Rivers will look to do far less yelling and a lot more smiling in 2013.
There were plenty of ups and downs for the Boston Celtics in 2012.
After starting off the first half of the year with a 39-27 lockout-shortened regular season, the Celtics capped that off with a magical postseason run that took them within one quarter of another trip to the NBA Finals. They defied the odds and breathed a new sense of optimism into the Boston faithful.
The offseason began with a blow as the Celtics bid farewell to Ray Allen. But while the fans stewed in heartbreak and anger, the team signed and re-signed several key players.
With spirits high in the city, Boston looked to end the year looking better than ever. Instead, the Celtics stand at 14-13 and are one of the early disappointments around the league this season.
However, 2013 is the start of a new year, a fresh beginning and what I believe is going to be the turning of a new leaf for this Celtics team.
Here are 10 bold predictions for the coming year.
Garnett will continue to see better matchups as a power forward.
In his first 15 years in the league, Kevin Garnett had served primarily as his team’s power forward.
That all changed when the Celtics got rid of both Kendrick Perkins and Glen “Big Baby” Davis in 2011. Since then, Garnett has served primarily as Boston’s center.
Recently, head coach Doc Rivers has opted to install Jason Collins at center and move Garnett back to the power forward position. Rivers believes the move will help ease some of the pressure off of Garnett and give him more favorable matchups.
However, the future Hall of Famer might just be better off sticking at center.
In his two games at power forward this season, Garnett averaged 10 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 33.3 percent from the floor. In comparison, Garnett averaged 15.4 points and seven rebounds per game in 25 appearances at center while shooting 53.5 percent from the floor.
Sure, the numbers may be skewed, but the same differences held true all of last season.
In 24 games at power forward, Garnett averaged 14.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 49.6 percent from the floor. In 36 games at center, he averaged 16.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while shooting 50.7 percent from the floor.
Basically, Garnett has proven to be more effective as the team’s center.
Now if the Celtics had a productive big man to throw into the starting lineup at center, then that would be an entirely different story.
But when it’s someone like Collins, who’s averaging 1.1 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, then you stick with what has worked.
Martin (right) will help solve the team's problem with interior toughness.
I have touched on this subject before, and it continues to boggle my mind as to why the Celtics haven’t made this pickup yet.
They had a chance back in the summer. They did not bite.
Rivers called his team “soft” after watching them get outrebounded practically every game. They still did not bite.
Chris Wilcox suffered an injury that was expected to keep him on the shelf for at least a month. They still did not bite, opting for unproven Jarvis Varnando from the D-League instead.
Martin played a key role for the Los Angeles Clippers during their playoff run last season. His inside presence and 2.2 blocks per 48 minutes helped the team rank No. 9 in opponent points in the paint, allowing only 39 such points per game.
That’s an area currently ranked No. 24. Boston could use some help.
The earlier roadblock proved to be Martin’s refusal to sign at the veteran’s minimum. However, with not a single team showing interest, he’ll have no choice but to accept it now.
Over the course of his 12-year career, Martin has averaged 13 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.
He would be a low-risk, cheap pickup for the Celtics and could greatly improve on, if not solve, many of the issues currently hurting the team.
Look for Boston to pull the trigger on the veteran soon.
Could Jefferson be making his return to Boston?
While signing Martin will go a long way towards improving some of the Celtics’ shortcomings this season, that move alone won’t get the job done.
As a result, Boston will bring another big man in via trade.
The names of Anderson Varejao, Josh Smith and DeMarcus Cousins are on the top of almost every Celtics fan’s wish list for the upcoming year. It’s not without a reason, as each player would greatly improve Boston’s interior play.
However, don’t hold your breath.
Each of them would come at far too high of a cost for the Celtics. Essentially the team would be sacrificing their future in return for slightly improved play for a couple of seasons.
Instead, the team should look in the direction of Al Jefferson and Marcin Gortat.
Jefferson started out in Boston, where he became a starter in his third season, averaging 16 points, 11 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. He was eventually traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Kevin Garnett. It was a move even Jefferson has stated he would make.
Since then, Jefferson has continued his strong play. In 29 games this season for the Utah Jazz, Jefferson is averaging 16.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.
He would not only improve the Celtics’ rebounding woes, but his blocking abilities would also help the team’s defense down low.
Giving up Jared Sullinger—a player whose ceiling is pretty much equal to the play of Jefferson—with a combination of Brandon Bass, Jeff Green and/or Courtney Lee could be enough to swing a deal.
Jefferson has shown excitement over a possible return to Boston, and the fans would surely share the same sentiment.
On the other hand, Gortat is unhappy at his current position.
In an interview with CBS Sports back in November, Gortat seemed to let out a little frustration:
Unfortunately… I’ve been doing the dirty work all my life, and now I have to come back to that. I will fight for what’s mine. I’ll try to prove to the coach that I can play an important role in the offense. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m even an option for [coach] Gentry. He doesn’t even take me into consideration. The situation is critical. We’re playing the same thing we’ve been playing last year, but the truth is we have a completely different set of players. I don’t think it really works. I can’t get frustrated now though, I have to stay positive.
The Celtics are among those who have shown interest, as they would be able to provide the 28-year-old with the playing time he desires.
Through 29 games this season, Gortat is averaging 11.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and two blocks per game.
With Gortat likely to leave via free agency at the completion of this season, expect Boston to use that to their advantage in negotiating a possible deal.
Sullinger, Green, Bass and/or Lee should be involved in any trade scenario.
If the Celtics can swing a deal for either of these players, the rest of the Eastern Conference better watch out.
It won't be long before Sullinger gets his time to shine for the C's.
Ever since the Celtics took him as the 21st pick in June’s draft, the expectations have been high for Jared Sullinger. Those expectations soared even higher following both a productive summer camp and preseason.
However, the 20-year-old has finally hit a roadblock in adapting to life in the NBA.
Through 27 games, Sullinger is averaging 5.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game in 17.7 minutes a night. He is shooting 47.9 percent from the floor and boasts an impressive (by big-man standards) free-throw percentage of 80 percent.
In only his third game of his career, Sullinger was thrown into the starting rotation. However, it quickly became apparent that the rookie was not ready for the limelight quite yet.
In three games as the starter, Sullinger averaged a woeful per-game averages of four points, five rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 24.7 minutes per game.
To Sullinger’s credit, Boston rarely ever runs any plays specifically for him.
That makes his performance on Christmas Day against the Brooklyn Nets—16 points on 6-of-7 shooting and seven rebounds—all the more impressive.
Rivers touched on Sullinger’s knowledge on the floor after the game:
Jared gets his points with IQ. I didn’t run one play for him tonight. He just knows where to go when they’re trapping all over the floor, which they were doing. Jared made a living of finding the open shots.
You can coach that as much as you want, but you’ve got to have a great feel. You’ve got to know where to go, when to go. Jared just has a great feel with his timing.
That kind of ability is sure to keep him in favor with Rivers and gain him more playing time.
And if he keeps up the strong play, a regular spot in the rotation should be right around the corner.
Bradley should pick up right back where he left off from last season.
It’s looking more and more likely that Avery Bradley will make his return to the Celtics’ lineup during their Jan. 2 home matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies.
And although Bradley has been absent from play since May, expect the 22-year-old to get off to a quick start.
With the way he played down the stretch last season, suggesting that Bradley will average a little more than 15 points per game does not seem too far-fetched.
In fact, during the team’s final 15 games last season, Bradley averaged 15.1 points per game while shooting 52 percent from the floor and 54.5 percent from three-point range. In 28 total starts, Bradley averaged 12.3 points per game while shooting 50.4 percent from the floor and 46.5 percent from downtown.
Courtney Lee has not done much to secure a starting spot, and Rivers seems to prefer Jason Terry coming off the bench. Therefore, it will not be too long before we see Bradley back in the starting lineup.
With his lethal accuracy from beyond the arc, paired with the 14.5 shots per game Boston gets from the shooting guard position, it should not prove too difficult for Bradley to put up 15-plus a night.
Rondo (left) and Garnett (right) will carry their strong play into Houston for the All-Star game.
In what comes as a surprise to no one, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett have been two of the biggest contributors for the Celtics this season.
Rondo is averaging career-high numbers of 13.7 points, 11.9 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. He’s also shooting at a career-best 51.1 percent from the floor. He leads all point guards in assists, rebounding and shooting percentage.
On the other hand, Garnett averages 15 points, 7.1 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game. Although his stat line may be modest, his impact on Boston’s defense is certainly not. He has single-handedly prevented a rather lackluster defense from completely breaking down.
Essentially Rondo makes all the plays that fill up the highlight reels while Garnett does all the little things that you won’t find recorded on the box scores. But don’t be fooled, both play an equally important part in the team’s success.
Rightfully so, the fans have taken notice.
In the latest release of the All-Star voting, both Rondo and Garnett are in line for a place in the Eastern Conference starting lineup—chosen via fan voting—for this season’s game.
Rondo comes in at No. 2 in backcourt voting with 574,272 votes, only trailing Dwyane Wade (645,875). The two players who tally the most votes will be rewarded with a position in the starting lineup.
With Deron Williams more than 260,000 votes behind Rondo in third place, a top-two finish is almost guaranteed for the Celtics’ playmaker.
Garnett ranks No. 3 in frontcourt voting with 328,716 votes, trailing LeBron James (970,314) and Carmelo Anthony (891,759). The top three players in votes fill the remaining spots in the starting lineup.
The race here is much tighter, with Chris Bosh less than 20,600 votes away from Garnett in fourth place. However, it’s a positive sign for the Boston big man, who only led Bosh by a little less than 8,000 votes in the initial All-Star balloting results that came out on Dec. 13.
With only 18 more days remaining before the poll closes, the Celtics look in good shape to have two members on the Eastern Conference starting lineup for the February showdown.
Pierce's strong play won't go unnoticed by the coaches.
While Rondo and Garnett garner all the attention, Paul Pierce is quietly putting together an impressive season of his own.
Through 27 games, Pierce is averaging 20.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. He’s also shooting 38.8 percent from three-point range—his highest mark in three years.
Pierce is No. 6 in frontcourt fan voting with 171,601 points. While it’s a solid showing, he is too far behind the top three to make a push for a guaranteed spot in the starting lineup.
Instead, the 14-year veteran will have to hope his play catches the admiration of the coaches, who will vote to decide the seven reserves for each squad.
In a league that favors a “what have you done for me lately” kind of approach, Pierce is on the right track.
In his past five games, Pierce is averaging 23.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. That includes 35- and 40-point performances, as well as a game-tying buzzer-beater.
After a slow start to the season, Pierce has finally picked up his game to a level he has not been at in years.
If the coaches fail to recognize that, it’ll surely be a travesty.
Lee's resurgence could help catapult Boston into 50-win territory.
At 14-13, the Celtics are on pace for a 43-39 record. To finish with 50 wins, the team would have to go 36-19 the rest of the way.
Making up seven wins is really not too much to ask for.
On the year, Boston has had 12 of their 27 games decided by six points or less. They have gone 6-6 in these affairs.
The Celtics currently average 97 points per game while allowing opponents the same amount per game. The likelihood that the team continues to play these close games for the remainder of the season is very high.
With the return of Avery Bradley imminent, you can expect Boston’s defense to receive a boost. This in turn will help the team come out on top a little more often in those tightly contested matchups.
Bradley alone will help increase the Celtics’ projected win total by three games.
Then there’s the impact of possibly bringing in Kenyon Martin and adding another big man via trade. Both moves would vastly improve the team’s interior defense around the rim.
Consider this: If Boston allowed opponents just three fewer points in the paint per game, the team would jump from No. 24 in the league up to No. 7. Bringing in these new additions would make this a very real possibility.
That would make up the remaining four games for the Celtics.
This does not even take into consideration the possibility that Courtney Lee and Jeff Green could awake from their slumbers and start producing for the team.
If you really think about it, a seven-game increase is not too crazy of an expectation for this Boston team.
Rondo and the C's have their eyes on another Atlantic division crown.
Just last week, the Celtics stood in fourth place in the Atlantic division.
While six games might seem like a large margin, a Celtics’ comeback is still a very good possibility. It can even be accomplished as soon as the end of next month.
For starters, nine of the Knicks' 13 January opponents have a winning record. In comparison, only seven of Boston’s 15 opponents in the month are above .500.
Then there’s the fact that the two teams face off twice in January. The Celtics will certainly like their chances, as they have won 20 of the last 24 meetings against New York dating back to the 2006-07 season.
Boston certainly has the Knicks’ number, and this year does not have to be any different.
Expect the Celtics to make a huge gash into that six-game lead come February.
The two familiar foes will again do battle for all the marbles.
After sluggish starts from both parties, the two teams are back on course for a postseason collision.
With Steve Nash back from injury, Los Angeles has won five of their past six games and looked the part of a title contender. Not to mention that Kobe Bryant has now scored 30 or more points in each of the past 10 games. He’s averaging 34.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and five assists per game during that span.
Sure, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers are looking good, but I’m sure even they would not want to face this Lakers team come the postseason.
On the other hand, Boston came away from their Christmas day drubbing of the Brooklyn Nets looking like they’re finally starting to put all the pieces together.
Their 93-76 victory showcased dominance all across the board.
The Celtics outrebounded the Nets 41-36, shot 60 percent from three-point range and even held a 42-16 points-in-the-paint advantage. Not to mention that Jared Sullinger finally put in the kind of performance we have all been waiting for—16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, seven rebounds and one block.
If Boston can keep this up, especially with Bradley returning and the promise of new additions, there’s no ceiling on how high this team can go.
It all boils down to being consistent. If you ask me, I believe this team is turning the corner and finally playing up to the potential we all expected them to play at before the season began.
Better get your popcorn ready.
Stats used in this article were accurate as of December 27, 2012
You can follow Sebastian on Twitter at @SP7988