Yes, in many ways, the eight games Boston will play between then and the start of the regular season on Oct. 27 are mostly meaningless. As in the NFL, the NBA preseason generally translates to minimal playing time for the starters, and a whole lot for the guys — think J.R. Giddens or Bill Walker – who will spend most of their time on the bench when the real action begins.
That said, this Celtics club wears a distinctly different face from the one Boston fans last saw petering out at the end of the 2008-09 season.
It has added another athletic swingman to the bench and an All-Star power forward while dropping a frontcourt fixture and axing its backup point guard. And, of course, the 500-pound elephant in the room: KG is back.
In other words, unlike most preseasons, the upcoming three weeks of NBA scrimmaging could tell us quite a lot about the new-look Celts, including just how likely (or unlikely) they are to reclaim the throne.
With that in mind, here's a look at what to keep your eyes on during the preseason.
1. Kevin Garnett
Word is, the guy's knee is tip-top, and I don't doubt it. The 33-year-old had surgery to remove bone spurs back in May — and five months is plenty to recover from a minor operation. Perhaps the larger concern is conditioning.
If he plays in the preseason at all, that'll be the key to his turnaround.
(That doesn't imply at all that I question the man's work ethic. But going full tilt in your 20s is drastically different from working full tilt at 33.)
2. Kendrick Perkins' shoulder
The big fella has injured his left shoulder just about every season since entering the league and is a veteran of three surgeries. He opted to forgo another procedure this summer, choosing rest instead. With KG hoping to be able to give 30-35 minutes a game throughout the season, the status of Perk's shoulder is quickly becoming a bold question mark.
The other query: Entering his seventh NBA season, can the center finally stop turning the ball over? Perk averaged more than two giveaways per game in 2008-09, an unhealthy number for a center.
3. Backup point guard
This has been the most-talked-about deficiency on the Green's roster throughout the offseason, and for good cause. The C's struggled, both in the regular season and playoffs, when Rajon Rondo needed a rest and they were forced to use some mix of Stephon Marbury, Tony Allen and Eddie House to run the offense in his absence.
Clearly Danny Ainge and the Boston brass would fill that hole over the summer, right? If cutting ties with Marbury and drafting unproven Lester Hudson — then declining to sign him — fills that hole, then yes.
If not, the C's are left with House, Allen and potentially Marquis Daniels to run the point when Rondo takes a seat. That's a harrowing thought for a team that ranked third-worst in the NBA in turnovers in '08-09.
Keep an eye on the backcourt in the early going of the preseason. Doc Rivers might tip his hand as to how he'll try to manage the point guard position.
4. Marquis Daniels
The C's needed a reliable backup for Paul Pierce, who turns 32 on Oct. 13 and put too many minutes on his legs last season. Daniels, signed over from Indiana, is the answer.
The 28-year-old shooting guard averaged 13.6 points and 4.6 boards for the Pacers last year, and gives Boston an athletic ball-handling option on the wing when Pierce or Rondo need a breather. Expect Daniels, for that reason, to wear many hats throughout 2009-10, most of which he'll be trying on in the preseason.
5. Rasheed Wallace
Drop Leon Powe, add a former All-Star and Shelden Williams to replace him. Wallace, perhaps a chemistry gamble, gives Boston some Garnett knee insurance and an outside-in power forward who can serve as a veteran leader for the second unit.
He also might help light a fire under Perkins and can pick up some extra minutes in the early going to allow KG to ease back into a full-time schedule. The remaining question is how often the 35-year-old will bang with the first unit, and how often he'll hang with the bench.
The preseason should provide some clues.
Perhaps most enlightening, of course, will be Boston's final preseason game, an Oct. 21 tilt against the Cavaliers — the same team the C's will face in the regular season opener, just six days later.