The Celtics starting unit could be in flux over the next couple weeks, as Doc Rivers plays with lineups throughout the preseason. Boston's superior depth will allow for numerous players to pop in and out of the starting five. By the time the team plane touches down in South Beach for the season-opener, Rivers should have settled on the right mix in the starting unit.
Point Guard: Rajon Rondo
Simply put, when you have an elite NBA player on your team, you start him. Rajon Rondo's job will not be in doubt this season, and even though the trade rumors are sure to start mid-season, I believe he will be in green for a long while.
Rondo will be used heavily this season, with no legitimate point guard behind him. He is going to be responsible for getting the offense rolling both in the starting five, and with a reserve unit.
Where Rondo has to improve this season is his scoring. He made something of a leap in the 2011-12 postseason, but the question remains if he can maintain that level of play. Seventeen points per game may be asking for a bit much, but somewhere in the 13-15 point range should be attainable. With a more efficient free throw game, and the experience to take some layups he normally passes up, he should get there.
Even if it means his assist totals suffer slightly, the Celtics need Rondo to start making an impression scoring the basketball. Rondo has worked hard to get to this position of notoriety, and more cameras will be on him all season. Luckily, Rondo shines brightest when the lights do the same.
Shooting Guard: Courtney Lee
Despite Greg Payne of ESPNBoston.com's recent story, you have to believe Rivers' comments about starting Jason Terry are merely fodder for columnists. While Terry did get the starting nod in the preseason game against New York, it is Courtney Lee who provides the defensive presence Boston has so enjoyed in their starting lineups.
Both Lee and Terry have been impressive in the preseason and have been able to seamlessly mesh with the flow of the offense. The passing sequences are a joy to watch with Lee and Rondo and will continue to be in the regular season.
Lee's size is also something that should not go unnoticed. With Rondo checking in at 6'1" and Terry just an inch taller, Lee's 6'5" frame helps the Celtics do different things defensively. Lee is going to be able to cover taller 2-guards, which frees up Rondo to jump lanes and wrack up steals.
All of this could possibly be rendered moot as Avery Bradley, the incumbent, is set to return in December, according to Dan Duggan of the Boston Herald. Still, even then, if Lee has performed beyond expectations he may hold onto this spot while Bradley eases back into regular duty.
Small Forward: Paul Pierce
As far as I am concerned, this spot is Paul Pierce's until Paul Pierce decides it is not. Pierce has been the Celtics offensive leader for 14 years, and that won't be changing in 2012-13.
Pierce actually scored at a higher clip last season than he had since 2008-09. His 19.4 points per game led the Celtics once again.
The most important thing for him is to be healthy, especially once the postseason rolls around. Pierce managed 18.9 points per game in the playoffs, but shot just 38.6 percent from the field. His balky knee acted up consistently and Pierce never seemed to be in a rhythm as the games wore on. A healthy Pierce is still an incredibly valuable weapon for a team that, at times, struggles to score.
The benefit of the 2012-13 roster is that Pierce will not have to shoulder so many minutes and responsibilities. The Celtics are set up to give Pierce ample rest, but that starting gig, it is still his.
Power Forward: Brandon Bass
Much like all the talk about Jason Terry entering the starting five, the Jared Sullinger chatter is still premature. While I like the idea of Sullinger joining the starting five, it should probably come after some NBA seasoning. A lot has been said about his maturity and basketball IQ, but Bass is the safer option right now.
Bass was granted the opportunity to start without really earning it last season. Since he became the full-time starter, Bass has worked hard to earn his minutes. He was able to mesh with the starting five and his ability to pick-and-pop with Rondo gave the Celtics another valuable weapon on offense.
Bass has been working hard to improve his defense and will definitely play a major role on this team, whether he maintains the starting job throughout the season or not.
Center: Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett may very well still be the best player on this team. His move to the center position changed the way Boston played from top to bottom last season.
In 36 games as the Celtics' starting center, Garnett's averages increased across the board. His scoring jumped from 14.3 to 16.8 points per game and he was able to grab an extra rebound a night as well.
It is still on defense, though, that Garnett makes his mark. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment since joining the Celtics has been working to improve his fellow big men. Garnett has had huge hands in earning players like Kendrick Perkins and Greg Stiemsma their lucrative contracts.
In 2012-13 he will have a fresh crop of players to mentor. If Garnett can really sink his teeth into Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, they will improve with leaps and bounds in year one.
Garnett is still the backbone of the Celtics defensively. Everything that happens on the perimeter is a virtue of his ability to protect the rim. There have been few players in the history of the league that blend his talent, size and athleticism. While his minutes will be tempered as they were last season, Garnett remains the starting center in Boston.