The last time we saw the Boston Celtics, they were walking through the tunnels at the AmericanAirlines Arena, trying to figure out how a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals slipped away from them.
Since then, the Miami Heat went on to win the NBA Finals, and the C’s brass—notably GM Danny Ainge—had to do a lot of soul-searching. Ainge eventually opted for a summer plan that would find his team somewhere in between rebuilding and preparing for yet another playoff run.
While the Celtics may not have the best roster on paper, no one gave this core group a puncher’s chance to take the Heat to seven games last year. This is a team that prides itself on proving doubters wrong and embracing the role of an underdog.
There are plenty of questions still surrounding the Celtics, and we’ll have to wait until the season tips off to find most of the answers. But keep reading to find out how the C’s roster was bettered via free agency this summer, what key piece they lost, the projected starting lineup and full depth chart, some strengths and weaknesses, a prediction for their final standing and much more.
Jason Terry (Free Agency)
Courtney Lee (Trade with Houston Rockets)
Jared Sullinger (Draft)
Fab Melo (Draft)
Darko Milicic (Free Agency)
Jason Collins (Free Agency)
With Ray Allen defecting to the Celtics' biggest rival—the Heat—Ainge knew that he had to bring in a veteran SG that has playoff experience, can stretch the floor and provide volume scoring when necessary.
Who better fits that description than Jason Terry?
The Jet helped guide the Dallas Mavericks to a title in 2011 as their sixth man, a role he will once again play in Boston. He may not be the three-point marksman that Jesus Shuttlesworth was, but Terry can catch fire from beyond the arc, play more consistent defense and create his own shot reliably.
Another way in which the franchise made a move to bolster the SG spot was trading for Courtney Lee, an underrated SG/SF that is likely going to start at the 2 until Avery Bradley returns. He earned a solid four-year, $21.5 million deal after the sign-and-trade was completed, and the 27-year-old figures to be an important player going forward.
Once Bradley is back from his shoulder surgeries—which may now be a bit earlier than his target time of January—the Celtics will be much better off at the SG position than they were in 2011-12.
Size is another issue that killed the C’s last year, as Kevin Garnett was the only legit big man that they could depend on. Ainge realized this and took the necessary steps to correct it.
Boston has an absolute steal on its hands with PF Jared Sullinger—if he can stay healthy and avoid the back issues that forced his fall to No. 21 in the draft. Fab Melo, a seven-footer who is more of a project big man right now, was taken right after at No. 22.
They also signed Darko Milicic and Jason Collins to provide depth and solid defense for a front line that seriously lacked any of the above outside of Garnett down the stretch last season.
Overall, the C’s put together a heck of a summer and now have a great outlook for both the upcoming campaign and the long-term future.
Ray Allen (Free Agency)
Greg Stiemsma (Free Agency)
Keyon Dooling (Retirement)
Losing Allen seriously hurt the Celtics, especially when he opted to sign with their mortal enemy. He basically told the organization and his former teammates that he doesn’t believe that they have what it takes to get past the Heat and would rather join them since he couldn’t beat them.
If you think this isn’t going to be a major X-factor that will be in play each time KG (who won’t talk to Allen anymore; we’ll get to this later), Paul Pierce and the rest of the proud Celtics face the Heat, you are crazy.
While Boston will miss Ray’s elite shooting, he did seem to lose it and was constantly dealing with injuries to his ankles and other key places that impacted his stroke some nights, and his (in)ability to play defense was becoming a liability.
He was only shooting 39.5 percent from the field and an awful—by Jesus’ lofty standards—30.4 percent from downtown by the time the organization was bounced in Game 7 of the ECF. More was expected from Allen and he failed to deliver, so perhaps a change of scenery will benefit both parties.
The only other notable losses from last year’s rotation are Greg Stiemsma and Keyon Dooling, the latter of whom opened up about his choice to leave the game in an extremely candid interview with CSNNE’s Jessica Camerato—which we highly recommend reading.
Their minutes, along with other borderline rotation players such as Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic, have been adequately filled and arguably upgraded by Ainge’s shrewd GM dealings this summer.
The C’s are trotting out the same starting lineup as last year, with the notable exception of Courtney Lee at the 2—at least for now. Unless the SG unexpectedly breaks out as a star, coach Doc Rivers will likely slide Bradley into that spot when he returns from injury.
Boston’s second unit looks much better than it did last year. Terry is capable of backing up both guard positions; Jeff Green is returning from heart surgery and is a terrific option off the bench at either SF or PF; Sullinger is expected to be an impact rookie that will help from Day 1; and Chris Wilcox is returning to his role as a backup big man.
Even the deep bench players—notably Milicic—are going to see plenty of minutes during this 82-game regular-season grind. The Celtics are tooled up and ready to battle this one out, as they know anything is possible once they get into a best-of-seven series.
The strength of the Boston Celtics lies in their never-say-die attitude, which is fostered by the veteran leadership of Rajon Rondo, Garnett and Pierce. This new “Big Three” will be able to will the C’s into the postseason where—and we can’t emphasize this enough—anything is possible.
Boston was able to use its savvy to make an improbable run deep into the playoffs and nearly back to the Finals after being a mediocre 16-17 midway through 2012’s 66-game season.
Coach Doc Rivers has a tight bond with his key vets and they know that, at this stage in the “Big Three” era, it’s all about being healthy in time for the postseason. Matchups mean little to them, as they have seen and beaten every team in the league at some point.
Aside from the intangibles, the Celtics’ newest strength in 2012-13 is their depth—an area that they had trouble with in recent years. They can now afford to give their starters long stretches on the bench while the subs are capably keeping them in the game.
While Boston may have its ups and downs during the long campaign, at the end of the day it has one goal in mind: a championship. And the Celtics have the right mindset, plus the pieces, to reach it.
As with any team comprised of aging veterans as key pieces, the threat of injury is a major concern that will always be looming just around the corner.
It is inevitable that Pierce or KG will be forced to miss stretches of games in order to repair their bodies and stay healthy enough to be a factor in the playoffs. This could end up costing the Celtics some wins and eventually lower their seeding in the playoffs, depending on how their fill-ins perform.
Should one of the key players go down with a serious ailment, it all but spells the end of Boston’s hope to raise championship banner No. 18 in the Garden. This is obviously a potential issue for any contender, but at the Celtics’ advanced age, it’s a much more realistic situation they might face.
One other weakness that won’t be much of an impact in 2012-13 but will certainly come up in the near future is the organization’s desire to win now trumping the acquisition and cultivation of young talent.
The Celtics are hoping to squeeze one more championship run out of KG and Pierce while neglecting the fact that these guys won’t be in the league in a few years. However, since Boston keeps making the postseason, it does not possess any lottery picks and subsequently sees its chances of finding a star via the draft drop significantly.
Regardless, the focus is on a ring in 2013, and the Celtics are looking better than most.
One of our favorite storylines to emerge out of Boston this preseason is KG's conscientious decision to forget Ray Allen’s phone number.
According to ESPN’s Chris Forsberg, the Big Ticket had this to say about why he’s not talking to his former teammate.
I don't have Ray's number anymore. I'm not trying to communicate. I'm just being honest with everybody in here. ... It's just what it is.
A member of the press wasn’t satisfied and pressed him on this interesting revelation.
I choose not to. I choose -- that's a choice I personally made. I told you all, I'm very close to Ray. I know his family. I wish nothing but the best for him and his family. I'm just making a choice on my own. That's all.
While KG may be courteous and polite at the podium, he’s going to throw all semblances of manners out the window when he steps onto the hardwood against the Heat.
Boston opens the season on Oct. 30 against Miami, which means we won’t have to wait long to see just how slighted Garnett is by Allen’s decision to break up the “Big Three.”
Another summer highlight was Rondo’s claim that he’s the top point guard in the NBA. He was explicitly clear when he spoke to BasketSession.com (via USA Today):
I have matured, and my game also. I think I will be one of the best playmakers in the league. I think that I am the best point guard in the league."
While Rondo absolutely lived up to that claim during the 2012 playoff run (he averaged 17.3 points, 11.9 assists and 6.7 rebounds in 19 games while playing 42.6 minutes per game), he has to do better in the regular season if he wants to be seen in that light.
He only put up 11.9 points, 11.7 assists and 4.9 rebounds in 53 games, which suggests he is holding something back. We’ll find out soon enough if he’s going to make that leap.
The best-case scenario for Boston would be having its core group of starters and key reserves fully healthy and ready for the playoffs.
If the team can squeak out a sixth straight Atlantic Division title and earn one of the top seeds in the East while accomplishing its main goal, it’s even better.
Considering the Celtics have proven time and time again that they are one of the best groups in the league once the playoffs come around, all they have to do is avoid an early matchup against the Heat to have a real shot at making it back to the Finals.
A healthy C’s squad against the villains from South Beach would make for one of the most intriguing ECF rematches in the history of the league—especially with Allen’s presence in Miami.
Would the Celtics have a chance in that series? Keep clicking to find out.
While there is no real danger of missing the postseason, the Celtics will have to panic if they barely limp into the playoffs with injured starters and critical role players limited in effectiveness.
Boston can beat anyone with its top players fully healthy, but when the roster is plagued by injury, that is a completely different story. As a No. 6 or 7 seed and having KG or PP hobbled, there is a good chance that the C’s don’t even make it out of the first round.
There are so many younger, more athletic teams that would just run circles around this unit that good health and sticking to Rivers’ game plan is a necessity. Should they deviate—or be forced to—the Celtics will be going home early for the first time since starting their current playoff streak back in 2008.
52-30, first place in Atlantic Division, third seed in Eastern Conference
It may seem ridiculous, but the C’s are going to be back on top of the Atlantic and should earn the No. 3 seed in the East—right behind the Heat and Indiana Pacers.
They have what it takes to grind a regular season out and earn an extremely respectable 50-win record, which should have them sitting pretty for the first round of the playoffs. That would earn them the right to play the Pacers in the second round, an extremely winnable matchup—despite Indiana’s depth and size.
Of course, that means they would have to face the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, a series that would likely be more exciting and intense than the actual NBA Finals.
Unfortunately, Boston will once again run out of gas at the worst possible time, forcing a Game 7 in a back-and-forth series before ultimately succumbing to the brilliance of LeBron, Wade and the rest of the Heat roster.