Biggest Questions Facing Boston Celtics After Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett Era

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 2, 2013

Biggest Questions Facing Boston Celtics After Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett Era

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    The Boston Celtics lost something far greater than just a pair of Hall of Fame hardwood talents, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and a masterful sideline tactician, Doc Rivers, this summer.

    This franchise, as proud and historically wealthy as any that's ever graced the realm of professional sports, lost its identity.

    The addition plans for the banner-rich rafters of the TD Bank Garden have been scrapped. Even Boston's six-year playoff run has crept dangerously close to the chopping block.

    With only a baby-faced coach, Brad Stevens, and a hobbled frontman, Rajon Rondo, to lead them, the Celtics will enter next season with a laundry list of question marks and a smattering of salvageable parts.

    Which ones should be spared from the scrap yard, and which should have started filling out their unemployment paperwork already?

    Read on to find out these answers and those to all of the biggest questions facing this franchise in the post-Pierce, Garnett and Rivers era.

     

    *Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

Who Takes over the Scoring Duties?

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    Boston's fighting an uphill battle to maintain mediocrity on the offensive end with three of its top five scorers from last season (Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry) all plucked from the rotation.

    That offseason overhaul leaves only two double-digit point producers on the roster in Rajon Rondo (13.7 points per game) and Jeff Green (12.8).

    Since Rondo has historically done more damage as a setup man than as a finisher, Boston's most "proven" scorer for next season is the still-unproven Green.

    On paper, that's a tough pill to swallow for Celtics fans. Green has averaged more than 15 points just twice in his five-year career, and he hasn't hit that mark since the 2009-10 season.

    Games aren't played on paper, though, which should leave a semblance of hope for a breakout season from the former Georgetown star.

    At 6'9" and 235 pounds, he fits the physical profile of today's coveted stretch forwards. Far from being simply hoops eye candy, he has the versatile skill set to shine in this leading role.

    Last season's .467/.385/.808 shooting slash highlights the fact that he's a scoring threat from anywhere on the court. Depending on what his team needs, he's content being a floor spacer (95 percent of his threes came off of assists last season) or creating his own looks (48.6 percent of his two-point field goals were assisted on).

    Boston has some offensive spark plugs in the rotation (Jordan Crawford, MarShon Brooks and Courtney Lee), but none who can match Green's consistent damage.

Are the Celtics Done Dealing?

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    No, team president Danny Ainge is far from finished with his roster renovation.

    That being said, the next domino might not drop as soon as some people would thinkunless, of course, Ainge finds a taker for the $30 million owed to Gerald Wallace over the next three seasons.

    With so many fresh faces added to the equation, Ainge and Co. need time to figure out exactly which pieces they have added to the puzzle and how they'll all fit.

    Look no further than newcomer Kris Humphries for evidence of this patient approach. The career reserve, and his expiring $12 million contract, looked destined for a prominent role in Ainge's next shake-up.

    But ESPNNewYork.com's Jared Zwerling reported that the team envisions a "key role" for Humphries.

    Granted, that "key role" could be fueling the team's next blockbuster trade, but Ainge shouldn't be in a rush to do so.

    Humphries' trade value will only rise as the season progresses. Teams will have a better feel for their fates by the time the trade deadline rolls around.

    For the pretenders, Humphries can be a financial jackpot and a potential leg up on their competition in the star-studded 2014 free-agent market. For the contenders, he could be a low-cost rental adding rebounding and hustle to a second unit.

    Crawford and Brooks could be similar short-term hired guns for teams shopping for cheap scoring, as neither carries a financial commitment beyond the 2013-14 season.

Who Will Be the Starting Center?

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    Between Rondo, Green, Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass, four of the five starting spots should be solidified heading into training camp.

    As for the fifth starter, the one tasked with anchoring the defense and converting efficient scoring chances, that remains a question mark without an ideal solution.

    Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com said that the Celtics, as currently constructed, have just two "pure centers" on the roster: Fab Melo and Vitor Faverani. Considering Melo has played in only six NBA games to date—six more than rookie-to-be Faverani—Stevens will be forced to look outside the box for his starting center.

    Summer league standout Kelly Olynyk may have the greatest upside of all the Celtics post players, but his projections are stronger at the stretch forward spot.

    He showed signs of a polished post game during his junior season at Gonzaga, but at just 234 pounds (h/t DraftExpress.com), he'll have a hard time establishing position on the block at this level. While he can punish bigger defenders away from the basket (33.3 three-point percentage in college), his lack of explosiveness presents problems for Boston's interior defense and presence on the glass.

    Jared Sullinger has a wide body (280 lbs) and a nose for the basketball (17.5 rebounding percentage last season), but he's not a great athlete either and stands just 6'9". Kris Humphries can get off the floor, but he's no taller than Sullinger and no heavier than Olynyk.

    If forced to choose, Olynyk looks like he has the early lead if for no other reason than the Celtics have the most to gain from handing him major minutes. His ceiling looks to be already higher than his frontcourt mates, and a starting gig could go a long way toward spurring his development.

What Will Boston's Newcomers Add?

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    Assuming Boston breaks camp with this current roster still intact, seven players will be making their Celtics debut next season.

    There are rookies (Olynyk, Faverani and Phil Pressey), veterans (Humphries and Keith Bogans), an in-betweener (Brooks) and even a former All-Star (Wallace) in the group.

    Olynyk's caused the biggest stir, and with that, he's likely inherited the largest stake in the team's current and future plans. Defense may never be one of his strong suits, but if he can find some consistency on the offensive end, he'll alleviate a lot of the stress on Green and Rondo.

    Wallace and Brooks, though, might create the most immediate intrigue. 

    Boston is Wallace's sixth different NBA home since the start of the 2010-11 season, and his reputation has been battered along the way.

    Prior to his ill-fated stay with the Brooklyn Nets, though, he'd been a fairly reliable two-way contributor. A former All-Defensive first-team performer (2009-10), he still has the physical tools to get back near that level. Assuming he's not miscast as a shooter like he was in Brooklyn, his offensive production could fall more closely in line with his career marks (12.9 points per game, 46.8 field-goal percentage).

    Brooks was starved for playing time last season (12.5 minutes per game) but still managed to add more than three percentage points to his shooting rate from the field (46.3, up from 42.8) and maintained his per-36-minutes production (15.6 points and 3.0 assists).

    If expectations are rightfully tempered for this team, the Celtics can take a long look at Brooks to accurately assess if he can help them down the line.

Will Rajon Rondo Listen to Brad Stevens?

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    This elephant stormed in the room before the ink had finished drying on Stevens' six-year, $22 million contract. 

    If Stevens is as good of a coach as Ainge thinks he can be and Rondo fully buys into his system, the Celtics could still keep that postseason streak alive. 

    Rondo's a rarity in this league and not just because of his massive mitts and hypnotic control of the basketball. 

    He's already established himself (four All-Star Game selections, two assists titles) but may not have shown his strongest hand yet.

    For everything that film study and advanced statistics have taught us about his game, no one knows exactly how he'll play now that he's completely out of the shadows of Pierce, Garnett and Rivers. 

    If his new supporting cast stumbles out of the gate, Rondo won't force-feed them just for the sake of passing. With his ability to get into the paint at will and a mid-range stroke that defies his reputation as a non-shooter (50.8 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line last season), it's hard to put a cap on his potential production as a primary scorer.

    Whether that freedom is a good thing, however, will depend on Stevens' ability to reach his new floor general. 

    The fact that Rondo viewed the hire with a "completely open mind," via Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe, is a promising start.

    But his reactions to the times when the two don't see eye to eye could be the key to the future of this franchise and, perhaps, Rondo's future with it.