On the outside, the Boston Celtics look like a franchise facing little immediate pressure for the 2013-14 season.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are gone, Brad Stevens has a long leash in his first year with the team and there appears to be no rush from the front office to contend right away following the blockbuster trade.
However, it does not take more than a few seconds of looking at the roster to realize that for several Celtics, this season is absolutely critical.
Whether they are playing for a lucrative new contract, a place with the team going forward, or facing unfamiliar responsibilities, there are a number of Boston players who are going to be feeling the heat this year, even if the franchise as a whole is not.
Though Boston may be content to just play out the year and hope for a solid place in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes, let’s look at the four C’s with the most riding on the 2013-14 campaign and exactly what kind of pressure they're facing.
A restricted free agent in the 2014 offseason, Bradley and the Celtics are reportedly nowhere near a contract extension and may wait until next summer to continue talks, according to Ben Watanabe of NESN.
That makes 2013-14 a true make-or-break season for Bradley, who has emerged as one of the game’s best young defenders but has not shown the same growth on the offensive end.
Last season Bradley made the All-Defensive Second Team, but posted a PER of just 8.89 while averaging 9.2 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 40.2 percent shooting from the floor.
Bradley is a decent mid-range jump-shooter—particularly from the corners—but has trouble extending his range beyond the arc. He shot just 31.7 percent from deep in 2012-13.
He also had issues when handling the ball, something that he must do now since Boston lacks a proven playmaker outside of Rondo.
Bradley was dreadful at the point in the playoffs and shot just 33.9 percent as a pick-and-roll handler during the regular season. This is a number that must improve dramatically since he will be working with the ball in his hands this year more than ever.
He will likely be the starter at 2-guard once Rondo is healthy, but until then he could possibly be manning the point and initiating the team’s offense, meaning he must continue to improve his handle and his left hand.
Still, Bradley’s defense is transcendent at times, and that will continue to be his calling card going forward.
He held opponents to 30.3 percent shooting on isolation plays and 33.3 percent in the pick-and-roll, but is most dominant when applying full-court pressure to point guards.
With Rondo coming off of an injury and little depth in the backcourt, the 2013-14 campaign is going to be the most pressure-filled of Bradley’s young career by far.
Coming off of a lackluster 2012-13 season and with two young players in Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger vying for minutes at the 4, Bass needs to have a strong year if he wants to stay in Boston long-term.
One season removed from a breakout 2011-12, Bass regressed noticeably, averaging just 8.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1,0 assist on 48.6 percent shooting while losing minutes to Sullinger before his injury.
Bass’ defense picked up in the postseason, particularly against Carmelo Anthony, but he struggled to get much going offensively and wound up scoring just 6.7 points per game and grabbing 6.7 boards.
Bass has value as a mid-range jump-shooter who can create driving lanes for Rondo and Bradley, but at times he seemed content to drift around and be uninvolved in the offense.
He has a nifty one-dribble move that he can break out on occasion, and with Garnett and Pierce gone, Bass will need to be a consistent double-digit scorer at the very least.
Additionally, he will need to make a more consistent impact on the glass. The fact that he plays away from the basket excuses his lack of offensive rebounding somewhat, but he needs to use his strong frame to get after the defensive boards better than he did in 2012-13.
Bass is an underrated defender, holding opponents to just 36.7 percent shooting, but he is not exactly a dominant rim protector or defensive anchor.
Bass is in the second year of a three-year, $19.4 million contract, and the 28-year-old big man is a prime trade candidate if Boston can find a team in need of a frontcourt player with offensive range.
Sullinger and Olynyk figure to be the future of the frontcourt over the next five or 10 years, but Bass will need to put together a strong campaign to prove that he deserves the starting job and to be a piece of the C’s rebuild going forward.
A complementary piece for the first five years of his NBA career, Green finally has the opportunity to become a No. 1 option in 2013-14 with the Celtics.
Green broke out in a major way last season, averaging 20.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists on 52.3 percent shooting as a starter, numbers any Boston fan would be happy to see him put up over 82 games.
He looked more confident attacking the basket and was a more active presence defensively, blocking shots and holding opponents to 34.7 percent shooting on isolation plays for the year.
His 51.9 percent shooting from three should dip back into the 30s, but Green is still a versatile inside-outside threat who made 48.1 percent of his spot-up shot attempts last season.
Without Pierce in town, Green is going to have to take more shots and also create more offense for his teammates than he has in the past. Green has the ability to play some stretches of point forward and will have to do so with regularity this season.
As a combo forward Green creates matchup problems thanks to his size and quickness, but he has never been the focal point of an opposing defense, something it will take time for him to adjust to.
Green has always had talented scorers to play off of, but he is now clearly Boston’s most gifted scorer, barring an unexpected leap from Rondo.
Additionally, Green will have to do a better job of shaking off slow starts. In the past, it seemed that Green would miss a few shots or commit a turnover early in the game and simply go into a funk that was impossible to break out of.
That was OK when he had Pierce and Garnett or Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to do the heavy lifting, but if Boston wants to remain competitive in 2013-14, it needs Green to be able to gut out the kind of 6-for-18 performances Pierce does on a regular basis.
There are naturally going to be some growing pains for the 27-year-old, but if Green can largely succeed as the team’s primary scorer, then the 2013-14 campaign should be one that exceeds expectations for the Celtics organization.
This is going to be the season where Boston's front office learns if Green is a cornerstone going forward or just another complimentary piece.
In case it was still in doubt, the Rondo era in Boston has officially begun.
Rondo had already become the franchise’s main star prior to the Pierce-Garnett trade, but now that the two are gone this franchise will only go as far as its All-Star point guard takes it.
Rondo had a good 2012-13 season before going down with an ACL injury, averaging 13.7 points, 5.6 boards and 11.1 assists on 48.4 percent shooting, but the numbers only tell part of the story.
Though he still showed tremendous court vision and boasted an improved jumper, Rondo’s play was extremely erratic in non-nationally televised games and it was hard for the Celtics to count on him to give his all each night.
Additionally, he could be seen forcing passes in situations where it would have made more sense for him to hold on to the ball and score himself.
With fewer talented finishers around him, Rondo’s assist total should dip slightly, and this team is going to need him to look to score more aggressively than ever before.
Rondo shot a very respectable 49.7 percent as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, and without Garnett to pop out for jumpers he is going to need to continue to attack the rim and use his creativity to finish over the top of defenses.
He will also need to continue to improve as an outside shooter, since defenses are still playing way off of him in an effort to goad him into taking a low percentage mid-range jumper.
Without a proven secondary playmaker, the ball is going to be in Rondo’s hands for almost every minute of the game, and he is going to have to be a little more careful as a decision-maker. He averaged a career-high 3.9 turnovers per game in 2012-13.
Coming off of such a serious injury also presents its own set of problems. Danny Ainge has said he does not expect Rondo back in time for the start of the season, per ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg, and it will take time for him to fully find his groove again.
Which Celtic is facing the most pressure in 2013-14?
Though Rondo is not much of an above-the-rim player, he does rely on his tremendous athleticism and ability to change directions off the dribble, two aspects of his game that will likely be impacted by his knee surgery.
While Rondo has ranked among the league’s elite defensive point guards for several years, he is going to have to become more of a vocal leader on that end of the court with KG gone.
The same goes for the locker room, where the notoriously mercurial 27-year-old guard must assume a more vocal role, particularly during the inevitable rough stretches this team experiences.
With recovery concerns, unprecedented responsibility on both ends and a revamped roster all to deal with in 2013-14, there is simply no Celtic facing as much pressure as Rondo.
Advanced statistics courtesy of Synergy Sports.