Every year about this time, with the leaves changing and the temperatures cooling, the sports world begins to shift its focus to the upcoming NBA season and the plethora of media outlets including the hard-working bloggers that cover every one of the 30 teams provide their previews of their respective teams. Our friends and content partners at CelticsBlog are launching the latest version of the NBA Blog Previews for the 2013-2014 season. Today marks the release of the previews for the Boston Celtics, thus CLNS Radio's entry in the series. Stay tuned to CelticsBlog and CLNS Radio for full coverage of every preview from our blogger friends from around the NBA. A special thank you to Jeff Clark for including us as he has every year.
Team Name: Boston Celtics
Last Year's Record: 41-40 (2nd in Atlantic Division, 7th in Eastern Conference)
Key Losses: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, coach Doc Rivers
Key Additions: Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Gerald Wallace, Kelly Olynyk, coach Brad Stevens
What significant moves were made during the offseason?
What moves were made that weren't significant? The Boston Celtics have begun the post-Big Three era for real by pulling the trigger on a blockbuster trade that sent the heart and soul of the team for the past six seasons a few hundred miles south to Brooklyn, in Kevin Garnett and captain Paul Pierce. Coach Doc Rivers bolted for the left coast to run the Lob City Clippers. Former Butler coach Brad Stevens was brought in to launch the rebuild with his youthful enthusiasm and his Moneyball-like philosophy. The Celtics received a package that included a strong rebounder in Kris Humphries, a true backup point guard in Keith Bogans, and veteran scorer in Gerald Wallace and a young, potentially dynamic scorer in MarShon Brooks. Kelly Olynyk was drafted 13th overall in the first round.
While the masses believe they will tank in lieu of the strong draft class free agent pool in 2014, Stevens & Company are already talking the talk that they will be competitive. With these moves, the Celtics will not be as bad as everyone wants them to be.
What are the team's biggest strengths?
Jeff Green will come into camp nearly two years removed from open heart surgery that likely saved his life from an aortic root aneurysm. With Pierce and Garnett gone and Rajon Rondo's return from injury unlikely until December, Green will be thrust into the role of number one option on offense. With his freakish athletism and deadly outside jumper, a confident Green will thrive in his new role.
Rebounding should also be a strength rather than a hindrance (as it has been for the last few seasons). Humphries did have an off-year last season, but averaged 10.4 and 11.0 rebounds per game in the two previous seasons. A healthy Jared Sullinger will again be tasked with taking up space in the paint and using his fundamentally sound, though undersized body to swallow up rebounds. Having a bit more size with be a strength as well with a true seven-footer in rookie Olynyk and the 6'11 Brazilian center Vitor Faverani added to the mix.
Bench scoring should be on the rise this coming season as well. Brooks will provide a burst off of Stevens' bench and if Wallace can harness the scorer he was a few years ago he could be a pleasant surprise despite the boat anchor of a contract that the Celtics have absorbed. Brooks may have only averaged 5.4 points per game last season, however he led the Brooklyn Nets bench in scoring 11 times and scored in double digits 15 times with a career-high 27 points in one of his two starts. Last season was the first since 2003-2004 in which Wallace did not average double figures in scoring. In 2011-2012 with the Nets, he averaged 15.2 points per game while shooting nearly 42% from the field. If the Orlando Summer League told us anything, Olynyk can a scoring force off of the bench as well with his moves inside and his ability to hit the outside jumper, even beyond the arc.
The youth movement will also be a strength of this team, particularly if Stevens wants to run. Bogans is the oldest player on the current roster and they actually have no one born in the 1970's. Seven of the players are 25 or younger and only Bogans (33) and Wallace (31) are even over 30.
What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
As much as Green has the opportunity to step up to be the number one scorer, that could also be his demise. He has never been the go-to guy, what with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook the focus in Oklahoma City and Pierce, Garnett, and Rondo ahead of him in Boston. He needs to play with supreme confidence every single second he is on the floor. The team is lacking superstar power severely until the return of Rondo and also the scoring outside of the presumed 20-plus points per game from Green. Who will be the number two scorer? Could it be Avery Bradley? Could it be Kelly Olynyk? Could it be Jared Sullinger? This is a huge question mark and one that will only be answered on the floor in just about a month's time. On paper, it appears as if they have the talent. Execution will be the key.
Everyone is aware of Bradley's swarming on-ball defense. Beyond that, what do the Celtics have in the way of being able to stop their opponents, particularly on the perimeter? Last season, their opponent field goal percentage was 44%, which actually had them in the upper eschelon of the NBA, seventh out of the 30 teams. Behind the three-point line, they jumped up to fourth in the league, allowing a percentage of just over 34. With the loss of top defenders Garnett and Pierce, who will carry the load on the defensive end? Defense is a cornerstone of Stevens' coaching style, but will be have the firepower to defend at that clip? This roster doesn't scream "stopping power".
Brad Stevens has never coached in an NBA game before. His reputation in college is unmatched. He led the Butler Bulldogs to two NCAA Championship games, although they lost to Duke and Connecticut consecutively. He was the youngest coach to bring his team to the Final Four and to two championship games. He was also the third-youngest coach to have a 30-win season. He may have a calm, cool demeanor on the bench, but how will he handle NBA egos? How will his sabermetric style of coaching and analyzing opponents work into today's league? Stevens will have a spotlight on him for as many of the six years of his contract he is actually able to fulfill. The Boston fans and the media will scrutinize every move, however small. Perhaps he can consult with Billy Beane on how he handled the early days of the Moneyball Oakland Athletics organization, which turned major league scouting on its head. Stevens will be a weakness to the team until the play on the court and the preparation off of it turn him into a strength.
What are the goals for this team?
This is most certainly a two-sided argument. On the one hand, there is the argument that this team needs to tank in order to increase their chances of getting a top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. They also need to hope for a down season from the Atlanta Hawks and the Brooklyn Nets as the Celtics will hold one of their first round picks, the spot determined by the finish of both of those teams. Early mock drafts have the top picks going to Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Duke's Jabari Parker. Both of these players are freakishly athletic and hard to defend talents with high basketball IQ's. That kind of talent does not grow on trees and can be game-changing if they pan out. If you add the fact that the free agent class for next year has some sexier names in it, LeBron James notwithstanding, the Celtics could put themselves in a position to compete next season or no later than 2015 even though the unloading of Pierce and Garnett hasn't freed up as much salary cap space as everyone thinks this season.
On the other hand, the Celtics appear to have just enough talent on this roster to sneak in to the playoffs. It is not unfathomable for them to slide in with the seventh or eighth seed similar to how they finished this past season while piecing together a roster with the injuries to Rondo, Leandro Barbosa and Sullinger. Despite the reality television backlash, Humphries is a player, particularly as a rebounder. Despite this past season in Brooklyn, Wallace can be a scorer. A healthy Sullinger could surprise in his sophomore season. Brooks could be the next superstar scorer if he continues to progress at his current rate. Olynyk could be the rookie of the year. A lot of the goals for the season are tied to Rondo. Many even question whether or not Rondo should come back if ready in December. The Celtics All-Star point guard is already chomping at the bit to get back on the floor and might even start on day one if he had his way.
With Stevens as coach, one of the goals of the team will most certainly be to attain defensive prowess and again finish atop the league in as many defensive categories as possible. Stevens will be given the opportunity to feel his way through this season, particularly in the first few months and work to find the best rotation. He has unknown commodities in Faverani and Phil Pressey both of whom could emerge as key contributors and should be given every opportunity to succeed and carve a niche for themselves. Another goal will be for a leader to emerge to guide this team as an extension of the coaching staff on the court. Rondo is the likely candidate and he even had moments of drawing up plays in a huddle during summer league games and even in the few games he attend while injured last season. Green would be the next viable choice, though his quiet demeanor wouldn't seem to fit the bill. He will be needed to lead by example with his play on the court and his actions off of it with such a young roster around him.
Above all, the Boston Celtics goal should be and will be to remain competitive thoughout the season despite the win-loss record.
Where will the team ultimately finish this season?
There haven't been as many questions about the state of the Boston Celtics since before the last blockbuster trade that Danny Ainge made prior to the 2007-2008 championship season. The roster has seen more turnover than at any point in the tenure of the current President of Basketball Operations. The team hasn't been this young in a while either. All of that aside, as stated this team will not be as bad as everyone seems to think they will be.
There is virtually no chance for them to compete with the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets or even the team that knocked them out last season, the New York Knicks. With a defensive-minded coach and the potential for career years from many players there is still the chance that this is a playoff team. While the team will struggle out of the gates, the reported December return of Rondo will be the shot in the arm the team needs to go on a run. That will allow the backcourt to return to familiar roles, rather than adjusting to cover for the absence of Rondo and that comfort will bring out the best in role players like Courtney Lee, Jordan Crawford and even a veteran like Bogans who can thrive when that role is clearly defined.
Thirty-six wins will amount to a successful season for this version of the Celtics and good enough for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. A first round exit at the hands of the Heat may not seem like a success, nor a lower pick in the draft, though the experience it will provide to both Stevens and his young team will prove to be immeasurable for future versions.