Instead, the 2013-14 season is all about development and renovation. With new head coach Brad Stevens signed to a six-year deal, a new era of Boston basketball is upon us.
Here is a brief overview of how the team finished last season:
- 41-40 (.506)
- Third in Atlantic Division
- Seventh in Eastern Conference
- 2013 NBA Playoffs: Lost in six games in the first round to the New York Knicks.
There wasn’t much to be happy about last year, even before Rajon Rondo, the team’s best player, tore his ACL 38 games into the season. The team barely finished with a winning record, while free-agent signings Jason Terry and Courtney Lee spent the year struggling to find proper roles.
Of their two first-round draft picks last season, Jared Sullinger had season-ending back surgery just a few weeks after Rondo went down, and Fab Melo played just 36 minutes in total for the season and is now struggling to find a spot in the league.
Bright spots were few and far between, but Jeff Green was one of them. He returned with a vengeance from the open heart surgery that kept him out of the 2011-12 season, posting a career best PER and a career-high True Shooting percentage.
The Celtics are starting over. Their new head coach is 37 years old (three years younger than Steve Nash), and after a blockbuster trade that deforested the roster, Rondo is the only remaining player from Boston’s 2010 team that lost in the Finals.
Garnett and Pierce now play for the Brooklyn Nets, and with their departure also goes Boston’s status as a stubborn group of accomplished elder statesmen. The Celtics are an inexperienced team, with 10 players on their roster having five or fewer years experience. Needless to say, expectations are in the basement.
Key Additions: Kris Humphries (one-year, $12 million left on contract), Gerald Wallace (three-year, $30.3 million), Victor Faverani (three-year, $6.27 million—non-guaranteed third year) Kelly Olynyk (rookie scale contract)
Key Losses: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry
Rondo has no certain return date, but there’s next to no chance that he will miss the entire season. When he does come back, how fluid he looks on the court could go a long way in deciding his ultimate trade value, should Ainge look to make his second blockbuster deal in eight months.
As the team’s best player by a few hundred miles, when and how Rondo assimilates himself into a new situation will be a critical storyline for Boston’s season.
Who is Trade Bait?
As Grantland’s Zach Lowe pointed out earlier this week, anybody on Boston’s opening roster could be traded during the season. That includes Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Kelly Olynyk (though that’s very unlikely).
Brandon Bass, Kris Humphries and Courtney Lee seem like the most probable candidates to be moved. Each is on a modest contract (Humphries’ is expiring) and could hold real on-court value to a contending team looking to dethrone the Miami Heat.
Boston won't compete for anything except ping pong balls this season, and in order to do so, stripping the roster down even further will surely occur.
With nothing set in stone, and no promise of continuity from this season to the next, Brad Stevens’ primary goal in 2014 should be developing as much of his young talent as possible. Putting everyone in positions to succeed, finding their strengths and accentuating them as much as possible should be his main priorities.
This means letting Jared Sullinger crash the offensive boards, seeing whether Green can handle playmaking responsibilities and hiding Olynyk on defense as much as possible.
Depth Chart Breakdown and Grades
Here is what Boston's depth chart is projected to look like once Rondo returns:
|Point Guard||Rajon Rondo (Out)||Jordan Crawford||Phil Pressey|
|Shooting Guard||Avery Bradley||Courtney Lee||MarShon Brooks||Keith Bogans|
|Small Forward||Jeff Green||Gerald Wallace|
|Power Forward||Jared Sullinger||Brandon Bass||Kris Humphries|
|Center||Kelly Olynyk||Vitor Faverani|
When Rondo returns to the starting lineup, point guard will be Boston's strongest position by default. The four-time All-Star's ability to see the floor, make teammates better and, most importantly, take over any game at a moment's notice makes him their best player.
Over the past few years, the Celtics have struggled to find a suitable backup point guard, and that search continues into 2014, where non-traditional shoot-first ball-handlers like Jordan Crawford and Avery Bradley will most likely be responsible for setting up Boston's half-court offense and dictating the pace.
Known in the early going of his career as someone who frequently makes poor decisions with the ball, Crawford established himself as Boston's best passer (despite posting an assist percentage that was below his career average and a turnover percentage that was slightly above it) after they traded for him at the deadline last season.
Bradley, on the other hand, made entry passes look harder than a New York Times crossword puzzle. His role should be as a finisher, instead of as someone who sets teammates up. On the back end is Phil Pressey, an undrafted rookie free agent, whose sole purpose is to serve as an insurance policy should Rondo take longer than expected to return.
Despite posting his best shooting percentages on two-pointers and free throws last season, Courtney Lee may have been the most disappointing member of the 2012-13 Celtics—to the point where it's somewhat surprising that Ainge didn't unload his contract this summer.
Lee struggled to find a role with the team, and after lighting it up from the corner two years ago in Houston, he couldn't hit anything on the few occasions where Doc Rivers' offense found him open. His bulldog defense remains valuable though, and if defense is to be Stevens' calling-card this season, Lee should get plenty of playing time.
On the other hand, MarShon Brooks is a porous defender but is able to create his own shot and may grow into a sixth man.
Rondo's return should bring order to the off-guard spot. Once that happens, it's Bradley who deserves to start, thanks to the existing familiarity between the two.
This is the deepest position on the roster. Jeff Green and Gerald Wallace may be the team's second and third best players, and thanks to the versatility each player brings to the defensive end, Stevens will try to fit them both on the court at the same time as much as possible.
Both of these guys can run the floor, score in transition and get to the rim. Wallace will either bounce back from the astronomically atrocious shooting numbers he put up with the Brooklyn Nets last season (seriously, have a look), or he will continue his natural decline down a path of inefficiency and ineffectiveness. His role this season will be much different than that of a spot-up shooter, though, giving promise to the former.
With Pierce gone, Green will now add "playmaker" to his resume. He'll be responsible for getting others involved, running pick-and-rolls off the dribble and generally doing more than spotting up from the corner and driving the ball to the basket.
The Celtics are very deep here, with Jared Sullinger, Kris Humphries and Brandon Bass all holding experience at the position. Rookie seven-footer Kelly Olynyk will also see time at power forward, especially against centers who would otherwise abuse him in the post.
Who starts and who plays beside who will be in flux throughout the season. Bass is an extremely accurate mid-range shooter but struggles on the defensive end, specifically on the glass and corralling point guards on the pick-and-roll.
If/before he's traded, Humphries will be Boston's best pick-and-roll partner, capable of finishing at the rim and also stepping out to make a jumper (he shot 44.4 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line three seasons ago).
Sullinger may be the group's best overall talent, but he's proficient on the boards and has fantastic touch near the hoop (when he's not getting his shot blocked).
The Celtics kind of don't have a center. Six-foot, 11-inch Brazilian import Vitor Faverani has shown an ability to run the floor, block shots and finish strong at the rim, but he's still a rookie who brings way more questions than answers to the table. The chances of him becoming Boston's defensive linchpin are small.
Kelly Olynyk is listed as the starting center here because Stevens needs him on the floor as much as possible, even if the five spot won't be where he eventually spends most of his career. Olynyk is a poor rebounder for his size, and he hardly showed promise protecting the rim while at Gonzaga. But on the offensive end he may be able to stretch opposing centers out to the three-point line, which would open up Boston's offense quite a bit.
There's nobody here to anchor the defense, and a few of the guys listed at power forward will be asked to step up and play out of their natural position.
It won't be pretty.
For a complete power ranking of each player on the roster, click here.
What to Watch For
Breakout Player: Jared Sullinger
Jared Sullinger was a terrorizing beast on the boards before back surgery ended his rookie campaign, and there's no reason to think he won't be even better with a healthy body and year of experience behind him.
If Sullinger displays patience with the ball around the rim (limiting how many times he gets blocked) and turns his mid-range jump shot into an actual weapon, all the better. Right now, though, his goal to be one of the best rebounders at his position should be well within reach.
Team MVP: Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo is the only possible answer here. In what's sure to be a lost season, he will be the team's best player and a perpetual All-Star candidate. Even with a whole new cast of supporting characters, it wouldn't be surprising to see Rondo lead the league in assists for a third-straight year.
Most Disappointing Player: Jeff Green
To be disappointing, first you need high expectations. There aren't many players here to choose from, but Jeff Green is as good a nominee as any.
Green's plate is overflowing with offensive responsibilities that he's never tasted, and chances are there will be an adjustment period. Who knows how long it lasts?
Player Most Likely To Be Traded: Kris Humphries
Kris Humphries is a solid NBA forward, and he is only one season removed from averaging 13.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game for the Nets when they were still in New Jersey.
He can help this Celtics team on the floor, but he also has an expiring $12 million contract. For a hopeful contender, it's a short-term rental that carries little risk. Teams will want Humphries, and the Celtics have no good reason to keep him.
Biggest Rivalry: Brooklyn Nets
These Celtics aren't talented enough to deserve a rival, but games against the Brooklyn Nets will be icy, especially from Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans and MarShon Brooks' point of view. Ultimately, those were the guys Brooklyn felt were expendable, and they were treated like dead weight. Boston will want to win those games very, very badly.
Best-Case, Worst-Case Scenarios With Predicted W-L Record
Every player wants to win, but that doesn't mean winning is right for the Celtics this season.
Everyone stays healthy and shows drastic improvement (including Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk) throughout the season. The Celtics are somehow an above-average defensive team but still end up in the lottery, where they manage to land a top-five draft pick.
Rondo comes back sooner than expected, and the team rallies around his otherworldly ability. Boston makes the playoffs as the No. 8 seed and are quickly dispatched in a gruesome four-game series by the Chicago Bulls.
Win-Loss Prediction: 22-60
Even if the Celtics start winning games, there's a good chance Danny Ainge puts a stop to it by exchanging productive players with non-productive assets.
This team won't make the postseason, and since it's the Eastern Conference, that means they're worse than bad. A 22-60 record sounds about right.