Boston Celtics '07-'08: Preseason Rundown

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Boston Celtics '07-'08: Preseason Rundown

IconIt's that time of year again!

Everyone takes a view of their team and its prospects for the coming year. Here's my Celtics preview for all to agree with...or not. 

Because there are so many Celtic bloggers, I’m sure most of us will be identifying similar issues and strengths. Perhaps you can glean a little something different from each one of us.

It's a little longer than I wanted it to be but...

Here we go.

Boston Celtics

Last year’s record: 24-58

Players Lost: Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff

Players added: Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, James Posey, Glen Davis, Gabe Pruitt, Eddie House, Scot Pollard, Esteban Batista, Dahntay Jones, Brandon Wallace, Jackie Manuel

We all know the two key additionsKevin Garnett and Ray Allen. So it's from the rest of the roster that the questions will come.

We are currently at 17 position players—two over the limit. The Euro trip will change that.

 1) Significant changes

Everyone in the basketball world knows the significant changes.

Celtics fans are coming back in droves. We now have three of the league’s top players all under one roof.

Kevin Garnett is an athletic freak by any standard—an amazing player to watch. Longtime Celtic Paul Pierce and Ray Allen complete the talented trifecta.

All three have won nothing on their own. Nor have any of the three ever have had anyone like each other to help them achieve their goals.

It's a great storyline going forward.

And upon that story hinge Celtic hopes both inside and outside the organization. It's a reasonably good bet.

I didn’t just say "bet" did I? I mean...ahem...risk.

2) Biggest strengths

The massive talent at the 2,3, and 4 positions. Duh. 

And, though this will come under fire by some...

James Posey, Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen, and Eddie House are all solid role players.

This is enough to cause great concern for the most of the league’s teams.

These Celtics will be very difficult to beat once they get things figured out. It can’t be any other way.

3) Biggest weaknesses

The point and center positions

Even the most optimistic fans must admit in their hearts that there are unanswered questions here.

I’m talking specifically about 21-year-old Rajon Rondo and 22-year-old Kendrick Perkins (he’ll be 23 in November).

They are the keys to how solid the starting five will be. Perkins' development has been marred by injuries. Are these two positions a weakness?

We'll find out.

Cleveland got to the Finals with flawed PG play. Traditional point guards are a rarity anyway. But you could argue that's also a major reason why the Cavs were so vulnerable against the Spurs.  

Rondo seems mature for his age and displayed spurts of fantastic individual defense last year. An unusually good rebounder for his size, Rondo is an excellent passer and hard-driving PG with an unreliable jump shot.

The kid is a player. Can he handle the starting position with these three studs around him?

Signs point to yes.

His backups are Ray and Tony Allen, Eddie House, and Gabe Pruitt—not a natural PG among them. Still, Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson weren’t traditional PGs either.

Again, I don’t see a big problem here, but time will tell if I’m right.

Perkins is already a four-year pro with 210 games under his belt. You could argue that he'd be just a rookie now if he went to four years of college, but the 210 games of league experience make him far more than that today.

I won’t call either of the above positions "weaknesses"— question marks is more like it.

The addition of Esteban Batista has me hopeful that his recent Summer League performance is more indicative of his potential than his last two years with the Hawks.

At the very least, he's another large body with some offensive skills. Let’s hope Danny’s first foreign player since Jiri Welsch is more successful.

The bench

As mentioned, we have some decent role players, but our depth at PG and C is thin. Should Perkins or Rondo go down with injury, it definitely changes things.

Acquiring James Posey was Danny’s best offseason move after the two big trades. Posey's a legitimate starter on most teams. He isn't a "lock-down" defender as some have portrayed, but he's a solid defender who likes contact.

He also has a limited but decent offensive game, and has played well in previous playoffs. Like Powe, he's not a great passer. He will help keep defenses honest.

Eddie House was the next best acquisition. He can shoot the lights outs. While not a Steve Kerr, he makes the next tier of sharpshooters—a 40 percent hit rate from downtown is well within his abilities. Another guy who will make defenses pay mightily if they drop off of him.

Still, Danny can’t afford to leave PG and C unaddressed, especially in the event of an injury. My guess is he'll get active quickly in trade talks should that happen.

There is no we’ll get them next year anymore.

Leon Powe

Glen Davis is my surprise player of the year (see below), but Leon Powe is a player I’m expecting a lot from based on last year and the Summer League.

Powe has displayed a willingness to mix it up that this Celtic team drastically needs. He plays bigger than his size, but needs to improve his shooting efficiency around the post, as well as his passing game.

Both Powe and Davis are capable getting their shot off around the hoop...or getting it blocked. This year’s focus on the three stars  should open things up for both players a bit more.

I expect a solid fight for minutes, with Powe getting the lion’s-share early on because he's been in the system for a year.

Brandon Wallace, Jackie Manuel, and Dahntay Jones are all fighting for the last few spot or two on the roster. Their preseason performances will determine who will stay.

Of the three, Wallace is the most intriguing as a long, shot-blocking SF (6'9"). It remains to be seen whether he can handle the position at the NBA level.

If so, he's a nice surprise add-on to the team.

Coaching

Doc Rivers has caught plenty of wrath from Celtic Nation in his time here.

It started in his very first year, which was arguably his most successful as an NBA coach. He won a career-high 45 games with a veteran/youth blended roster. The team made the playoffs and lost in a crazy first round series to the Pacers—which ended on a sour note with the team’s worst ever Game Seven loss at home.

Many feel that Doc was badly outcoached. I pretty much agree.

It was here that my own Doc Rivers concerns began to crystallize. His handling of the youth and erratic motivation of the team were simply...puzzling.

The last two years, Doc had to concentrate on developing a young roster. As a players’ coach, he had some problems handling difficult player personalities (Blount, Banks, Davis) two years ago. Last year was a full blown University of Celtics season once Paul Pierce went down.

I don’t know when any coach has been handed such a drastically different roster from one season to another. The addition of new assistant coach Tom Thibodeau should help a great deal, based on Tom’s resume.

Thibodeau's teams have always played very good defense  Let’s hope the same thing happens here.

Regarding rotations

Doc takes possibly undeserved blame here.

When he had a veteran roster in his first year, the team was among the league’s leaders (top eight) in least amount of five-man units tried.

The next two years, that figure was among the highest.

Rivers' response is that no one earned a continued rotation spot, and there's some truth in that. I think we'll see a great reduction in lineup experimentation this year.

4) Team Goals

Making the playoffs is the very least of expectations. Getting to the second round might get Doc a real contract extension. Going further would guarantee one, IMO.

Players don’t like to see coaching changes when things are going well. Eastern Conference Finals means don’t rock the boat, unless the C's experience another playoff debacle like the one in Doc’s first year.

Putting talent in the pipeline

Though others might not, I’ll call that a goal.

Even though this team is geared for a win-now approach, a smart Danny Ainge would try to put some developing potential at the 7-10 spots on his bench.

Whether that means the young players he has now or other young talent, the team needs players who can grow into more important roles in a year or two. This team is generally undersized at a number of positions.

5) Final Thoughts (no pun intended)

There are number of really interesting storylines to follow this year:

Reputations on the line 

The most compelling one to me is the challenge to three league stars to finally achieve what they couldn’t separately.

Their individual legacies are now on the line.

If Garnett, Pierce, and Allen don't climb this mountain, they'll be forever be grouped with Karl Malone, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, George Gervin,  and all the other great players who couldn’t get that final accolade—the NBA Championship. 

Doc Rivers' coaching reputation is also coming up on a turning point. He could redeem a tarnished image in the eyes of many.

Who among the rest of the team steps up and becomes an integral part of the team’s success is intriguing as well.

I expect career years for Kendrick Perkins, Rajon Rondo, and Tony Allen.

Surprise player of the year: Glen Davis

I’m saying this without having seen him play a great deal, and very little as a pro. It's his mind and confidence that will make a difference, if my understanding of those aspects of the game holds true.

We'll see.

The prediction: 50 wins

If I thought last year’s team was good for 42 wins when healthy, how can I expect anything less from this year's bunch?

Such a drastic roster change makes this prediction harder than you might think. The team is essentially brand new. Granted Pierce, Rondo, and Perkins represent three-fifths of the starting lineup—but going Going from 24 wins to 44 wins would normally be unrealistic for any team.

Of course, this hasn't been a realistic offseason. The two best players added are experienced stars of the highest level.

I’m comfortable with saying 50 wins if all major players are healthy, with a range of 48-53 wins as the parameters.

I’m not going crazy with expectations in their first year together.

We will revisit this number at key times in the year, to see how much (or little) I have to adjust my thinking.

I'm more interested in how the team does in the postseason. This is where the more important judgments about Doc and the team should be made, IMO.

Here's the Celticsblog link to all the other Celtic roundups. Check them out and have a blast seeing the differences we have on some things.

I think you'll find we're pretty homogeneous on most things. Yeah, boring, I know. 

Announcement:

I am going to be the Boston Celtic reporter and blogger for the Connecticut Post this season.

The Connecticut Post is one of the largest circulation papers in the state. I will be going to games and doing interviews for the Post as my time allows. The Celtics17 MVN.com site will get the benefit of some of that as well.  

I will be linking my website there to this one. I will still be blogging here, too. I’ll give you more details in a few days. Stay tuned.

So that is it. It wasn’t as brief as I had hoped, but you knew that would happen, didn’t you?

Peace all.

T

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