Perhaps no team in the league is harder to get a clear pulse on heading into the season than the Boston Celtics. The team traded away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets, but retained just enough veteran talent that its season could go about a million different ways.
The C’s are clearly not the championship contenders they were in the Big Three era, but they are also not simply an Eastern Conference doormat for opponents to pad their win totals against. Until we see what kind of product the Celts put on the floor it is nearly impossible to make an accurate assessment of how this team will finish the year.
Still, even with all of the uncertainty surrounding the NBA’s most storied franchise, there are a number of popular ideas about the team that are not necessarily true.
From the future of the franchise both short term and long term to the uses of certain personnel going forward, there are several ideas that the Boston faithful have that may not prove to be quite right when all is said and done.
Without further ado, let’s take some time to dispel four of the biggest misconceptions surrounding the Celtics as we head into 2013-14.
The Roster is in Rebuild Mode
After dealing Pierce and Garnett it is easy to assume that Boston has just entered a full-scale rebuilding mode, but the reality is that this team, as currently constructed, is not in the bottoming-out phase of reconstruction.
Because the Celtics are still carrying a number of pieces from their days as contenders and acquired mostly veterans in the blockbuster deal with Brooklyn, 2013-14 is more of a transitional year as the team evaluates who should stay for the long haul.
In an effort to contend around Pierce and KG the Celtics signed Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass and Jeff Green during the 2012 offseason, three mid-priced veterans who are in the midst of multi-year deals with Boston.
Bass and Lee did not exactly turn heads during the 2012-13 campaign, but they are proven veterans who will be at the very least rotation players under Stevens this season.
Both are 28 years old with pretty defined ceilings, and their presence will likely take away valuable minutes from MarShon Brooks, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk that the three would get on a team that was truly in a rebuilding mode.
Additionally, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries are two costly pieces who are doing nothing to help usher in a new era of Boston basketball.
While Humphries figures to be gone by the 2014 offseason at the latest thanks to his expiring $12 million deal, moving Wallace and his egregious three-years $30 million contract would truly be a breathtaking feat from Danny Ainge and company.
The Celtics are shelling out $71.2 million in guaranteed money for 2013-14, and have seven players slated to earn $5 million or more next season.
For all the hopes many Boston fans had that this team would go out and sign a Paul Millsap or a Josh Smith in the offseason, the reality is that Boston lacks the financial flexibility right now to make any kind of major move and is currently paying its players as much as some upper echelon championship contenders.
The C’s undoubtedly have some nice young talent on the roster, but until they shed their pricey veterans they will not quite have entered an outright rebuild.
Jeff Green Will Be the Undisputed First Option Offensively
Coming off of a postseason in which he averaged 20.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 45.5 percent from three, many fans expect Green to step in and automatically assume the first option role with Pierce gone.
While Green’s facilitating and isolation scoring duties should increase by default, it is not realistic nor in the team’s best interests for him to suddenly morph into a player who takes 18-plus shots per game or scores 20 points a night.
In many situations, Green did his best work off the ball. He can slash well and is a reliable spot-up threat, converting 48.1 percent of his attempts last season. As a small-ball 4 Green can stretch out a defense and create more driving lanes for Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley.
It was a small sample size, but Green did not play particularly well in the pick-and-roll last season, shooting 28.3 percent as the handler and 37 percent as the roll man, a sign that ratcheting up his playmaking responsibility may not be a great idea.
His three-point shooting will also likely cool off somewhat, as there is no way Green can shoot the 51.9 percent from deep that he did as a starter in the regular season. Green is a career 34.5 percent outside shooter, and fans should expect him to regress back to somewhere in the mid-to-high 30s.
Beyond the numbers, relying on Green consistently is always a risky proposition. He has no experience as a team’s offensive focal point, having spent his career alongside Pierce, KG, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
While he has games where he is absolutely transcendent he also has problems shaking off slow starts and can be sent into a seemingly irreparable funk by a few bad plays in a row.
The Celts need to make long-term decisions about Bradley and Bass, meaning that both of them could see increased offensive responsibilities, and once Rondo returns he will resume his duty as the team’s primary facilitator and handler.
Additionally, Olynyk will need touches both on the block and on the perimeter and Sully will continue to make an impact playing down low and banging in the paint.
From a coaching standpoint, Stevens’ Butler offense was always more methodical and predicated upon ball movement and utilizing the shot clock.
While that should change somewhat as he adjusts to the pros, Stevens is still not the kind of coach to just throw the ball to Green and let him work in isolation, where he shot just 40.4 percent last season.
The 27-year-old Green will still be facing the most pressure of his career this season from a leadership standpoint, but the C’s have too many things to figure out on offense.
The C’s Cannot Make the Playoffs in 2013-14
The once putrid bottom of the Eastern Conference has certainly improved in the 2013 offseason, but that does not mean the C’s should be eliminated from playoff contention before 2013-14 tips off.
ESPN predicts them to go 29-53, finishing at No. 12 in the Eastern Conference. Hoopsworld’s Joel Brigham concurs on the 29-53 record. CSN Chicago believes Boston will finish fourth in the Atlantic Division and miss the playoffs.
Clearly there is not much optimism around the sports world when it comes to Boston, but that does not mean Celtics fans should be throwing in the towel already.
Though this team could certainly decide to blow it up by dealing Rondo or shelving him for longer than expected, there is enough talent here so that, with a few breaks, Boston could keep its playoff streak alive.
The top five spots in the Eastern Conference are essentially guaranteed to go to the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks in some order, but from No. 6 on the situation becomes much murkier.
The Atlanta Hawks figure to be close to a lock with Al Horford coming off of a strong season and the shrewd signing of Paul Millsap, but they also have a rookie head coach and lost the tremendously versatile Josh Smith in free agency.
It would be a surprise if the Hawks were not back in the postseason, but unless Jeff Teague takes a major developmental leap they could have a tougher time securing a spot than in years past.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are a team that will likely challenge for a playoff spot, but they have a rotation featuring plenty of injury prone pieces.
Can we really expect Andrew Bynum, Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao to all play anywhere near 82 games? Not likely.
Star rookie Otto Porter is also slated to miss time, albeit for a much less significant injury, as a hip flexor issue has him listed as day-to-day, according to ESPN. Obviously Porter will be healthy quickly, but missing training camp as a rookie could make his transition to the league even rockier.
With Okafor out, the Wizards are missing a valuable defensive presence as well as a locker room leader, and will have to rely more on Nene, an injury prone player himself, to handle the frontcourt.
The tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal are capable of dragging Washington to respectability thanks to their scoring ability and athleticism, but the fact that their roster is filled with unproven young guys and injury prone veterans means that a playoff berth is not going to come easily.
The Detroit Pistons figure to be one of the most entertaining teams in the league, but their roster is about as bizarre and unpredictable as one could possibly be.
Their floor spacing figures to be atrocious now that Smith and Brandon Jennings are in town, and rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope looked less than stellar as he struggled with his shot in the Orlando Summer League.
For all the hype about Andre Drummond’s raw talent and potential as a defensive stopper, he still may be a year of polishing away from being a 36-plus minutes per game player.
The addition of an experienced coach in Maurice Cheeks should help mitigate some of the consistency issues, but this is a team that was built with an eye on the future, not just an eye on a 2014 playoff berth.
While Boston has plenty of obstacles in the way of its own postseason appearance including Stevens’ adjustment to the league and the transition of Rondo, Bradley, Green and Sullinger into more featured roles, the C’s core has talent and more experience playing together than most of these squads.
Boston is Only a Season or Two Away from Contention
Many Celtics fans are not expecting a lengthy rebuilding process, but the reality is that this team is going to need more than two years before they are ready to challenge for the NBA title once more.
Boston’s decision to give Stevens a six-year deal indicates there are not high expectations for him from Day 1, and that the franchise is going to give him the freedom to experiment with his style and to experience his share of mistakes along the way.
Stevens should be a very good NBA coach at some point, but it is going to take him some time to adjust to the pacing of the professional game, managing bigger egos and knowing how to keep his players motivated and engaged for a full 82-game slate.
As we touched on earlier, the Celtics also have a fairly murky salary cap situation until the 2015 offseason. Including cap holds and non-guaranteed money, Boston has $69 million committed for 2014-15 and that’s before making long-term decisions on Bradley, Sully and Brooks.
That lack of flexibility will make it tough for the C’s to pursue a marquee free agent, and Boston has never had a history of getting top-flight talent to sign in the offseason anyways.
This leaves the Celtics with the option of attempting to trade for another star player, but while they have plenty of draft picks to swing a deal there are not many logical names on the market.
Boston has a pair of promising frontcourt players in Olynyk and Sullinger, making it difficult to see the C’s throwing a homerun offer at the Portland Trail Blazers for LaMarcus Aldridge or the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love.
Additionally, Boston will be handcuffed by Wallace’s deal until they can find an organization willing to take him on, something that likely will not happen until his mammoth contract is closer to expiring.
At the same time, the C’s have not positioned themselves to enter the shameless tank-for-Wiggins contest quite like the Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic or Phoenix Suns, making it more likely they are on the outside looking in when it comes to drafting a franchise talent in 2014.
Boston should end up with a very good player from the 2014 draft simply because of the depth in the talent pool, but a player like Kansas’ Joel Embiid is not exactly going to redefine the team for the next decade-plus.
The reality of the 2013-14 Celtics is that they are a team in flux, they do not have quite enough young talent that a clear renaissance is on the horizon, but they are also not bad enough to foresee a few elite prospects donning green jerseys in the next year or two.
With a myriad of first-round picks Boston should be able to swing a significant trade eventually, but the players who should be available in the next two years are not particularly logical fits for the Celts right now.
The Celtics are not entering a dark period like 2005-06 or 2006-07, but this rebuilding process is going to take longer than many Boston fans are hoping.
Advanced statistics courtesy of Synergy Sports.