age: 35), they didn't get much younger at their core.
Sure, point guard/most important player Rajon Rondo is still just a relative pup at the ripe, old age of 26. But his fellow Big Three compadres, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, are 35 and 36, respectively.
The Celtics are younger than they were last year. Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley, all expected to be key members of their regular rotation, are each in their early to mid-20s, with Bass being the oldest at 27.
Add to that group rookie Jared Sullinger, just 20, and this team's nucleus, both now and in the near future, has the look of an up-and-coming team, not an aging, decaying one.
Still, it's important to remember once again that Garnett and Pierce are not part of that equation. The two of them are more important to the Celtics' chances of winning another title than anyone else on the roster besides Rondo.
And as we all saw in Games 6 and 7 of last year's Eastern Conference finals against Miami, those two were positively spent, particularly in the second halves of each of those two games.
Coach Doc Rivers had best monitor the minutes of those two, as well as Terry, throughout the regular season, even if it means the difference between a win here or a loss there.
The fresher the Celts' aged stars are come May and June of 2013, the better.
The Celtics were decimated by injuries last year, and while the lockout and subsequent lack of time to train properly for the rigors of an NBA season were at least in part to blame, they need to stay healthier all around and more consistently if they want to have any real shot this year.
The fact that this team went as far as it did with its top reserves being Mickael Pietrus, Greg Stiemsma and Keyon Dooling is a testament to its heart, will and determination.
Yet the fact that so many new faces were brought in during the offseason and the overall depth was such a pronounced priority speaks to how important taking the proper precautions in the event of injuries is.
Thankfully, there will be no Jermaine O'Neal to have to count on this year. And a couple of the guys who were unable to contribute last season, Green and Chris Wilcox, were out because of serious health concerns, not injury-prone knees, elbows or ankles.
The Celts know as well as any team, though, that injury issues can keep you from attaining your ultimate goal.
Take a look at the Celts' training camp roster and you'll see a slew of big men after Garnett.
Rookie Fab Melo, veteran Jason Collins and newcomer/all-time draft bust Darko Milicic are all secen-footers. Wilcox is 6'10".
That's great. But can any of those guys play? Or contribute meaningfully?
The Celtics have size. But do they have enough of it?
Wilcox can get up and down the floor with Rondo, but can he defend or give the C's anything in the post? Collins can defend but is useless when the Celts have the ball.
Darko is a complete unknown, even now in his ninth year. And rumor has it his last coach, Minnesota's Rick Adelman, was practically willing to drive him to the airport if it meant getting rid of him faster.
As far as Melo goes, he's a project with a capital P. He will be one of the last guys off the bench this year, as the Celts try to turn him from a raw giant into an actual NBA center.
So there you have it with the C's big-man situation. There are plenty of them, but your guess as to what they're capable of is as good as anyone's.
4. The Atlantic Division
For the first time in five years, the Celts look like they may have some real competition in the Atlantic.
The Sixers and newly moved Brooklyn Nets look much improved. The Celts aren't the only team in their division that's been doing work this offseason.
Everyone knows about the Nets and all of their wheeling and dealing, including their failed pursuit of Dwight Howard. Still, they got an All-Star shooting guard/excellent complementary scorer in Joe Johnson.
They re-signed Gerald Wallace, a multi-talented forward who they gave up a lottery pick for last season and was no lock to return. They kept center Brook Lopez and rebounding machine Kris Humphries, brought in some valuable depth in Reggie Evans, C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans and acquired enigmatic but young and wildly talented Andray Blatche for next to nothing.
Most importantly, though, they were able to keep point guard Deron Williams, one of the league's top 10 best players. Losing Williams would have crippled the Nets; now he is their centerpiece for years.
As for the Sixers, they were at least involved in the Howard deal, getting center Andrew Bynum in the four-way trade. Bynum, if he stays healthy and keeps his mouth shut, is instantly the best center in the East and isn't even at the outset of his prime yet. His acquisition could wind up propelling Philly back to real NBA prominence.
The Sixers had to give up Andre Iguodala, their best all-around player, in the deal. But they still have young, explosive talents like Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young, all of whom played big roles in Philly's remarkable playoff run last season and all look ready to take the next step.
These are two up-and-comers in the East. The Celts will have their work cut out to stay ahead of them both.
5. The Heat
The defending champs? The team with the best player in the league? The ones who have knocked the C's out of the playoffs in each of the past two seasons?
Yep, the Celts are going to have to get through the Miami Heat if they want to win another title.
The Heat return a very similar team to the one that went all the way last year, with Allen and Rashard Lewis as the key additions. Those two, as sharp as long-range sharpshooters get (especially Ray), will be seeing plenty of open looks when opposing defenses choose to double-team LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
That the Celts came within a game of defeating Miami in last year's Eastern finals was borderline miraculous. The two teams are a bit more evenly matched now than they were in that series, and the depth accumulated by Boston this summer will go a long way toward giving the Heat a serious run for their money.
They still may not have enough to get by LeBron, who ascended to the loftiest of heights last year and no longer can be subjected to the criticisms that followed him around throughout his career prior to Miami's finishing the job.
These should be the two teams to watch most carefully in the East this year, though. And it stands to be another long, arduous battle.
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