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Competition Discussion: Boston

The season is still two months 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 month or so.  We'll go in alphabetical order from A to Z.  Today's team: Boston.

Last year's record: 66-16
Playoffs: Beat Atlanta 4-3, beat Cleveland 4-3, beat Detroit 4-2, beat LA Lakers 4-2.

In: Patrick O'Bryant, J.R. Giddens, Bill Walker, Darius Miles.
Out: James Posey (free agent), P.J. Brown, Sam Cassell, Scott Pollard

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

Key themes:

  • How big a loss is James Posey?
  • Can they maintain the same game-by-game focus?
  • Which Ray Allen shows up?  The one that was streaking against Detroit and LA, or the one that couldn't buy a bucket against Cleveland?
  • Now that they've won, will the Big 3 sacrifice as much this time around?
  • Can Rajon Rondo take yet another step forward?
  • Can the young bigs (Davis, Powe, etc.) replace P.J. Brown?

There was a certain point during the later parts of the season where I think lots of people started to sleep on the strength of the 2007/08 Boston Celtics.  Perhaps it was because I was interacting with Wizards fans -- after all, we did defeat the vaunted Celtics three times out of four last season -- but even so, going into the playoffs, there seemed to be a sense that the Celtics were vulnerable.  There was talk about surging LA and looming Detroit as legitimate threats to the Celtics crown.

To be fair, Boston didn't exactly impress in its first two rounds against Atlanta and Cleveland, but they may have been one of the more dominant regular-season teams in recent memory.  Their 66 wins puts them behind recent clubs like the 2007 Mavericks and 2000 Lakers, but their point differential (expected win/loss record of 67-15) bested both of those teams.  In fact, the last team that was that dominant in the regular season was the 1997 Chicago Bulls, who finished 69-13 with an expected win/loss record of 68-14.  Boston stormed out of the gate, fell off slightly when Kevin Garnett got hurt and finished strong.  They boasted the best defensive team the anti-handchecking era has ever seen, and their offense, with the Big 3 coexisting well, was pretty solid too.  In short, dominant.

Now, take that team and subtract James Posey and P.J. Brown.  Both are somewhat key losses, but neither should doom the Celtics.  Posey was a revelation last year as a guy playing for half the mid-level exception, but it shouldn't be too hard to replace most of what he brought to the table.  Brown's loss should be mitigated by expected improvements from Glen Davis and Leon Powe. 

Still, I don't see them winning 66 again, because I can't see how their Big 3 can collectively match last year's effort.  Don't get me wrong, Kevin Garnett is still a defensive beast, Paul Pierce can still score with the best of them and Ray Allen is still a sharpshooter, but I bet all of them will drop off a bit.  KG will still be intense, but there's no way the Celtics can match last year's defensive effort.  Allen is a year older and looked the part too often last year, while Pierce seems to be spending his time partying this summer instead of continuing to get better.  They'll still rock, but not quite as much.

They're still the best in the East, but the competition is catching up.

Prediction: 58-24, 1st in Atlantic, 1st in East

Previously (predictions are me/Jake/Truth)...