Boston Celtics: 10 Burning Questions for Kevin Garnett and Company
After the Boston Celtics' Cinderella run to the NBA Finals last season, many in the NBA media as the well as the Celtics' fanbase thought that, even with the advancing age of the Big Three, they would be able to contend for the title again in 2011.
However, with another year of court mileage for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, along with the uncertain future of head coach Doc Rivers, it looked as if this year would the last opportunity for this group of players.
It didn't become any easier when the team was plagued with injuries at various times, including a calf injury to KG, foot issues for Rajon Rondo, Delonte West's broken wrist and the whole slew of injuries to Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal. Despite all this, they managed to grab the three-spot in the Eastern Conference with a 56-26 record.
However, the team was shaken by the trade of Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City in exchange for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. The Celtics lost a large portion of their interior defense in exchange for another shooter, with the goal of adding another weapon to use against Miami.
Rumors of internal strife soon proliferated, and the Celtics' crushing 4-1 series loss in the Conference Semifinals against the Heat is largely being blamed on the loss of Perk. How fair is this? This is really a question for another article, but in short, I'll say not very.
Regardless of why and how Boston fell short, major questions remain heading into next season (assuming there is one) and beyond. This article will take a look at 10 major questions that surround the Celtics in the coming years.
1. How Much Longer Can the Big Three Compete?
When Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in Boston in 2007, they were already beginning to advance in age. KG and Ray Allen were already in their 30s, and looking back, they were both probably past their prime already. Ray Allen, in fact, was coming off surgery on both ankles at the time of the trade.
However, by coming together, the Big Three successfully pooled their individual talents to create a complete package that enabled to win the championship in 2008. Since then, however, it just hasn't been the same. Injuries have plagued the Big Three at various times during the succeeding three seasons, and with the loss in five games to the younger, more athletic Miami Heat, many fans are left to wonder how well the Big Three can compete in the coming seasons with each player now entering their mid-thirties.
These guys don't have much time left, probably no more than two, perhaps three seasons for each of them. Their production will inevitably continue to decline as they inch toward retirement, and this has to be addressed sooner rather than later.
It's obvious that they can't do it alone; Rajon Rondo has already become the single most important player on offense, and the trading of Perk and Nate Robinson brought in Jeff Green in order to add another shooter to complement Pierce and Allen. What's not obvious, however, is exactly how much help they need.
Does Danny Ainge need a whole new slew of talent to surround the Big Three? Or can the Celtics use the lineup they currently have or only use a few minor tweaks to contend next season?
The 2011 offseason is poised to be a very interesting one.
2. What Are the Broader Implications of the Trade of Kendrick Perkins?
In the minds of many, the defeat of the Celtics at the hands of the Miami Heat can be directly blamed on the loss of Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Perk was an anchor of the Celtics' interior defense alongside Kevin Garnett, and his presence in the paint created huge problems for opponents attempting to drive the lane and get to the rim. Perk could get boards and make stops, but in a more basic sense, he was simply another big body that an opponent would have to find a way around.
During the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Miami, the Celtics appeared woefully unable to stop LeBron James and Dwyane Wade from getting into the paint and getting to the rim. It seemed all too easy for the Dynamic Duo to beat out KG, Glen Davis and any other big men Boston threw at them.
Even Chris Bosh, who was much maligned during the regular season and the playoffs for his lackluster performances in comparison to LeBron and D-Wade, came up big and times against the Celtics, shooting over KG and getting a key tip-in late in Game 4.
Without Perk and with the possible loss of Glen Davis during free agency, the Celtics will need to replenish their supply of big men in order to retain their position as the league's best defensive team.
It could be argued that had Perk not been traded, the Celtics wouldn't find themselves in this predicament. As much as that is impossible to figure out, the fact of the matter is that Boston will need to solve its interior defensive in the offseason in order to remain viable in the East. Otherwise, Miami and Chicago will only accelerate their rise to the top.
3. What Is the Future of Glen Davis?
It doesn't take stat lines to know that Glen "Big Baby" Davis didn't show up for the playoffs. Just watching his sluggish and seemingly half-interested play makes you question his competitive drive and commitment level, and his lack of production in nine postseason games left a lot to be desired after a regular season that caused many to believe he could compete for the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
If it's stats you want, Big Baby averaged 4.9 PPG during the postseason (compared to 11.7 PPG during the regular season), and 3.6 RPG (compared to 5.4 rebounds per game during the regular season). Clearly, something was up with Glen Davis this year, and it showed during the playoffs.
To make matters worse, Big Baby has publicly come out and said that he wants to be a starter, be it in Boston or somewhere else. After his playoff woes, Danny Ainge may look to unload Big Baby and use the opportunity to tinker with the roster to make the Celtics more competitive.
There's no denying that Glen Davis has a lot he can contribute to this team. Whether he actually contributes or bursts into tears when KG yells at him is another questions.
4. Can Jeff Green Become a Solid Member of the Celtics' Rotation?
Jeff Green arrived in Boston from Oklahoma City alongside Nenad Krstic in exchange for Kendrick Perkins. After averaging 15 points per game with OKC, it was thought that Green could provide an extra scoring boost against the hot-shooting teams like the Knicks and the Heat.
Green, however, struggled to find his place on the Celtics after his arrival, especially coming into a lineup with veteran shooters and scorers in the form of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Green averaged only 9.8 PPG with Boston in the regular season, and only 7.3 PPG in the playoffs. Again, with proven scorers in front of him on the depth chart, Green was forced to play an average of 14 fewer minutes per game and limit his shots.
However, he has shown flashes of brilliance at times. It seems as if once he starts taking shots and finding a rhythm, Jeff Green can score fairly efficiently, shooting .485 from the field in 26 regular season games with the Celtics and a not too shabby .434 from the field during the playoffs. He has no problem getting open, and at the other end of the floor, he plays pretty good defense and isn't afraid to get physical, even against the likes of LeBron James.
Jeff Green is very capable of being a valuable asset to the Celtics, as long as he gets decent minutes and has more time to learn the offense. I'd personally like to see him stick around long enough to go through training camp, the preseason and a full 82 games with this team, because come the 2012 playoffs, he'll be able to come off the bench and keep the team in games.
5. Is Boston Now an Attractive NBA Destination?
Despite Boston's history as a bastion of American progressivism and tolerance, especially during the height of abolitionist fervor prior to the Civil War, the city gained a reputation as a hotbed of racism and intolerance during the 20th century. Minority athletes were harassed and taunted and even led to Bill Russell going into a self-imposed exile from Boston after his terrible treatment by white fans during his playing years.
After the public school desegregation busing crisis of the 1970s and the perception of the Celtics of the 1980s as a "white" team, Boston became a place where African-Americans didn't want to play because of the perceived prejudice of the predominantly white fanbase, often viewed as one of the whitest in the NBA.
However, that all seems to have changed with the arrival of Doc Rivers as head coach in 2004. Although it took a few years, some hardships and a friendship between owners, the Celtics brought legitimate star power to town for the first time since Paul Pierce's arrival a decade prior in the form of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Not only that, Doc Rivers emerged as an elite NBA coach, finally building trust among teammates as well as finding ways to make his players respect him.
With the Celtics' championship victory in 2008, it seems as if the Celtics, and the city of Boston, have turned a corner. No longer are minority athletes booed or harassed; now they're hailed as heroes, cheered and praised endlessly for their accomplishments. Perhaps now, Boston can be an attractive destination for NBA superstars, and the Celtics can build on the foundation laid by this generation of players and management.
Now if we could just make it warmer in January.
6. Is Rajon Rondo Truly an Elite NBA Point Guard?
This year saw the evolution of Rajon Rondo's skill and abilities, as he evolved from a mere point guard to a true floor general. This has been repeated ad nauseum by fans and pundits alike, but it's certainly true, as Rondo averaged a double-double for the entire season for the first time in his career (10.6 PPG and 11.2 APG).
Slowly but surely, Rondo has increased his ability to move the ball around the floor, finding open players and keeping the offense moving. He's even beginning to develop a jump shot, which will serve him and the team well if the play breaks down and he's left with the ball.
Rondo is clearly the most important offensive players on this team because frankly, without him, the offense slows down drastically, and it is nowhere near as effective at scoring points.
However, some have continued to question various aspects of his game. Despite his developing jump shot, he is still mostly effective scoring-wise if he drives to the hoop, which is problematic against teams with a solid interior defense. His free-throw shooting still leaves a lot to be desired, and at times he seems to crack under pressure, growing visibly hostile toward teammates and even Doc Rivers in certain situations.
Last but not least, some contend he doesn't score enough compared to colleagues like Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.
This was certainly a big year for Rajon Rondo, but was it truly enough to make him one of the NBA's elites at the point? Some say yes, others say no. In the end, it may simply take more time.
7. How Much Blame Does Danny Ainge Deserve for the Celtics' Defeat?
Danny Ainge has certainly had a roller coaster ride as Executive Director of Basketball Operations for the Celtics. Holding his post since 2003, Ainge has traded popular players (the Antoine Walker and Kendrick Perkins sagas), suffered conflicts with coaching staff (namely Jim O'Brien), and still manage to bring a huge surplus of talent into Boston (we need not rehash the 2007 offseason).
It is for the Perkins trade that Ainge has raised the most ire. Since the very day of the trade, fans and pundits questioned the wisdom of losing a defender for a shooter, and its implications were discussed for the remainder of the regular season, as it appeared that fears over discord among players were realized with the Celtics' fall from first to third in the Eastern Conference.
Despite fans hopes that the team would regroup for the playoffs, the Celtics were dismantled by the Miami Heat and sent home for the summer.
It's going to be debated for quite some time how much the loss of Perk really affected the Celtics, and depending on the answer to this question, how much blame Danny Ainge deserves for brokering this trade. Ultimately, the debate may only be an exercise in futility, as the fact of the matter is that Perk is gone, and the Celtics will simply have to go on with what they have and make changes to compensate.
8. Can Delonte West Solidify His Position as Backup Point Guard?
Delonte West returned to Boston after a stint with the LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers. Aside from his difficulties on the court as well as continued personal and legal problems, rumors of...uh..."extracurricular" activity involving Delonte and LeBron's mom Gloria surfaced, creating some tabloid fodder and downright entertaining conversation. If the rumors are true, then I can imagine it's been pretty awkward when LeBron and Delonte lineup next to each other to rebound free-throws.
Anyway, upon Delonte's return to the Celtics and his return from a 10-game suspension and a wrist injury, he emerged as a true backup at point guard to Rajon Rondo. Although not on Rondo's level, he's done a solid job off the bench, certainly holding his own and keeping the offense rolling while Rondo gets some much needed rest, especially after his elbow injury suffered against Miami.
In addition to his solid play on offense, Delonte's done an excellent job on defense. Having seen him up close, he gave Dwyane Wade and Mike Bibby problems on ball, and he's a great asset if the Celtics can hold onto him and make sure he stays out of trouble. After early season turmoil, he's finally settled down. Maybe now he can keep it that way.
9. What Do the Celtics Even Begin to Do with the Players Who Barely Play?
OK, maybe this question isn't burning, but I think it's worth discussing. I'm talking about the likes of Troy Murphy, Sasha Pavlovic, Von Wafer, Carlos Arroyo and even Nenad Krstic during the playoffs. They were players the Celtics added at and after the trade deadline to keep the lineup fresh with healthy bodies. Unfortunately, they never ended up getting much time outside of garbage minutes during blowouts.
Sure, they came into an already firmly established rotation, so naturally getting minutes for these guys proved difficult. However, what are the Celtics supposed to do with them? In all likelihood, they'll try to use at least some of them as bargaining chips to bring in more talent, while Krstic may end up sticking around to provide another body for use in the paint. If he could gain some vertical length and agility, he could end up doing pretty well at both ends of the floor.
The Celtics will need to figure out what to do with the end of the bench. They haven't played much this season, but there's always the fear that if the front end of the bench gets hurt, there may not be enough at the back end to sustain the team. Again, this isn't necessarily a burning question, but it needs to be addressed.
10. Can This Generation of Celtics Players Bring Home Banner 18?
Oct. 28, 2008, was a great moment in the history of the Boston Celtics. For the first time in 22 years and for the first time at TD Garden (then TD Banknorth Garden), the Celtics raised a championship banner to the rafters. I had the pleasure of being in attendance that night, and I got to witness Banner 17 rise from the parquet floor in front of eyes. It was a special moment for me, especially since I was born some time after the Celtics won their previous championship in 1986.
It was a great event to witness, as Celtics players and fans got to see the fruits of their labor; the hard work and toughness shown by players and personnel, and the reward given to fans for their loyalty and faithful during those 22 banner-less years.
I for one would love to witness another rolling rally and banner raising, hopefully with this core group of players. However, the chances are growing increasingly slim. 2010 was seen as the Big Three's last best to shot to win another championship, with their improbable run to the Finals and their narrow loss in seven games to the Lakers.
The team entered 2011 with high hopes after that magical run but fell short after age and fatigue reared its ugly head sooner than expected. Already, it seems as if 2012 may bring another trip to the playoffs, but not much else.
Being the total homer that I and many others are, I keep on hoping that more talent can be brought in to back up the Big Three so that they can make another "one last run." However unlikely this may seem, it's not totally impossible; it'll just require a little ingenuity in the front office and a whole lot of Luck of the Irish on the court. It's yet another challenge for the Celtics to overcome, perhaps reminiscent of 2007-08.
In the end it's all speculation until we see it happen. But maybe, just maybe, all the hope in the world will be justified one more time.