The Boston Celtics’ veteran core and coach are gone, only to be replaced by a 36-year-old head coach (Brad Stevens) and an All-Star rehabbing from ACL surgery (Rajon Rondo) as the face of the franchise entering the 2013-14 regular season.
The team’s direction, at the end of a week at Orlando’s Summer League and as they prepare for the rest of the offseason, is still very much up in the air.
After a first-round exit at the hands of the New York Knicks, Boston moved veteran stalwarts Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, acquired Gerald Wallace (three years, $30 million), Kris Humphries (one year, $12 million) and a slew of draft picks as they face a year of uncertainty.
Both Wallace and Humphries have been rumored to be flipped in sequential trades. Humphries' flare-up with Rondo last season and expiring deal make him a likely candidate on the current Celtics roster to be flipped.
While Humphries (and forward Brandon Bass) are very much in play to be traded before opening night, it’s unlikely general manager Danny Ainge can find a suitor for Wallace’s inflated salary. His skill set has deteriorated over the years, and his contract simply doesn’t equate to his production on the hardwood.
In full rebuild mode, the Celtics will frame the roster around Rondo as their centerpiece. In terms of a starting lineup, they'll look to utilize some variation of Rondo (assuming he’s back by opening night, as reported), Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger and Bass.
Bass played some minutes at the center position last season, and it’s difficult to imagine rookie Kelly Olynyk coming and starting from opening night. Olynyk (18.0 points and 7.8 rebounds on 57.8 percent shooting) had a massive performance at this year’s summer league, but as Adam Morrison should have taught you already, don’t get too excited about a guy’s numbers against mostly D-League/first-year talent.
The second unit projects out to be MarShon Brooks, Courtney Lee, Keith Bogans, Wallace (or Shavlik Randolph if the forward is traded) and Kelly Olynyk (or Fab Melo, depending on how the roster plays out).
Brooks hasn’t had much of an opportunity since the draft-night trade that sent him to New Jersey Brooklyn for the rights to JaJuan Johnson. Brooks will face a hefty training camp battle against rookie Phil Pressey and wild card Jordan Crawford for the backup point guard position. Pressey was impressive in the summer league, controlling his turnovers and demonstrating his ability as a floor leader. Crawford played sparingly last season after being acquired for Jason Collins at the trade deadline.
Kris Joseph will head to camp competing for a spot on the roster, standing as a member most likely to get cut before the season, as he’s currently on a non-guaranteed deal.
Overall, the Celtics will face some early growing pains on both ends of the court, despite returning Rondo, an emerging Green and their defensive stopper, Avery Bradley.
Pierce has carried the Celtics offense, especially in crunch time, throughout his tenure in Boston. According to NBA.com, Pierce ranks near the top in terms of play in the last five minutes of a game when the Celtics were tied or trailed by at least five last season.
In 31 crunch-time contests throughout the 2012-13 season, Pierce shot 43.9 percent (just below LeBron James’ 44.4 percent) and connected on 48.1 percent from three-point land (better than the all-time three-point leader, Ray Allen’s 46.5 percent).
Green shot an outstanding 59.1 percent and 85.7 percent from three in 25 crunch-time appearances. That's a small sample size, but his ability to possibly be the go-to guy is uplifting for such a young team.
On the defensive end, Kevin Garnett was the vocal and emotional leader since joining the Celtics in 2007-08. His on/off-court numbers are astounding, leaving the biggest gap for players currently on the roster.
Opponents had an offensive rating of 99.3 when Garnett was on the floor in 2012—the lowest of any member on the team who played rotational minutes. When he was off the floor, opponents' numbers soared to 108.3. While Boston's offensive output increased, its defense fell apart with Garnett off the floor.
While it might seem like there's an heir to Pierce's throne in the final minutes of a game, that isn't the case for Garnett's position. Olynyk has been a breath of fresh air to the rebuilding squad, but his defensive inefficiencies are an even greater cause for concern regarding his ability to step in for Garnett. Bass is a solid defender, but he's not close to KG's level in terms of vocal leadership or slipping into the right spots.
With question marks spread throughout the roster, a 36-46 record for the 2013-14 regular season puts the Celtics right at the cusp of the playoffs, but not quite there. They’ll be right where they want to be—lottery-bound—in preparation for the stacked draft that could change their franchise’s fortune.