Competition Discussion: Boston Celtics

(Previously: Atlanta).

The season is still a ways away, but most of the rosters are set, barring the requisite Michael Jordan comeback rumor (just kidding, but only a little).  We have an idea where our team stands, but we can't really know unless we discuss everyone else.  In that spirit, I'm going to throw up a "competition discussion" thread for each of the other 29 teams over the next couple months or so.  We'll go in alphabetical order from A to Z.  Today's team: Boston.  Jump to the comments to discuss the Celtics and make a prediction on their record.


Last year's record: 62-20 (Pythagorean record: 61-21)

Playoffs: beat Chicago 4-3 in first round, lost to Orlando 4-3 in second round

Offensive Rating: 110.5 (5th)

Defensive Rating: 102.3 (2nd)

Pace: 90.4 possessions/game (18th)

In: Rasheed Wallace, Marquis Daniels, Shelden Williams, Lester Hudson
Out: Leon Powe, Stephon Marbury, Mikki Moore

Projected starting lineup: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

Key themes:

  • With a lot of older teams, sometimes the wheels just come off.  Will that happen to this Celtics club?
  • How healthy is Kevin Garnett?  Why haven't we heard anything about his injury?
  • How much does Paul Pierce have left after two very long, grueling seasons?
  • How will Rajon Rondo respond this season after a summer of dealing with tons of trade rumors?
  • Does Rasheed Wallace have anything left to give?  Will he be the force he used to be now that he's on a real winning team?
  • Can Marquis Daniels adequately back up the wing positions so that Pierce and Ray Allen don't play too many minutes?
  • Who backs up at point guard?  Do they even need a backup point guard?
  • How will they approach the season?  Will they not be as serious about the regular season so as to preserve themselves for the playoffs? 

Before we get going, let me say this: rumors of Boston's aging and demise are greatly exaggerated.  Sure, if Kevin Garnett's knee keeps him out for the entire season (which won't happen), then they aren't a title contender anymore.  But even without Garnett, this is a formidable squad that went 18-7 in the regular season last year and nearly knocked out Eastern Conference champ Orlando.  They're good regardless of KG.

Keep in mind also that they posted that record without Garnett despite giving regular minutes to zeroes like Stephon Marbury, Brian Scalabrine and Mikki Moore.  Those guys' spots in the rotation have been replaced by far more productive players such as Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels, both good bench guys to have around.  Point being, Boston's additions don't jump out of you as much as Orlando's or Cleveland's, but they're arguably just as impactful. 

That said ... what exactly is going on with Garnett's knee?  The Celtics have been very tight-lipped about the whole situation ever since it became a problem last year.  Nobody knew he was going to be out for the playoffs until the Celtics said just days before the beginning of their series with Chicago.  Then, this summer, there literally hasn't been a peep from the Celtics camp or from KG himself about it.  The contrast between Garnett and Gilbert Arenas, who also has a major injury concern, is startling.  Whereas all we've heard from the Wizards is that Arenas' knee is strong, we haven't heard the same stuff about KG. 

If Garnett is fully healthy, it's a huge, huge boost to the Celtics.  Huge enough for him easily to be the most important player in the NBA next year.  That said, I'm a little skeptical that he'll play all 82 games at the level he used to play.  If the Celtics get 65 games out of KG, with him playing at a high level similar to what he played at in the past, I think that has to be considered a success for them.  Those 17 games or so KG probably misses will probably affect their record a bit.

I also suspect the Celtics will take it easy a bit in the regular season to preserve their key guys for the playoffs.  Last year, Paul Pierce was gassed by the end and wasn't playing up to par.  If the Celtics end up sacrificing a few games to give him some more rest, that'll probably be worth it in the long run.  The same goes for all their other interior guys.  With so much inside depth between Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Sheed and Big Baby Davis, I suspect many of those guys will get fewer minutes than normal.  That's the luxury the Celtics have on the interior.

That leaves only one other way for the Celtics to really be derailed this season: an injury or a lack of further development from Rajon Rondo.  The Celtics are very thin behind Rondo, and if Rondo gets hurt, they'll probably use Pierce or Marquis Daniels to bring the ball up the court, which will wear both of them out.  There still also might be issues with Rondo even if he remains healthy.  Normally, I'd believe Rondo will have a huge season next year as his game continues to grow, but you have to at least wonder how he will react to a summer where he nearly got traded, was accused of being difficult to deal with and was so openly shopped.  Will it cause him to go into a bit of a funk?  Will it stunt his further development to the point where he's only as good as he was last season?  These are fair questions.

In the end, I think the Celtics will come out on the positive end of these key questions and be a legit threat to win another title.  I'm guessing they'll finish third in the East, but only because regular-season success isn't as important to them.  If I'm Cleveland or Orlando, I'm going all out just so I can avoid the Celtics until the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Mike's Prediction: 57-25, first in the Atlantic, third in the East.

BF editor predictions chart:

Person Atlanta Boston
Mike Prada 47-35 57-25
JakeTheSnake 44-38 55-27
Truth About It 45-37 ?
Rook6980 45-37 44-38
Bwoodsxyz 45-37 56-26
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