Boston Celtics' Checklist Before 2012-13 NBA Opening Night
When the ref tosses the ball up for the first time on Tuesday night, the C's will embark on another journey sure to be filled with adversity and resilience, pain and recovery. Battling against the likes of the Heat, Lakers, Nets, Knicks, Thunder and Sixers will be as tough a task as Doc Rivers' teams have faced yet.
Doc and the gang will be focused, determined and playing with a greater sense of urgency than ever.
This article breaks down all of the factors that will contribute to the ups and downs of the upcoming Celtics season.
The Celtics will survive only as long as they are fully healthy. Here's a look at the well-being of some key cogs in the Celtics lineup.
Avery Bradley, SG
Last season, Avery Bradley became a crucial facet of the Celtics' strategy. He brought consistent defensive energy off the bench and later proved to be an effective slasher who could hit an open three-pointer.
When the shooting guard left Boston's unlikely Eastern Conference Finals Game 5 victory over the Heat favoring his shoulder, it was a significant blow to their Finals chances. Not only did it leave Ray Allen with the responsibility of guarding Dwayne Wade, but Bradley's absence also majorly slowed the Celtics in transition.
In order to ensure that a Bradley-type injury doesn't ruin hopes at the end of this season, the Celtics added guard depth by signing veterans Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa and youngster Courtney Lee.
According to Nick Borges of ESPN Rumor Central, Avery Bradley is eyeing a mid-December return. His recovery will be the most important determinant of whether the Celtics will reach full strength this season.
Jeff Green, SF
After making the trip over from OKC in the currently infamous Kendrick Perkins trade, many Celtics fans questioned the reasoning behind GM Danny Ainge's decision.
Green then missed a full season due to a heart condition, weakening the Celtics' depth chart severely.
This season, Jeff Green is fully healthy once more and looking to prove to his franchise that investing in him two years ago was the right decision.
His return comes at a much-needed time considering that Boston will be without youthful defenseman Bradley for a significant portion of the season.
Big man Chris Wilcox is also returning from a heart ailment and will be with the team for the opener. Paul Pierce appears fine after suffering a sprained MCL during the 2012 postseason, but he tweaked his ankle against the Nets during the preseason.
It seems silly to question the chemistry of a team known for getting by on grit and unity. But with a hoard of fresh new faces, the Celtics' ability to play together will be put to the test.
Adding Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa, Darko Milicic, Courtney Lee and rookies Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger has Boston looking deeper and more prepared for the strains of a full-length NBA season.
What are the Celtics doing to make sure that all these guys are ready to compete with the same goal in mind?
For starters, the team took a tour through Europe together, gaining confidence and developing chemistry. Being abroad allowed them to showcase their talent to a greater audience and experience the thrill of victory. The team trained and experimented with different lineups against less-talented European squads.
Aside from their trip to Europe, the Celtics will be forced to lean once more on veteran leadership. Luckily Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo know the mindset it takes to succeed in the NBA and as Celtics.
It comes back to "Ubuntu," a rally-cry focused on teamwork and togetherness that the team has chanted when breaking huddles since their Finals run in 2008.
Adding two Sixth-Man of the Year Award winners (Barbosa, Terry) can't hurt either.
The Celtics selected two big men in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft, Jared Sullinger of Ohio State and Fab Melo from Syracuse.
Most focus to date has been on the success of Sullinger during the preseason, leading the Celtics to believe he is fully recovered from any back ailments that may have injured his draft stock. Sullinger is a big-bodied athlete with good scoring ability. Melo, a Syracuse star, was drafted more for his defensive potential.
Jared Sullinger figures to make more of an impact in 2012. His unique scoring talent has already called into question whether he deserves to be in the starting lineup. Although Brandon Bass turned in a stellar postseason in 2012, he faces heavy competition for his starting role.
If Sullinger continues to score like he did during the preseason, Boston may be forced to give him significant minutes as a rookie.
Melo has a bit more developing to do. His shot-blocking ability will eventually fit nicely in the tough Celtics D, but Fab must first become more comfortable with the defensive rotations. Under the tutelage of stalwart Kevin Garnett, Melo should become a defensive beast of his own in the near future.
Off-Court Issues Addressed
At the end of the 2012 season, referring to the Celtics' senior leadership meant Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
One of the three is gone, and his departure has turned into quite the story this offseason.
The Celtics added the necessary weaponry to fill the void left by Ray Allen heading to Miami. Yet the fact remains that his franchise transfer is a story that has garnered significant media attention.
For fans and players alike, admitting that Allen could want to play somewhere else is a difficult idea to grasp. The Celtics teams of the past five years have been symbols of unity, making the loss of such a key face a significant offseason event.
In order to succeed in 2012-13, Boston must not get distracted by matters occurring far from the hardwood. The competition around the league is far too stiff to win without complete focus.
How will the Celtics respond on opening night and throughout the season?
Addressing Offseason Concerns
The best way for a stellar defensive team to also be a stellar offensive team is to clean up rebounds. Boston was horrible at doing so in 2012.
In fact, the Celtics finished last in the NBA in rebounding last season. This is attributable to the loss of Wilcox and Green from the lineup, which forced an undersized Garnett into a full-time role as the center.
Boston was most noticeably outworked on the offensive glass, finishing with an average of 4.1 less offensive boards per game than their opponent.
Thankfully, the front office recognized Boston's shortcomings in the post and added size and athleticism in the draft. Sullinger, Melo and Kris Joseph should add to the Celtics' ability to reel in rebounds and get out in transition.
Jeff Green's return should help the Celtics turn their poor rebounding numbers around. He presents mismatches for opposing teams at both the small and power forward positions and has a unique ability to get the rim.
If the Celtics do a better job at converting defensive stops into offensive possessions and can stay on the offensive end longer, they will fare better come playoff time.
The X Factor: Rajon Rondo
According to Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston, Doc Rivers has officially deemed Rajon Rondo the leader of this year's Celtics team.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who followed Rondo's magnificent 2012 postseason, during which he averaged 17.3 points, 11.9 assists and 6.7 rebounds per game.
And even though Rondo doesn't ever need to be a one-man show, he's proven he can do that as well. In Game 2 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, Rajon dropped 44 points with 10 assists and eight rebounds. He also played every minute of that game, including overtime.
This year, Rondo won't have to do as much; for that reason, he'll be better than ever. With three added guards to spell him, Rondo will be more fresh from game to game.
He has more scoring options to feed on offense and should be able to orchestrate a better transition game with the addition of Jeff Green back into the lineup.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Boston Celtics will go as far as Rajon Rondo takes them. Last year's playoffs proved him to be ready to handle the responsibility.
Teams around the league should be very wary of Rajon Rondo in 2012-13.
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