It's almost time, Celtics fans! Tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, the Boston Celtics kick off preseason basketball as they host the Philadelphia 76ers at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire. Even though the games don't count for another few weeks, it's always great when basketball season comes back around.
Our hopes are high once more, as Celts fans hope that this can be the year that Banner 18 is raised at TD Garden. And with the Big Three aging, this may be the Celtics' final shot. With the season fast approaching, let's take a look at the top five things to watch for when the ball is tipped for the first time.
As we all know, the Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen aren't young guys anymore. Of course, they're still extremely productive, and obviously the heart and soul of this team. However, they may play fewer minutes, especially in blowout games.
This means the bench will need to step it in more than one way this year, namely holding down big leads in the fourth quarter (the Celts have had quite a few problems with this), and providing stable relief in the middle of games while the starters recharge.
PG/SG Nate Robinson showed last year that he could hold down the fort while Rajon Rondo was on the bench, and despite some questionable comments of the court, F Glen Davis can easily get some good minutes playing the post.
Hopefully they and the rest of the bench will be able to contribute and help the Celts win games.
The Celtics drafted two players this past June: G Avery Bradley out of Texas, and F Luke Harangody out of Notre Dame (much to the delight of my dear mother).
Bradley, selected 19th overall, played in all 34 games with the Longhorns this year, averaging a respectable 11.6 points per game. He also managed to shoot 37.5 percent in three-point territory, and average 2.1 assists per game. Look for Bradley to provide extra relief off the bench, likely as a shooting guard if he can develop a solid three-point shot.
Luke Harangody was selected in the second round of the draft (52nd overall). Harangody averaged 19.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game over the course of his four-year career with the Fighting Irish. He's your typical big man who can play the low post and put up points and rebounds. The Celtics' best bet is probably to use him as a backup to Perkins or Garnett, possibly in a Davis-esque style.
The rookies will have hopefully been preparing during training camp for the rigors of the NBA, especially Bradley, who was one-and-done at Texas. If the rookies can be ready for NBA play when the regular season starts, they just might provide an extra boost to the Celtics at both ends of the court.
No offseason would be complete without talk of the Celts' new additions.
The biggest story of the summer was the acquisition of 18-year veteran Shaquille O'Neal, but we'll talk about him in a little bit. In addition to Shaq, the Celts acquired Jermaine O'Neal from the Miami Heat and former Celtic Delonte West.
O'Neal may very well end up as the starting center at the start of the season, with multi-year starter Kendrick Perkins out for several months with a knee injury sustained this past June during the NBA Finals. O'Neal averaged 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game last year with Miami, so look for O'Neal to repeat or improve on those numbers and establish himself as a solid post presence.
Delonte West left the Celtics in 2007 as part of the deal that brought Ray Allen and Glen Davis to Boston, but returns this year after a three-year stint with the LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers. Averaging 8.8 points and 3.3 assists per game last year, West has battled personal and legal problems as of late, and will miss 10 games this year after he plead guilty to weapons charges.
Hopefully West can put this behind him and provide some extra relief at guard.
Now, I'll get to the story of the summer. At 38 years old, Shaquille O'Neal may finally be entering the twilight of his career. Now known as "The Big Shamrock," O'Neal has been far less productive in recent seasons, including a dismal 12.0 points per game last season in Cleveland. With his numbers in decline, many have questioned the Celtics' acquisition of Shaq at this stage in his career.
However, Shaq can do very well in what will most likely be his final years. If "Hack-a-Shaq" continues this year, the Celtics can get into the foul bonus very quickly with Shaq on the floor, provided he doesn't get called for fouls.
In addition, despite the fact that his numbers may never reach the 20's again, he can wrack up a decent total if he finds a rhythm within the Celtics offense. Of course, this will have to be under the half-court offense, since Shaq and running (or general physical fitness for that matter) have shown themselves to be bitter enemies.
Yes, the Question of All Questions. It was the focus of last year, and will be this year. With the Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen all in their mid-30s, everyone is afraid of the irreversible decline that will inevitably befall our beloved players.
All three performed well last year, well enough to lead the Celtics to the NBA Finals. However, we all know that we keep waiting for the time to come when they simply aren't productive anymore.
That time will hopefully not be this year. Word from training camp is that KG's knee looks pretty good, and Paul Pierce has said he's ready for the season. And Ray Allen? No need to hear it from him. You just know he'll be ready. This may be their last chance to win another championship, and all three appear poised to do so.
As always everyone needs to stay healthy, be productive, and work as a team. Let's hope for a great season.
Go Green 18!