5 Current Boston Celtics Who Should Be Part of Long-Term Future
Times are tough in Beantown.
The Boston Celtics missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-07 campaign last season, and barring an incredible turnaround, it appears that the Celtics will be on the outside looking in again this year.
For a fanbase that is accustomed to contending, failing to qualify for the dance in back-to-back seasons will certainly be a difficult pill to swallow, but fear not: The future is bright.
Thanks to shrewd dealing and smart drafting by general manager Danny Ainge, the Celtics are teeming with young, versatile talent who should help them return to prominence sooner rather than later.
Of course, some players are more vital than others. There are several Boston players who should fit into the franchise's long-term plans.
From rookies to seasoned veterans, they are aplenty.
After an impressive rookie campaign was cut short by back surgery, Jared Sullinger entered the 2013-14 campaign surrounded by relatively high expectations.
Unfortunately, the Ohio State product did not take the kind of leap forward many anticipated, but it was not necessarily his fault.
In a lost year that saw his team bound for the lottery, head coach Brad Stevens experimented with Sullinger, attempting to expand his range beyond the three-point line.
The operation did not go as planned, with Sullinger making only 56 of the 208 triples he attempted, good for a paltry 26.9 percent.
Given the fact that Boston was not going to make any kind of run last year anyway, trying to diversify Sullinger's game was a solid idea that simply did not work out.
That being said, there are still plenty of reasons to believe the big man has the goods to become an important piece for the Celtics going forward.
First of all, Sullinger averaged 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds this past year, and over 36 minutes, those numbers come out to 17.3 and 10.6 respectively.
He also posted several monster outings, including a 25-point, 20-board effort in January and a 31-point, 16-rebound line a month later.
Finally, one criticism of Sullinger has been his weight, but it appears the 22-year-old has shed some pounds this summer, according to Zack Cox of NESN.com.
Sullinger was coy when asked about it. "Maybe," he said about whether he lost some weight. "I can’t tell you everything, but maybe."
What we do know is that Sullinger has a great feel for the game, particularly in the low post where he has flashed a solid understanding of what to do with the basketball.
This is a big year for Sully. Watch out for a potential breakout season.
When Avery Bradley signed a four-year, $32 million deal to remain with the Celtics this summer (contract details reported by Baxter Holmes of the Boston Herald), there was significant backlash about Boston overpaying for the guard's services. However, after you examine some of the other contracts that were handed out, you begin to to realize Bradley's deal really isn't that bad.
The biggest issue with Bradley is his durability. The only "full" season he has played in his four-year career was during the lockout-shortened season in 2011-12, and let's remember that he ended up bowing out of those playoffs early to get shoulder surgery. That kept him out for half of the 2012-13 campaign.
Then, last season, Bradley missed 22 games due to a variety of maladies.
The silver lining is that the 23-year-old has demonstrated considerable progress offensively.
Considered to be a poor shooter coming out of college, Bradley has developed into a reliable marksman from long distance, shooting the three-ball at a 39.5 percent clip in 2013-14. He also extended his range beyond the corners, an area he specialized in prior to last season.
He averaged a solid 14.9 points per game, displaying a demonstrable improvement in his mid-range shooting as well.
It would be nice to see Bradley finish better around the basket (the 52.4 percent clip he shot at the rim last year isn't cutting it) and get to the free-throw line more, but let's take it one step at a time.
Of course, what Bradley is most well-known for is his defensive prowess, as he continues to be one of the league's best perimeter defenders.
If he can continue improving upon his offensive game and stay healthy, Bradley should absolutely be an integral part of the C's for the long haul.
One of the things that slipped under the radar during the Celtics' 2013-14 campaign was how well Kelly Olynyk played during the second half of the season.
After the All-Star break, then-rookie Olynyk posted 11.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, shooting the ball at a 51.1 percent clip and knocking down 42.6 percent of his three-point tries.
Overall, Olynyk shot 46.6 percent during his first year and tallied very impressive per-36 numbers of 15.6 points and 9.4 rebounds.
For someone who looked absolutely lost over the first couple months of the season, this was a pleasantly surprising rookie performance indeed.
It will be interesting to see if Olynyk can build on that strong second half. There is no doubt that the 23-year-old has skill. He can shoot, pass, handle the rock and even do some rebounding. The question is whether he can become solid enough defensively where the Celtics can afford to consistently give him big minutes late in games.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Olynyk early on in his rookie season was his confidence or lack thereof. He was very tentative, appearing scared to shoot the basketball. A lot of the time, he treated the rock like a hot potato whenever it touched his hands.
You saw a noticeable difference as the year progressed, with the 7-footer developing a little swagger and showing little hesitation in letting it fly.
Let's also not forget that Olynyk will now be playing a full season with Rajon Rondo, so that alone should help him better his game.
Whether it is as a starting big man or a versatile weapon off the bench, Olynyk has a role with this Celtics team.
Not counting summer league, Marcus Smart has not played a single minute of professional basketball yet. However, you can already consider him an imperative piece to what the Celtics want to do moving forward.
Boston selected Smart No. 6 overall in this past draft for a reason.
What Smart may lack in perimeter shooting ability he makes up for with competitiveness and sheer tenacity, demonstrating a clear killer instinct on both sides of the ball.
"I’d say the first thing you notice right away is what a competitor he is, the level of intensity he brings to every play offensively and defensively," said Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga, via Jay King of MassLive.com. "So the example Marcus has set, even though he’s a young player, is that he plays hard, he values defense, he values team play."
Scouts are also raving about Smart's defense, some calling him the next great perimeter defender, per Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.
The mere idea of Smart playing alongside of pit bulls like Rondo and Bradley has to leave you salivating when you think of how ferocious that backcourt could be.
There will certainly be some growing pains with Smart as he works on bettering his jump shot and learning the NBA curve, but there is ample reason to believe he will leave his fingerprints on the C's rather promptly.
Expect an impressive rookie campaign from the Oklahoma State product, and most of all, expect him to be a fixture in Boston for years to come.
NOTE: No, I did not forget about James Young. He is a very talented kid who needs to prove something before I can label him as someone who must be part of the long-term core.
That brings us to the captain. The veteran. The champion: Rajon Rondo.
As always, Rondo's name has bounced around in trade speculation, with ESPN's Jackie MacMullan recently stating that he wants out of Boston (via King). However, that report was quickly refuted by Rondo's agent, Bill Duffy, per Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald.
Good thing, because there is absolutely no reason why Rondo should not be a member of the Celtics in the coming years.
First off, Rondo is only 28 years old, so those acting like he needs to be dealt because he is too old to be part of a rebuilding process may need to check his birthdate.
Secondly, do not underestimate the importance of an experienced presence like Rondo in the locker room for a young team. All of the players previously mentioned can significantly benefit under Rondo's tutelage, particularly the guards.
Finally, Rondo proved last season that he is well on his way to being a dominant force again. After returning from ACL surgery in January, Rajon naturally got off to a bit of a slow start, but he was back to making highlight-reel plays in no time. As a matter of fact, the floor general finished the season averaging 11.7 points and 9.8 assists a contest.
Head coach Brad Stevens recently had good things to say about Rondo, via King:
"I love him. I really think he's a big part of what we're doing," Stevens said. "Hopefully, he can have a great year right from the get-go. I thought last year was tough from the standpoint that he never did have a chance to do any drill work or to rebuild habits. He just had to be thrown into the fire."
It definitely sounds like Rondo is going to be around for a bit, and that is nothing but terrific news for Boston.