The 2012-13 NBA regular season is just over two weeks away from the opening tip. The hype is building, training camp is kicking into gear and the preseason is offering us our first glimpse at what the revamped NBA rosters will look like.
The superpowers have garnered the attention thus far, with the Los Angeles Lakers and defending-champion Miami Heat pulling off a handful of star-studded free agency acquisitions. Lost in all of the commotion, however, appears to be one team that improved as much as any.
Those pesky Boston Celtics.
Although they did not secure a contract with any superstars, the Celtics loaded up on depth at every position. Despite the loss of sharpshooter Ray Allen, Boston is actually a better team in 2013 than they were in 2012.
As the attention shifts to the Celtics' improved rotation, it is important to note that both starting and second-unit lineups must be constructed. The Celtics opted to go with Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett just one year ago.
As previously alluded to, Allen is now out of town.
Although his absence appears to be the only hole in the lineup of a team who is coming off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, replacing Allen may not be the only step taken. Instead, head coach Doc Rivers could insert a fresh face into the starting lineup.
2004 NBA champion, Darko Milicic. Yes, that Darko Milicic.
Paul Flannery of WEEI.com reports that Rivers is considering the possibility of starting Milicic at center and shifting Kevin Garnett to his more natural position of power forward. And no, this isn't a bad joke.
"We can slide Kevin over to the four to start games. The first half of the year I don’t know if that’s a bad thing, so Kevin doesn't have a wrestling match the entire season with the bigs," Rivers said. "There’s a lot of thoughts. We may go to a transitional starting lineup, have three different starting lineups. We’ve put a lot of thought into it, we’ll just figure it out."
Milicic made waves during the 2003 NBA Draft when the Detroit Pistons selected him second overall. For those unfamiliar with that year's selection process, Darko was selected over the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
Apparently the Celtics' plan to bring down the almighty Miami Heat is to remind their star players of who was selected before them.
Milicic has since made headlines by telling A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN New England that he would do anything to contribute to the Celtics' success. Literally, anything.
"I'm done trying to prove I'm the No. 2 pick and that [expletive] stuff," Milicic told CSNNE.com. "This year, it's all about Celtics, to show that I am a team player. It's not about me. It's about us as a team.
I'll do whatever it takes, whatever I need to do to help this team. So now, if I have to go kill someone on the court, I'll kill someone on the court."
Let's all hope that it doesn't come to that.
While one can't help but admire Milicic's passion for the game, we cannot overlook who he is as a player. The Celtics make for the Serbian big man's sixth NBA home in nine years and hope to be the first franchise to bring out the beast.
Putting all jokes aside, Milicic did have a very solid 2011 season. He contributed to the Minnesota Timberwolves with averages of 8.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game in 24.4 minutes of action.
If he could do that in Boston, it'd be hard to crucify the guy. In fact, he'd deserve praise. Unfortunately, 2012 saw those averages take a virtual split as he put up 4.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.9 blocks-a-night in 16.3 minutes.
Regardless of which player he proves to be, one thing is clear. If the Boston Celtics start Darko Milicic, their title chances will be doomed.
It Already Works
In case we've all developed a case of short-term memory, Kevin Garnett was absolutely dominant at center. During 20 postseason games, KG averaged 19.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals a night on 49.7 percent shooting.
This all came while playing the 5.
His ability to agitate and eliminate any offensive threat makes Garnett a defensive guru. His ability to stretch the floor and knock down a long two or take it inside and school the young guns with his elite fundamentals makes him a Hall of Famer.
This beckons the question that Doc Rivers will eventually be faced with answering. Why fix what isn't broken?
Brandon Bass has proven to be more than capable of contributing at power forward. During the Celtics' Eastern Conference Semi-Finals showdown with the Philadelphia 76ers, Bass was the only Boston player to score in double-figures in each of the first five games of the series.
That included a 27-point performance in the Celtics' 101-85 Game 5 victory.
If Bass and Garnett have already proven to be a lethal pairing, why break them up? Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo and Milicic will all have their opportunities to prove themselves with the second unit.
Bass, meanwhile, hasn't proven capable of being a lead scorer. Why risk his failing to become one with the second unit when he fills his current role so adequately?
Develop the Power Forwards
Should the Boston Celtics opt to move Kevin Garnett back to power forward, the development of both Bass and Jared Sullinger will be stunted severely. Considering how highly the Celtics have praised the rookie Sullinger, that would be a terrible mistake to commit.
Rajon Rondo had this to say about the former Ohio State Buckeye.
"[Jared Sullinger]'s probably the smartest rookie we’ve had since I’ve been here," [Rajon] Rondo said. "He’s very intelligent. High basketball IQ and he’s very unselfish. He doesn’t need a play called for him. He’s been getting his points off the dirty work."
Sounds like a younger, much-wider-but-shorter Kevin Garnett. If that is to be the case, why would Rivers want to push him so far down the depth chart?
With Brandon Bass leading the second unit, that is exactly what he'd be doing.
Although he was selected with the 21st overall draft choice, Sullinger has top-pick raw ability. He's the most fundamentally sound big man an NBA draft has produced in quite some time and is already an elite back-to-the-basket scorer based on today's weak standards.
Throw him back a few generations, give him a few years experience and he'd approach the top of that time, as well.
Allow Sullinger to find the floor and learn from both Bass and Kevin Garnett. As the postseason rolls around and foul trouble strikes, Rivers will realize how smart of a move that was.
Otherwise, he'll be throwing an inexperienced Sullinger into the fire as Bass hits the bench and Darko Milicic steps in for KG at center.
Right Now, Everyone is a Threat
If you take a gander at an alternative starting lineup, all five players on the floor are threats to score the basketball. That includes Rajon Rondo, Jason Terry, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett.
For those who still argue Rondo can't score, close your mouths and walk in the other direction. He's the best dribble penetrator in the game and when he's looking to score the basketball, he will.
Just ask yourself how many times you've seen him dribble to and around the basket without shooting as if he were skating behind a hockey net.
If you swap Bass with Garnett and place Darko Milicic into the starting lineup, however, that all changes. Milicic is an unproven commodity on offense and teams will not consider him to be much of a threat whatsoever.
That creates double-teams for KG and the lack of a solid alternative at center. Leaving the roster as is, however, would enable Bass to shine with alleviated defensive pressure.
Something he has done in the past.
Going big is nice. Elite defense paired with an equally-as-efficient offense is even nicer. For that reason, Doc Rivers must keep Darko with the second unit and aim for the stars.
Don't forget: you don't offer your trust until the player has earned it.