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Competition Discussion: Boston Celtics

The season is still not here, 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, we're 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.         

Previously: Atlanta.

Last year's record50-32 (Pythagorean record: 52-30)
Playoffs: Defeated Miami Heat 4-1 in first round, defeated Cleveland Cavaliers 4-2 in second round, defeated Orlando Magic 4-2 in Eastern Conference Finals, lost to Los Angeles Lakers 4-3 in NBA Finals

Offensive Rating: 107.7 (15th)
Defensive Rating: 103.8 (5th)
Pace: 91.6 possessions/game (22nd)

In: Jermaine O'Neal, Shaquille O'Neal, Avery Bradley, Delonte West, Semih Erden, Luke Harangody, Von Wafer
Out: Rasheed Wallace, Tony Allen, Shelden Williams

Projected starting lineup: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal

Five big questions:

  • How much do Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett have left in the tank?
  • It's been a whirlwind four months for Rajon Rondo.  He's emerged as a potential superstar with great playoff performances, but then got cut from Team USA.  How does he respond?
  • With Kendrick Perkins sidelined for half the season, how do the minutes shake out up front?  Will there be chemistry issues once Perkins comes back?
  • How will Doc Rivers coach, knowing that this is probably his final season with the Celtics?
  • Can Nate Robinson and Glen Davis continue to be reliable bench options after their strong postseasons?

When the Celtics decided not to trade Ray Allen at the deadline last year, they made their decision to ride out the Big 3 for as long as they possibly could.  Considering that, I think they did about as well as they could for themselves this offseason.  Sure, the Paul Pierce extension was for a couple too many years, and sure, Ray Allen might not be worth $10 million a season anymore.  But those were moves the team had to make, and ultimately, they were right to stay the course.

Beyond that, you have to like what Danny Ainge did this summer.  Jermaine O'Neal is a helpful piece for the mid-level exception, especially for just two years.  He quietly had one of his strongest seasons in recent years last season (17/9 per 36 minutes, with a 17.9 PER and a 56.3% TS% along with quality defense), though he did play horribly in the playoffs.  With Kendrick Perkins out until January or February with the torn ACL he suffered in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, O'Neal fills a need.  You also have to like the additions of Shaquille O'Neal and Delonte West for the minimum (and in West's case, unguaranteed).  Both players are risks, but at the price the Celtics got them, the reward could be outstanding.  Finally, don't be surprised if you hear something from Avery Bradley (the best perimeter defender in the draft) and Semih Erden (a Turkish center impressing at the World Championships) before it's all said and done.  On paper, this is the deepest the Celtics have been since 2008. 

Of course, that increased depth means nothing compared to the play of the Big 3 + Rondo.  Last season, it was clear Kevin Garnett had lost a full step and Pierce and Allen lost a half step each.  There's enough depth behind Garnett and Allen to give them a bit more rest than in year's past, but depth behind Pierce is still shaky, especially with the loss of Tony Allen.  An injury to Garnett probably won't be as devastating as it was last year, but if Pierce goes out, that remains problematic.  

Then, there's Rondo, who has had an interesting summer to say the least.  We may never know what happened that caused him to go from being Team USA's starter to being cut, but you can't help but ask the same questions that were asked last summer about his maturity and coachability.  Rondo has clearly established himself as one of the best point guards in basketball, but the Lakers proved you can still take him out of games offensively if you are smart.  The next step for Rondo is to thwart that and develop into the kind of player that can win some games for the Celtics with his scoring.  The Celtics had problems scoring in the fourth quarter last year, primarily because Rondo wasn't ready to assume that kind of role.  For the Celtics to match their success last season, he needs to do that.  

In the end, I expect a season similar to last year.  They'll look brilliant at times and terrible at others.  There will be some minor injuries that seem like a bigger deal than they are.  There will be some blowout losses, especially against athletic teams that have quick wings and mobile big men.  There may even be similar chemistry issues, especially at center with Perkins in a contract year and the two O'Neals not used to playing fewer minutes.  But once the playoffs begin, this will again be a team nobody wants to face.  They're deeper, they know how to get it done, and with Doc Rivers in probably his final year on the bench, they will have that extra motivation they probably need.  

Mike's prediction: 51-31, third in the Eastern Conference

BF editor predictions:

Team Mike Prada CJ Hempfeld Sean Fagan Rook6980 Jon Kelman Jake Whitacre
Atlanta 45-37 44-38 44-38 46-36 48-34 43-39
Boston 51-31 51-31 48-34 42-40 50-32 60-22
Golden State
LA Clippers
LA Lakers
New Jersey
New Orleans
New York
Oklahoma City
San Antonio