4 Roads Back to Contention for the Boston Celtics
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The Boston Celtics find themselves in a difficult position as they are clinging to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference as the All-Star break approaches.
With a record of 21-23, the Celtics have underperformed all season and need a boost to get back into contention.
News broke that the Celtics lost its best player, point guard Rajon Rondo to a season-ending ACL tear.
Crippled by injury and age, the Celtics need to work back into contention and solve its issues quickly.
Here are four roads back to contention for the Boston Celtics.
1. Courtney Lee
Guard Courtney Lee will have to fill the role of Rajon Rondo during Rondo's absence
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While losing a team's best player is a devastating blow, the Celtics have the depth to bounce back from the loss of Rondo.
The man for the job is Courtney Lee.
Lee was brought into Boston to provide bench depth behind Rondo and shooting guard Avery Bradley.
After losing Rondo for the year, Lee will be a key player who needs to step up in Rondo's absence.
Lee has never been in the point guard role and will likely split time with other guards, including Bradley, Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa. But, Lee possesses the ability to provide the most Rondo-like play.
Rondo is considered a very good defender who makes steals and plays tight on opposing point guards.
Lee is also a strong defender who has the confidence to make plays defensively.
But now, Lee has to open up his offensive game.
While Rondo has improved his jump shot, Lee has a far more fluid shot.
Last season, according to 82games.com, Lee shot 48.4 percent on jump shots, whereas Rondo shot 35.5 percent. Lee also scored 11.4 points per game last year for the Houston Rockets and has the potential to provide more offense for the Celtics.
Rondo cannot be replaced due to his exceptional vision with his passing, ability to attack the rim and defensive presence, but Courtney Lee has some of the skills needed to step up.
The Celtics will need Lee to turn out the best play of his young career if they wish to work back into contention.
2. Ride out the Veterans
Paul Pierce is still around and has the experience to help this Celtics team in a time of need
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Yes, the Celtics are old.
Yes, they are slow.
Yes, they are plagued by injuries.
But, they still have two future Hall of Famers and elite players in forwards Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Any team with Garnett and Pierce can contend. The Celtics have done it each year even when everyone counts them out.
Last year, the Celtics competed with the eventual champions, the Miami Heat, in the Eastern Conference Finals with a 3-2 series lead.
In that series, Pierce averaged 18 points per game and just under 1.5 steals per game.
When big games are on the line, the Celtics work its veterans into the half-court offense and it all starts with Pierce.
Pierce can also help in Rondo's absence.
Rondo has put up 15 triple-doubles over the past two seasons, but in the Celtics' first game without Rondo due to the ACL tear against the Heat, Pierce put up his own triple-double.
Pierce had 17 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in Sunday's win over the Heat.
The Celtics also have starting All-Star forward Kevin Garnett.
Garnett is having yet another consistent season as he is averaging 15.0 points per game and 7.3 rebounds with a field-goal percentage of 50.2 percent.
Garnett can knock down difficult shots and has the fiery intensity and leadership needed to round up the troops.
By riding Pierce and Garnett's leadership, experience and play, the Celtics can get back into contention.
Doc Rivers is one of the NBA's better coaches and he will preach defense down the back half of the season
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When the Celtics won its last NBA title, the team won with strong defense that has now become characteristic of Doc Rivers' team.
The Celtics still rank in the upper half of most defensive categories, including opponent's field-goal percentage and opponents points per game.
While the Celtics have not been stellar defensively at times, they still have the potential to organize a great defense.
This team is very different from last season with the addition of new players and the return of Jeff Green, but with Doc Rivers at the helm, they will perform defensively.
If the Celtics can build up team chemistry and communication, they can improve greatly on defense.
The Celtics have struggled with help-side defense and need to contest more shots, but they have the personnel to do it.
Rivers has to utilize the bench, veteran experience and youth of his team to have an impact on defense.
Avery Bradley is a solid on-ball defender, the best on the team. Pierce is still strong, even at the age of 35, and he loves a defensive showdown with the NBA's most talented forwards, including rival LeBron James. Garnett is an inside defensive presence. Barbosa, Lee and even forward Brandon Bass have improved defensively.
Time may be running out on this Celtics team, but if Doc can tighten up the Celtics defense quickly, it will go a long way toward the Celtics' road back to contention.
4. Trade and Hope for the Best
Could Danny Ainge pull off a blockbuster trade that sends Lakers center Dwight Howard to the Celtics?
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Maybe the Celtics are too old.
Maybe the Celtics should give up on the season.
But, then again, there is always the trade button if all else fails.
The Celtics have the ability to trade and that rests with the team's President of Basketball Operations, Danny Ainge.
Ainge loves to swirl the trade rumors around and is not afraid of pulling off a blockbuster deal.
Rondo's name has come up for trade numerous times in the past, but with his ACL injury, he is off the market.
These teams may not want to part ways with Howard or Smith unless the Celtics offer up Pierce, Garnett and some of the team's youth talent, like forward Jared Sullinger.
But, a Rondo-to-Howard connection for next season is quite intriguing, and Howard could also spark the Celtics back into the playoffs for this season.
ESPN Insider also brought up the ideas of a trade with the Timberwolves which involves switching most of the rosters.
Tom Haberstroh, of ESPN Insider, says: "Celtics receive: Kevin Love, Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Luke Ridnour, and Greg Stiemsma. Timberwolves receive: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Jared Sullinger."
It is a crazy proposition for the T-Wolves to part ways with their star forward Love, but Love has also battled injuries all season long.
Ainge is not afraid to pull the trigger, so there is a chance the Celtics could blow up this team and wind up trading Pierce and Garnett in a blockbuster trade that propels the Celtics back into contention.