Is Rajon Rondo a winner or loser from this offseason's events?
Any time a team undergoes major upheaval, like the Boston Celtics have this offseason, there will inevitably be significant consequences for those remaining. With drastically different expectations and a reconfigured roster, nearly every Celtic will have a different role than they did last season.
Change is always a bit scary, but for some, the new era of Boston basketball represents a chance to carve out a niche in the NBA or take the next step toward stardom. For others, the 2013-14 season will essentially be a wasted year, a time to collect paychecks and wonder who their next team will be.
With the end of the Pierce-KG era, the Celtics are now more about the process than the results. No one expects the C's to seriously contend anymore, which makes for some unique circumstances among the players.
Though some Celtics fans may still be in recovery mode, the dead period in the NBA calendar provides an opportunity to look forward. For next season, here are the seven biggest winners and losers after this offseason's events.
*All stats courtesy of NBA.com.
OK, so this is technically two winners, but Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger are essentially in the same boat. The two represent the Celtics' best young bargains, and thus will stand to benefit more than anyone else from Boston's rebuilding effort.
Both have shown value through a trademark skill (Bradley's on-ball defense, Sullinger's post offense), but both need to round out their games to truly fulfill their potential.
For Bradley, it starts at the offensive end. In the past, Bradley has found temporary success playing with Rajon Rondo as a smart off-ball cutter. However, his offense largely faltered after Rondo's ACL injury last season, as he shot just 39.9 percent. Moreover, tasked with too many ball-handling duties, his assist-to-turnover ratio dropped to a meager 1.51.
Developing a three-point shot is first and foremost, as Bradley needs to make defenses seriously respect his range. Bradley clearly prefers the corner threes, a hot spot that defenders usually guard with caution. But if defenses learn to sag off him, that will nullify Bradley's offense, no matter how creative he is off the ball.
Meanwhile, Sullinger's issues lie at the other end, namely his post defense. Sullinger is an incredibly hard worker, evidenced by his Garnett-like 22.5 percent defensive rebounding rate, but his size and limited athleticism can be a problem. With the NBA trending toward more athletic wingmen to play the 4, the Celtics may one day need a defensive anchor to compensate for Sullinger.
Nevertheless, these weaknesses need not become permanent liabilities. Both will likely play around 30 to 35 minutes a game, with a much larger role on both ends. If they can hold up and show meaningful improvement, that alone would be a huge win for the Celtics this season.
The "Sad Three" may become the defining image of Boston's season if the Celtics fall particularly far. Danny Ainge probably would have taken the bundle of first-round picks for his aging stars alone, but NBA rules dictate that someone had to take the fall for Brooklyn.
So veterans Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Keith Bogans are here to play out the string. Unlike the young Celtics, they have virtually nothing to gain besides paychecks. Ainge has already shopped Humphries and Wallace around, according to CSN New England's Sherrod Blakely, though neither can be officially dealt until September 12.
Quite honestly, it is hard to fathom how anyone would possibly take on Wallace's burdensome contract, which still has three years and $30 million remaining. Wallace shot a ghastly 28.2 percent on three-pointers last season, fourth-worst among players who averaged a minimum of 20 minutes played and two threes attempted.
Humphries and Bogans have a bit more value since they are expiring contracts (Bogans technically has two more non-guaranteed years after 2013-14). But both are extremely limited in what they do—Humphries can be a rebounding specialist, and Bogans is a passable 3-and-D veteran presence. Neither would be the centerpiece to a potential trade, however.
MarShon Brooks might be the one player from the deal whom the Celtics invest in, given his youth and scoring prowess. But if he continues his erratic ways and shows the same enthusiasm he did at the press conference, he won't be long for Boston.
The Celtics have been hell-bent on the results the past few seasons, desperately attempting to squeeze every last drop from their aging core. Now, Boston must eventually re-establish that kind of culture, something it can only accomplish through painstaking adherence to the rebuilding process.
New coach Brad Stevens epitomizes the development the Celtics organization and players will have to gut out. It seems inevitable that games will happen in which Stevens is badly out-coached, perhaps when the C's meet old friend Doc Rivers. But as Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports illustrates, Stevens' intelligence and assiduous attention to detail is what helps him and his teams grow:
Probably 30 possessions? That's how many times Bucknell had played a triangle-and-two defense this season? Bucknell had played 33 games before the NCAA tournament opener. The median number of possessions for each team in a game is 66, so do the math. Bucknell had played maybe 2,000 defensive possessions all season, and Stevens had a rough idea how many times -- how few times -- the Bison had played a specific defense. Maybe 30 times in a season of 2,000 possessions.
Oh, and he knew how the Bucknell sideline called for that specific defense.
"Double fist," Stevens said.
Stevens may arguably have the highest expectations of any Celtic, and considering Boston's past experience with Rick Pitino, C's fans may get a little uneasy at times. But coaches need development as well, especially those adjusting to the NBA game. Stevens' six-year contract shows the organization's faith in him, and Celtics fans would do well to stay patient with him as well.
Like any professional league, the NBA is a business, period. But if Jerry Seinfeld is right, and we really do just root for laundry, there are rare occasions where sports transcends such black-and-white loyalty.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were examples of that rarity. Garnett is one of the fiercest leaders in NBA history, and it will be a long time before anyone roams the parquet with the same kind of endearing yet menacing swagger. It's hard to imagine any athlete coming into a new city and changing the culture so swiftly and drastically.
And Pierce. It was nothing short of painful watching him struggle through the Nets press conference, his mind and heart still clearly in Boston. Perhaps more than any other Boston athlete, Pierce deserved to finish his career in the city where he started. His career arc is unlike those of most legends, like Tom Brady and Larry Bird, who sustain a consistent level of dominance. Seeing Pierce come out on top at the end of his roller-coaster tenure is the type of feeling Celtics fans are lucky to experience once in a generation.
But, as you may notice, there is no real on-court basketball analysis in this slide, and that is Danny Ainge's job. Ultimately, the Celtics now have a huge bundle of draft picks, the ultimate currency for any rebuilding franchise, and the long-term picture is undoubtedly brighter.
Still, it will take quite some time for the sting of seeing this to subside.
But with Pierce and Garnett finally gone, someone must fill the void. Pierce and Garnett had plus-123 and plus-112 on-court ratings, respectively, and the rest of the Celtics were between plus-60 and minus-178.
Of the Celtics' current personnel, there is no better go-to scoring candidate than Jeff Green. This is not simply a default selection, either, as Green has shown how explosive he can be when everything comes together.
Of course, therein lies Green's main problem, namely his consistency. Even looking only at point production, which should be his most consistent stat, Green's production fluctuated wildly last season. Indeed, whenever Green would turn the ball over or get blocked early on, he often timidly disappeared the rest of the night.
That simply cannot happen anymore. Part of what makes scorers great is their perseverance and ability to adjust within games. Green's timorous style really shines through in his free-throw rate, as he attempted just 3.3 free throws per game.
That didn't rank too poorly among forwards who averaged at least 25 minutes per game, but most of the players with worse rates than Green are either pure spot-up shooters or offensively challenged. Green's game is not centered around that at all, as the majority of his shots came on drives to the rim.
When Green is aggressive, the Celtics offense can become dynamic, especially with a healthy Rondo. That did not happen nearly enough last season, as the Celtics' offensive rating was actually higher with Green off the floor.
With a longer leash and greater dependence this season, Green should get every chance to develop into the Celtics' next great scorer.
Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee are two useful players are in no-man's land. The Celtics would love to keep their skills, but each is signed for solid money over multiple years. For a team in desperate need of cap flexibility, their contracts essentially spell doom.
Still, unlike the ex-Nets, the Celtics could probably trade Bass or Lee at midseason. Both are young enough and have games that would allow them to naturally flourish as role players on a contender.
Bass' mid-range shooting prowess is well-documented, though it doesn't help that his favorite shot is slowly being phased out. But for teams like the Grizzlies or Nuggets, where a little extra shooting could vault them up a level, Bass is exactly the type of player they need.
Lee, on the other hand, is a little more of a mystery. On his fourth team in five years, Lee had the fewest points and shot attempts of his career, signifying how he landed in Doc Rivers' doghouse last year. By the postseason, Lee was entirely out of the rotation, averaging just 9.8 minutes in four games against the Knicks.
Still, Lee has a 3-and-D skill set that is ubiquitous throughout the NBA, and the league's increased emphasis on space almost ensures that he will find a home. Lee has been a 40 percent three-point shooter in three of his five seasons, and shoots well from the coveted corners, so it's not as if last season is indicative of his true offensive ability.
All remains quiet on the trade front for now, and it may be more prudent to trade either of these two at midseason, when contenders become more desperate and both players build up a more recent sample size of performance.
Will this offseason make or break Rajon Rondo?
Fittingly, the NBA's most inscrutable player faces one of the league's most enigmatic situations. At the moment, it is almost impossible to determine how this will eventually affect Rajon Rondo's career.
Short term, losing Pierce and Garnett will undoubtedly hurt. As Pierce revealed, he apparently told Rondo that the 2013-14 season would be "the toughest year of his career." And considering Pierce's nickname, Rondo certainly knows the harsh truth that awaits him.
On top of everything, Rondo still has his ACL recovery to deal with. Though it appears he is on track to start the season, he is almost destined to experience a drop-off this year. Virtually every athlete not named Adrian Peterson has slumped a bit coming back from a torn ACL, and C's fans should not expect the same Rondo that left.
Nevertheless, the Celtics are unquestionably Rondo's team now. Yes, we have heard that refrain before, but it feels considerably different without the veteran safeguards in place.
The opportunity to lead a storied franchise like the Celtics is not one to be taken lightly. It seems like he has been around forever, but Rondo is still only 27 years of age. That leaves plenty of time for Danny Ainge to assemble a winner around his star point guard while he is still in his prime.
Boston reveres its sports heroes, especially those who pull a team out of mediocrity and elevate it back to a champion. With the right pieces around him, Rondo has a chance to become the next legendary Celtic. For that, Rondo may ultimately be a long-term winner.