2010-2011 NBA Predictions: Boston Celtics' Eight Biggest Goals in the Preseason
If you listen to ESPN, NBA.TV, or TNT, all your attention should be focused on the greatest team in the history of sport—the 2010-11 Miami Heat.
Of course, real hoops fans know that there is an entire season to play. Heck, it hasn't even started yet.
There are a handful of teams that are more than capable of preventing the coronation of the Heat, including the defending champs, the L.A. Lakers.
Another of those teams happens to be the greatest franchise in the NBA history, and defending Eastern Conference champs, the Boston Celtics.
To reach their goal of hoisting up Banner 18, Doc Rivers and the Celts have a good deal of work ahead of them, and it all starts with establishing some basic groundwork during the preseason.
The following slides present, in no particular order, what should be the team's biggest preseason goals.
Feel free to let me know if you think I've missed some, or if you just plain disagree with my thinking.
Get Rajon Rondo To The Next Level
Rajon Rondo has come a long way since the days he was thought to be the weak link on the 2008 championship team.
Rondo has steadily improved his play to the point where he is in the discussion for top five point guards in the NBA. His improvement has been directly tied to his confidence level. Rondo now knows that he is a near-equal to his more celebrated veteran teammates.
There is some speculation that his confidence might have shaken a bit by his poor showing in the Team USA trials. Did he really have personal matters to attend to, or did he withdraw from the team to avoid being cut? It was obvious that Coach K wasn't a fan of Rondo's shaky shot.
Rajon Rondo is the future of the Boston Celtics, but if the team is going to contend for the title this season, Rondo needs to eliminate the obvious flaws in his otherwise brilliant game.
Nothing new here, but Rondo can't shoot.
The Celts don't need Rondo to start bombing away, but a point guard who can't hit free throws is a liability in big games.
Rondo has recently voiced his desire to be considered the best point guard in the league. I have no doubts that he can get there, but he needs to become a reliable mid-range shooter and an 80 percent free throw shooter.
The kid has reportedly been working on his shooting all summer. We'll see how much progress he's made during the preseason.
"The O'Neal Brothers"
With Kendrick Perkins out until at least February, the Celtics have an opening for the starting center position.
Jermaine O'Neal was signed to fill that role, but the additional signing of Shaquille O'Neal confuses the issue.
The debate over which O'Neal should start is not over. Both players got a lot run with the first team during training camp. Now we have the news that Jermaine has a hamstring issue.
Shaq will start for at least the first few games in the preseason. My guess is that he won't be giving that up anytime soon.
Shaq is on record as saying he's fine coming off the bench, but what about Jermaine? He clearly thinks he's still a starter in this league. Would he be happy playing behind Shaq?
If there is any disharmony with the "O'Neal Brothers," it would lessen the Celts title chances. Hopefully this issue is put to bed by the end of the preseason.
The Return of Kevin Garnett
Yeah, I know that Kevin Garnett played last season, but he wasn't the real KG. For the bulk of the season, it was some guy who looked like Garnett dragging his leg up and down the court.
We had glimpses of the real KG during the postseason, but Garnett needs to be back to his old self all season long for the Celtics to have a chance at the championship.
We're told that it takes at least a year to come back from the type of knee surgery Garnett had. He reached that one-year mark right as the playoffs were starting. The additional four months or so of recovery time needs to have restored Garnett to at least 90 percent of the player that led the best defense in the league during the 2007-08 season.
Garnett was explosive during training camp. He was dunking with authority, and beating the young fellas in wind sprints. He reportedly has confidence in his knee for the first time since before the injury.
This is good news.
The first authoritative dunk off a Rondo alley-oop during this preseason will reassure a lot of Celtics fans that KG is back. A return of his lateral quickness on defense would be nice as well.
Glen "Big Baby" Davis Grows Up
Glen Davis will be as important to the Celtics as he wants to be.
Given the age of the front-court players on the Celtics, bench minutes will be plentiful. That should be good news for a player like Davis, but he has already been complaining to the press about not knowing what his role on the team will be.
Davis has improved in each of his three seasons with the Celtics, most importantly, developing a solid mid-range shot, but there has also been no shortage of drama with this kid.
If the Big Baby can grow up, figure out his role, and provide the youthful energy off the bench to the front-line, the Celtics will be better for it.
If not, I'd be in favor of shipping him outta Boston and letting Luke Harangody take his minutes.
Reestablish Themselves As The Best Defense in the League
The 2007-08 Boston Celtics won the championship with their incredible team defense. The whole was far greater than the sum of its parts, as the entire team bought into Doc Rivers' defensive concepts. Even players with reputations for being less than stellar individual defenders (Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to name just two), raised their game and were major contributors to the defensive effort.
The 2008-09 Celtics were almost as good defensively until Kevin Garnett, the heart and soul of the defense, went down with his knee injury.
One of the architects of that defense, assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, is now the head coach of the Chicago Bulls. Popular "bigs" coach Clifford Ray has been pushed out in favor of Rodney Rogers. Doc Rivers is planning no more than minor tweaks to the schemes that he and Thibs designed.
There are a lot of new faces on the Celtics that will need to get up to speed on the intricacies of Boston schemes. Some of those new faces are a bit long in the tooth.
Will it be good enough?
Doc Rivers wants the Celtics to lead the league in field goal percentage defense. I think that is a reasonable goal, but a lot the burden will fall on Kevin Garnett.
Is the captain of the defense ready for the challenge?
Find a Replacement For Brian Scalabrine
Brian Scalabrine was one of the first guys up off the bench to greet players as they returned to the sideline. He was first with high-fives, and first with towel waves.
Scal could also come off the bench in times of extreme need, massive front-line foul trouble, for example, and play solid defense and knock down some three-point shots.
Who fills that role for the Celtics?
The obvious choice is Luke Harangody.
Harangody is handicapped a bit by the fact that he's a better player than Scalabrine ever was. Still, he's white, somewhat goofy looking, and has an ever-improving stroke from long range.
As a rookie on a deep, veteran team, Harangody is not likely to get much run. I'm hoping he takes this opportunity to fill Scalabrine's big shoes, at least for this season.
Develop Cohesion in the "Boston Bench Mob"
There are legitimate questions surrounding how much Shaq has left in the tank and how much he can still contribute to the Celtics title aspirations.
There can be no question, however, that Shaq is still a quote machine.
He has already dubbed Boston's deep and promising bench the "Boston Bench Mob." I like it.
The Boston bench has a chance to be a true separator for the Celtics this season. You could argue that no team is as deep as Boston this year, and I wouldn't disagree with you.
If Doc has the luxury of going 10 or 11 players deep throughout the regular season, the advanced age of Boston's core players becomes much less of an issue.
Having Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and to a slightly lesser extent, Shaquille O'Neal fresh when the playoffs begin will bode well for the Celtics chances.
The Miami Heat will be riding their young trio of superstars through the season without much concern for minutes played. Doc does not have that luxury.
The Boston Celtics season might come down to how well Nate Robinson, Delonte West, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis, and one of the O'Neal's play together.
The End Of The Bench
Not a lot of teams in the NBA place much importance on the 15th roster spot. Some teams even go ahead and leave it unfilled as the season starts.
The Celtics had a major battle for the final roster spot that appears to be all but settled. When local favorite Tony Gaffney was cut, it all but assured that former-Houston Rocket Von Wafer is going to make the team.
The Celtics have some potentially valuable pieces of the puzzle in roster spots 11 through 15.
Leading the crew is, of course, Kendrick Perkins. Perk won't be available under at least February, and how long it takes him to regain effectiveness is anyone's guess. However, when he is ready and effective, he is likely to get his starter's job back. This is going to push an O'Neal to the bench and further deepen the league's best collection of reserves.
Avery Bradley, Luke Harangody, and Semih Erden are all rookies, but each could be called upon if those in front of them falter.
Von Wafer is, I'm sure, looking to get a lot more playing time than your standard 15. Wafer demonstrated during the 2008-09 season with the Rockets that he is capable of catching fire. Any problems or injuries with Delonte West or Marquis Daniels could see Wafer sliding right into a prominent role.
Doc is probably going to use the preseason to see exactly what he has available to him at the end of the bench.
Danny Ainge did a masterful job this offseason in assembling a legitimate championship contender.
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were re-signed. Doc was coaxed back to the bench. The O'Neal Brothers were added. The signing of Delonte West could end up being one of the most underrated moves in the league.
There is no secret that the Boston Celtics are a team that knows that their time is almost up. They have this season and whatever portion of the 2011-12 season actually occurs. That is a pretty small window.
Given the unpredictability of life in the NBA, this veteran-dominated team isn't even thinking about next season. Their time is now.
Not a single player on the Celtics has any doubts about this team's potential. They were assembled to make a championship run, and they all know that that is possible, Heat or no Heat.
Last season's Celtics pulled off a rare feat—they parlayed a dreadfully average second-half of the regular season into a deep playoff run.
Doc Rivers knows that the odds of repeating such a feat are slim. Teams, contrary to folklore, cannot just "turn it on" come playoff time.
The Celtics need to take the regular season seriously. This will be one of Doc's bigger challenges. He needs to manage the minutes of his older players, but still drive toward the highest seed possible.
Miami will be setting a scorching pace, almost certainly near 65 wins, with Orlando close on their heels. The Celtics need to finish no worse than third to ensure themselves the best chance of defending their Eastern Conference crown.
There is no question that they're capable. I see 59 wins and the third seed in the playoffs.