10 Things Every Fan Needs to Know About Boston Celtics for 2013-14 Season
Though the team still has much of its talent from the 2012-13 season, eight of the 15 players currently under contract with the Celts have never donned a green jersey before, and Butler wunderkind Brad Stevens has been brought in to be the franchise’s new head coach.
With so much transition going on in Beantown, it is hard to predict just exactly how the 2013-14 season will go for the Celtics. This could be a young team that gels quickly and stays in the playoff mix, but it could also be a squad that struggles with continuity and chemistry issues.
It is impossible to accurately predict just how this year’s Celtics will fare with so many unknowns and variables, but there are plenty of things that fans should be watching and familiar with once the season is underway.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at 10 things that every fan should be aware of about one of the league’s hardest-to-predict teams.
This Team Is Not a Contender
Let’s start with the plainest truth we can—that the 2013-14 Boston Celtics, as currently constructed, are simply not an NBA title contender.
The team has some nice pieces, and the core is in place for improvement down the line. However, without Pierce and Garnett and with Brad Stevens replacing Rivers, this is simply a team not equipped to make a meaningful postseason run.
Though Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green have the makings of a potent, athletic offensive tandem and rotation players like Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee and Brandon Bass provide some toughness and defense as well as the occasional scoring punch, this team is lacking in the superstar talent it takes to win a title.
To make matters worse, the top of the Eastern Conference is absolutely stacked, with the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets all effectively guaranteed top-5 seeds in the postseason. On a pure talent level, the Celts are clearly a step behind those five squads.
The difference between this year’s Eastern Conference and the past few seasons though is that the teams vying for the No. 6, 7 and 8 seeds are no longer merely the least bad teams in a group of mediocre squads.
Thanks to offseason improvements, the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards should all be chasing a playoff berth, while the Milwaukee Bucks continue their time-honored tradition of going all-out to clinch the No. 8 spot.
Barring some unforeseen injuries or Kelly Olynyk turning out to be a total bust, this team should at least be in the mix. Yet, even if they manage to make the postseason, they will be nothing more than first-round fodder.
The lack of veteran leadership and the roster turnover will ultimately be too much for the C’s to overcome.
Don't Get Attached to Anyone on the Roster
Though the Celtics acquired plenty of assets in the blockbuster Nets deal, their roster is filled with its share of redundancy, glaring positional holes and veteran players who simply do not fit with the identity of this team going forward.
Even the players still around from 2012-13 may not be safe. Boston would “love” to trade Jordan Crawford according to CSNNE’s A. Sherrod Blakely, and we've seen rumors involving the Detroit Pistons and the Dallas Mavericks among others swirl around Rondo.
Though a Rondo deal is unlikely in the immediate future given that he is coming off of an ACL tear and Boston does not have a single other proven point guard on its roster, the C’s have plenty of depth at the shooting guard and power forward spots, making it possible that some of those players could be dealt.
Bradley and MarShon Brooks are both intriguing young players who have had some success in their short careers. Bradley is a transcendent on-ball defender, while Brooks can score in bunches if given consistent minutes.
The presence of those two could make Crawford and Lee expendable. Crawford is effectively a less-efficient version of Brooks, a high-volume scorer who works best with the ball in his hands and cannot shoot much from three-point range, while Bradley has a higher overall upside than the 27-year-old Lee.
Though neither player was particularly impressive in their first year with the Celtics, they could be at least interesting options for a contender that is thin on the perimeter and wants an experienced guard.
Despite his recent arrest, Jared Sullinger figures to be the future at the 4 for Boston. Sullinger showed flashes of potential before back surgery ended his rookie season, and he averaged 10.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists per 36 minutes in 2012-13.
With Sullinger expected to take on a more significant role and Olynyk looking like a true stud on the offensive end, veterans like Bass and Kris Humphries are going to be playing in reduced roles going forward.
Both have skills that could be valuable to playoff teams, particularly Bass’ mid-range shooting and underrated defense and Humphries’ rebounding, and should garner some interest on the trade market.
Additionally, Humphries’ $12 million expiring deal might be enough to net Boston a meaningful asset for its rebuild.
The main player the C’s will look to deal, though, is Wallace. Wallace will earn $30 million over the next three seasons and it is clear that the 31-year-old wing’s game is declining.
He averaged just 7.7 points, 4.6 boards and 2.6 assists in 2012-13 while shooting 39.7 percent from the field and posting a PER of 11.58.
Because of the duration of Wallace’s contract, Boston will likely have to throw some sweetener into any deal, but with Green already at the 3 it does not make much sense for the team to keep Wallace in town.
In short, I would not make 2013-14 the year you buy a Celtics jersey, since the name on the back may not be with the team for long.
Ron Adams Will Be Key Going Forward
While hiring Stevens rightly earned the attention of the basketball world, Boston’s decision to sign former Chicago Bulls lead assistant Ron Adams was one of the savvier underrated moves of the 2013 offseason.
Adams spent three seasons with the Bulls, but did not have his contract extended and wound up on the open market. He has spent more than 20 years as an assistant in the league, working with the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers and others in addition to the Bulls.
Not only will Adams’ veteran experience be a major help to the young Stevens in his debut season, but also Adams’ two main strengths as a coach are areas the Celts could certainly use help in.
During his time with Chicago, Adams was praised for his ability to develop young talent. Adams worked closely with Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, two players who have made significant strides in their time with the Bulls and emerged as valuable contributors come playoff time.
Both are among the best defenders in the league at their respective positions and have flashed valuable skills offensively. Butler shot 38.1 percent from deep last season, while Gibson shot a career-high 68.8 percent on shots at the rim, proving his finishing ability.
In Olynyk, Sully, Bradley and Brooks, the Celtics have a number of young players with intriguing talent who still need to develop their skills before it becomes clear if they should be part of Boston’s long-term future. Having Adams pacing the sidelines should help to determine that quicker.
Additionally, Adams is a quality defensive coach, and with Rivers gone this team is going to be experiencing somewhat of a transition on the defensive end of the floor. Adams is familiar with the system Tom Thibodeau used in Chicago and first honed when he was an assistant with the C’s.
Although not a blockbuster move, Boston’s decision to sign Adams should pay dividends going forward.
It's a Make-or-Break Year for the Starting Backcourt
With their responsibilities on both ends of the floor increasing significantly, the 2013-14 season will be the ultimate factor in whether or not Rondo and Bradley remain the C’s backcourt tandem of the future.
Bradley is a restricted free agent in the 2014 offseason, making him eligible for a contract extension this year. Though he has emerged as an elite perimeter defender, his offensive game has not improved much in three years with the C’s.
Bradley boasts career averages of 6.9 points, 1.7 boards and 1.4 assists on 43.8 percent shooting overall and 33.5 percent from three. Those are decent numbers from a guard who is still just 22 years old, but certainly not worth $7 or $8 million per year.
In 2012-13, Bradley struggled with increased responsibility and though he posted career-highs in scoring (9.2) and assists (2.1) per game, he shot just 40.2 percent and was shaky when shooting from the perimeter.
With his inability to play point guard despite his 6’2” stature and his struggles in the playoffs against New York, Bradley will need to improve significantly on offense if he wants a lucrative, long-term extension from the C’s.
As for Rondo, he will need to prove capable of taking on a major leadership role and an increased offensive burden in his first year without Pierce and KG.
Rondo likely will not lead the league in assists because of the lack of offensive talent around him, and he must be more willing to look for his own shot than he has in the past.
He has made strides as a jump shooter and has a nifty post game he can break out in the right situations, but too often he forces passes instead of going for easy scores, decisions that ultimately hurt the team.
With two years and just $24.8 million left on his deal, Rondo is one of the league’s most affordable elite players, meaning if the C’s feel he is not their franchise guy there will certainly be plenty of potential suitors for the four-time All-Star.
The Interior Defense Will Be Ghastly
Once Boston traded Kendrick Perkins in 2011 their interior defense began to deteriorate, but the team was still able to protect the paint well enough with KG manning the middle.
Though he averaged just one block per game in 2012-13, the presence of Garnett around the rim helped to deter opponents from attacking the hoop consistently. Boston managed to finish 12th in points allowed per game at 96.7 despite all of its injury troubles.
The C’s were also sixth in defensive efficiency at 100.4, a stat they owe greatly to Garnett’s ability to play smothering help defense and keep his teammates in the right positions.
Now that Garnett is gone Boston’s best rim protector may be Green, as the Celts’ roster lacks a single player they can plug in at the 5 for long stretches defensively.
The 238-pound Olynyk is not strong enough to bang inside with the league’s more physical bigs, while Sully is too small due to his lack of length and his 6’9” stature.
Humphries is strong enough and good enough on the glass to play some minutes at the 5, but he allowed opposing centers to post a PER of 16.8, according to 82Games, and is not a reliable defensive presence.
The fact that the league is moving towards a small-ball era should help Boston, but they will still struggle to deny penetration against quick guards and play any semblance of effective help defense on screen-and-roll plays.
Last season, KG sat out eight games in March and April, and during that time Boston gave up 100 or more points five times. Unless an unexpected frontcourt player makes a developmental leap, expect teams to be able to get inside against the Celtics and attack the paint.
For as good as the Celtics’ perimeter defense is, they will certainly have many questions on the inside.
Brad Stevens Will Be Good, but Not Yet Great
When Boston signed Stevens to a six-year, $22 million contract in July it indicated that the organization is committed to Stevens for the foreseeable future.
By giving him such a lengthy deal, the franchise acknowledged Stevens may struggle early on, and that is a completely reasonable expectation as he transitions from college to the pros.
Stevens’ success has been built on getting his players to buy into his selfless, defense-first system, something that will take time in the NBA. Professional players have much larger egos, and the 36-year-old head coach will have to earn their respect during the course of the season.
Additionally, there have been a number of successful college coaches, including Rick Pition, John Calipari and Tim Floyd, who never quite got the hang of coaching in the NBA despite successful college stints.
Stevens’ teams have never been great offensively, relying on a more methodical pace that milks the 35-second shot-clock in order to get a quality look. In his six years with Butler his teams cracked the top 100 in points per game just once, when they were 71st in 2010-11.
Though the Celtics have some holes on the defensive end that must be addressed, their offense is going to be the real issue Stevens has to fix in his inaugural campaign.
While his ability to adapt, motivational prowess and embracing of advanced analytics all will help in the seasons to come, they will not necessarily translate to immediate success as Stevens slogs through his first 82-game season with an imperfect roster full of pieces that don’t quite fit.
There is no reason to believe Stevens will be a flop, and if all goes well he could be the C’s coach for the next few decades, but Boston fans should temper their expectations in year one.
Kelly Olynyk Is a Dark Horse ROY Contender
If the NBA did an Offensive Rookie of the Year award like the NFL, Olynyk might be the favorite, but since the league only has one award, Olynyk will have to settle for being merely a contender.
After being drafted 13th overall by Dallas and traded to Boston, there were plenty of concerns over whether Olynyk could dominate NBA players the way he did against WCC competition at Gonzaga.
Olynyk quickly silenced critics with a huge Orlando Summer League, averaging 18 points, 7.8 boards, 2.4 dimes and 1.8 steals on 57.8 percent shooting overall.
During those five games he showed off a complete offensive arsenal, as he was able to shoot from outside, score from the block, control the offensive glass, pass and even handle the ball a little bit.
Olynyk possesses guard-like instincts and skills as a 7-footer and has the ability to make plays very few other players his size can make. Though his three-pointer is still a work in progress, Olynyk is borderline automatic from mid-range and has the ability to react to closeouts and put the ball on the floor.
The C’s will also have Sully, Bass and Humphries taking up minutes in the frontcourt, but this offensively-challenged team should lean heavily on Olynyk, who could comfortably average double-digit points if he gets enough minutes.
Rebounding is an issue, particularly on the defensive glass, and Olynyk has a long way to go as an interior defender and a shot-blocker, but nowadays very few players enter the league as offensively polished as Olynyk, who carried Gonzaga’s offense during his final season in Spokane.
It’s tough to consider him the outright favorite over top picks like Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore or Anthony Bennett, but Olynyk should certainly be in the conversation all season long.
If he can crack the starting lineup early, expect Olynyk to be a lock for the All-Rookie Team at the very least.
Jeff Green Will Struggle Some as a First Option
The knock against Green throughout his career has been that despite his tremendous athletic gifts he never seems to consistently dominate, and in his first season as Boston’s main scorer that should be apparent pretty often.
Green averaged 12.8 points, 3.9 boards and 1.6 assists on 46.6 percent shooting with the Celtics in 2012-13, and found a solid rhythm as a starter during the latter half of the season.
He blossomed in the playoffs, averaging 20.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting a blistering 45.5 percent from beyond the arc.
He simply does not have much experience being a team’s go-to guy, and though he has the ability to score 20-plus every night, he has developed some habits that will make that difficult to accomplish in 2013-14.
When Green starts a game poorly he often disappears and has major trouble finding a rhythm and a role as time goes on. In order to be a consistent first option a player needs to be able to shake off a slow start, but that is something Green has battled unsuccessfully during his five NBA seasons.
Additionally, Green has never had to deal with defenses focused largely on stopping him. Oklahoma City opponents were far more focused on Durant, which left Green open to cut to the basket or spot-up from the perimeter.
Even with the C’s, opponents were concerned about Pierce’s playmaking or Garnett’s silky mid-range touch enough that game-planning for Green’s unique skill set was not a priority.
Though Rondo will spend more time with the ball in his hands, he is not a natural scorer, meaning that Green will be the one taking the lion’s share of shots for this young team.
As the first option, Green will need to be able to score in isolation, something he had trouble with in 2012-13. He shot just 40.4 percent on iso plays, per Synergy Sports, and will need to improve upon that number.
A career 34.5 percent three-point shooter, some regression should be expected after his phenomenal postseason performance from deep, although he did shoot 38.5 percent from three in the regular season.
Make no mistake, Green has the talent to be a top-notch scorer, but at 27-years-old he is still finding his place in the league, and will have as many frustrating moments as triumphant ones in his first season as the Celtics’ main scoring threat.
Boston Has a Very Valuable Trade Exception
Praise for Boston’s haul in exchange for Garnett and Pierce has largely focused on the three unprotected first-round selections given up by Brooklyn, but the C’s also managed to net a very valuable trade exception worth roughly $10.3 million, per Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe.
The trade exception, which expires on July 12, 2014, was acquired by Boston because guard Keith Bogans was technically part of a sign-and-trade with Pierce. The great disparity between their salaries was ultimately what made the exception possible.
The exception allows Boston to trade for players with higher salaries than those the C’s are sending out and could help the Celtics acquire an asset or two from a team looking to clear cap space for a run at LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony in 2014.
Additionally, the exception also increases the possibility of Boston pulling another blockbuster, KG-type deal that involves a number of their young players being shipped out and an aging but still elite star talent being sent to Beantown.
There are several possible candidates Boston could pursue, including LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love, but don’t necessarily expect the C’s to go for a home run right away. Instead, the team will likely use the big exception to help facilitate larger deals in exchange for a potential asset or a draft pick.
In the scheme of the deal a trade exception seems negligible, but if it plays out well it could have major implications down the road.
This Year Is Step One
A quick look at the Celtics’ roster heading into 2013-14 makes it clear that this is a franchise in flux, so while this year can go a long way towards rebuilding the team this is a process that will not be complete by the start of 2014-15.
Instead, the goal of this season will largely be to evaluate the talent on the roster and see who fits going forward as well as who should be dealt or left to walk in free agency.
While it is pretty clear that Wallace, Humphries, Bogans and Crawford are not long-term fits with the C’s, it is still too early to tell whether most of the other pieces are going to be around for years to come.
The Celtics’ inactivity in free agency made it clear that this is a team that wants to evaluate what it has already before going out and signing players to fill more glaring needs at center and backup point guard.
With logjams at the 2 and 4, the front office will be watching Bradley, Brooks, Lee, Sully, Bass and Olynyk very closely, as all six players figure to be in the mix for heavy minutes throughout the year.
It obviously does not make sense to keep them all when some could have value on the open market, but it first needs to be determined who is capable of stepping in and helping to fill the shoes of Pierce and KG.
Transitioning to a new coach is rarely an easy thing, particularly a coach with no experience in the league, and there are going to be some rough stretches as Stevens implements his system and the players adjust to his style from Rivers’.
Additionally, while there is a good chance Boston ends up with a decent lottery pick in the 2014 draft, it is unlikely the team is bad enough to get the inside track in the “Riggin’ for Wiggins” sweepstakes.
Boston could end up with a player like Kansas’ Joel Embiid or Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein, two young, athletic big-men who are brimming with potential, but will not instantly turn around the franchise.
In short, while the Celtics have a nice young core and do not appear to be headed for a Milwaukee-style period of NBA purgatory, this rebuilding process will almost certainly last another season or two.