Any prediction for the 2014-15 Boston Celtics season can basically be summed up in four words: It won’t be pretty.
Now that it seems like Kevin Love is completely off the table, the totality of Boston’s rebuild has become a whole lot clearer.
Even in a weak Eastern Conference, this team’s prospects of competing for a postseason berth are slim to none.
Most of Boston’s offseason moves make sense, but even with a healthy Rajon Rondo this team is still far closer to the beginning of its rebuild than the end.
Let’s break down the current roster, new acquisitions and the strength of the C’s conference before making a final prediction, though.
Be warned: The following may not be for the faint of heart—things could get graphic.
Boston has been predictably quiet in free agency, tossing a slightly too expensive four-year extension at Avery Bradley and signing Evan Turner in a low-risk, high-reward move.
Bradley had a strong 2013-14 season, averaging 14.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game while shooting 39.5 percent from three-point range, but it’s unlikely that he emerges as an offensive focal point.
Add to that reported clashes with teammates, and Turner’s stock was about as low as it could be heading into free agency.
As expected, there has been plenty of skepticism about Turner’s ability to contribute, including this gem from CelticsBlog:
Still, Turner is just 25 years old and has room to improve.
“I think Brad [Stevens] had an opportunity to take a player with a high skill set and a very strong desire to prove what happened in Indiana was a mistake. I think that Brad has a chance to put him in the right sets and have a great bargain in free agency,” said Falk.
Realistically, though, Turner isn’t going to move the needle much for the Celtics, even if he has a major bounce-back campaign.
He is a talented, versatile player on offense, but he’s a ghastly defender and a complete nonthreat from deep.
The signing was a smart move, but it isn’t something that will change the C’s fate much in the short term, and Turner may even wind up as trade bait if he plays well.
No. 6 overall pick Marcus Smart should be ready to play quality minutes from day one, but he’s a shaky jump-shooter (.413 field-goal percentage at Oklahoma State) as well and will have trouble sharing the floor with Rondo or Bradley.
Smart's athleticism and defensive tenacity will allow him to make a major impact, but as long as Rondo is on the roster, Smart's upside for 2014-15 is somewhat limited.
Boston’s other first-round pick, the 6'6", 215-pound James Young, could see spot minutes here and there, but he needs to bulk up and develop the finesse aspects of his game.
Young, hailed as a dead-eye shooter, only hit 34.9 percent of his college threes and missed all of summer league due to a neck issue.
The Celtics likely don’t have another major move in the pipeline, and barring an unexpected leap from Bradley it is tough to see any of their new pieces really turning heads this season.
Snagging Tyler Zeller and Marcus Thornton for nothing was a savvy move, but both are going to be 18-minute-per-game bench pieces.
Zeller is a good pick-and-roll big, but he’s not the rim protector Boston needs, and Thornton’s trigger-happy attitude won’t mesh well with Stevens.
He’ll get minutes because he’s a career 36.1 percent shooter from deep, but he’s still behind Bradley and Smart in the backcourt pecking order.
Add to that its collective lack of shooting outside of Thornton, and the C’s offense, which ranked just 26th in points per game (96.2) in 2013-14, could be even worse.
Rest of the Roster
The core of the Celtics remains the same, and it simply isn’t striking fear in anyone.
Rondo should be better and more consistent after posting a 40.3 field-goal percentage in 2013-14, but Jeff Green still doesn’t remotely resemble a primary scorer.
Jared Sullinger may take a leap and become a true asset as a stretch 4, but he needs to connect on more than just 26.9 percent of his three-pointers to do so.
Kelly Olynyk showed flashes at the end of last season, and Brandon Bass will provide scrappy defense and jump shooting, but neither is going to dominate.
The rest of the roster isn’t fit to play on a postseason team, and while young pieces like guard Phil Pressey and small forward Chris Johnson could improve, both max out as role players.
Rondo remains one of the game’s top facilitators, and his 9.8 assists per game last season prove that he can still make plays without elite talent around him.
He’s also in a contract year and will be looking to prove he’s healthy and worthy of a max deal, so don’t sleep on 2014-15 being a career season for him.
Still, he’s not the kind of player to consistently take over games every night, and unless Green finally eases off the long two-pointers and starts attacking the rack, Rondo simply won’t have enough help.
Stevens will want to give Olynyk and Sully plenty of minutes to see if they could be the frontcourt of the future, which may hurt the team short term, and losing a valuable backup big man in Kris Humphries hurts as well.
Plus, you can’t discount team president Danny Ainge making another deal or two that sacrifices immediate competitiveness for gains over the long haul.
Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference
The Atlantic Division can be quite clearly divided into two categories: teams that want to win basketball games and teams that want to lose them.
None of them are surefire title contenders, but as long as the Knicks and the Nets stay healthy they should win 40-plus games, and the Raptors feature an intriguing core of improving young talent.
The Celtics should finish ahead of the 76ers in the standings by virtue of employing actual NBA players instead of NBA D-Leaguers, but the results could be closer than one expects.
The Sixers should improve slightly, especially if Nerlens Noel is as good as advertised defensively and Thaddeus Young is not dealt.
They won’t reach the 30-win plateau, but they also could ascend from complete doormat status.
Against the Eastern Conference as a whole, the situation gets even bleaker for Boston.
While it’s still clearly the inferior conference, the East has a strong middle tier of teams that will compete for the postseason.
The Celtics aren’t better than the Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks or Chicago Bulls (if they remain healthy), and even mediocre teams like the Detroit Pistons boast more overall talent.
If Boston finishes higher than 11th in the Eastern Conference that would be a pretty big surprise, especially since it should be absolutely decimated when it heads out West.
The C’s lack the offensive firepower to keep up with high-scoring juggernauts like the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, and while their team defense will be decent, it isn’t going to be enough to keep games close.
Expect Boston to be blown out plenty of times and struggle scoring against even the league’s mediocre defenses.
2014-15 is going to be another tough year for the Celtics. There’s really no way around it.
A full season of Rondo will help, but there isn’t much talent besides him, and the Eastern Conference is going to be improved overall.
The Celtics will have some positive moments, particularly once Smart finds his footing in the league, but this is largely another building-block year for Ainge and the front office.
Boston will look to acquire assets, ship out middling veterans and develop young talent while sacrificing wins.
The bright side is that the team could be in excellent position for another high draft pick if the league doesn't change its lottery rules, which could give the Celts the franchise star they need to replace Paul Pierce.
Ultimately, expect Boston to go 24-58 while finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference.
Sorry, Celtics faithful, you may want to spend this regular season just watching Jahlil Okafor highlights instead.