For proof that great bench players can make a huge impact, you need look no further than Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the infamous "Shrek and Donkey" game, in which Glen Davis and Nate Robinson carried the Celtics to a 96-89 win and a 2-2 series deadlock on their home floor. To be a serious threat again next spring, the Celtics will need plenty more bench heroics down the road. So can the Celtics rebuild their bench?
Let's explore that one for a while.
Davis, who agreed last summer to a two-year, $6.5 million contract to stay in Boston, is the only significant member of the Celtics' rotation outside the starting lineup guaranteed to return in the fall. He will be back for the 2010-11 season, and possibly longer than that if he and Danny Ainge can sit down and work out an extension. But aside from Big Baby, everything else is up in the air.
Here's the breakdown:
Jermaine O'Neal won't be on the bench when the 2010-11 season first tips off, but he'll find his way there eventually. In the immediate future, he's a fill-in for Kendrick Perkins in the Celtics' starting five, but once Perk is back and healthy, expect O'Neal to be a key role player off the bench for Doc Rivers. He'll be able to come in, block a few shots, protect the rim and give the Celtics an big-time presence on the glass.
Avery Bradley and Luke Harangody are the Celtics' two draft picks, and both are a good fit in Boston. Expect them both to make the team — the C's could use Bradley as a backup point guard and as a versatile defender against opposing ones or twos, while Harangody brings size and strength to the front line.
Rasheed Wallace has announced his intent to retire, but the Celtics are still in control of the last two years and $12 million remaining on his contract. That contract is an asset to them; expect them to trade it to a team looking for cap relief. If the C's can turn Sheed into a serviceable bench role player (something that Sheed himself only was for two months), they can call that a win.
Nate Robinson is a free agent. His performance in the NBA Finals proved he can do a lot more than just win dunk contests — he's a big-time shooter that can win big games. Nate's more than a bench scrub — he's going to be worth $4 million this summer, easily. The Celtics want to keep him, and the interest appears mutual, but they'd better be ready to spend.
Tony Allen is a free agent too. The C's had better keep him — if they run into Miami's super-lineup in the playoffs, they're going to need T.A. as an energetic body to throw at LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Give him a $3 million paycheck, and he'll earn it in one playoff series alone.
Marquis Daniels had a lackluster season in Boston and did nothing to dispel rumors of his injury-proneness. But for a low enough price, could the C's keep him around? $2 million might be a figure that works for both sides.
Then there's the rest. Shelden Williams is a wild card for next season, Michael Finley is a crusty old 37, and Brian Scalabrine is all but forgotten. Oliver Lafayette and Tony Gaffney are slaving away in summer league action as we speak. Whether any of the above five will suit up in green next season is anyone's guess.
The C's have a lot of work to do still. Danny Ainge spent the first week of NBA free agency solidifying his starting five — it took some work to get Paul Pierce and Ray Allen back in the fold for next season and beyond. The next step is his bench. The draft went well, and O'Neal is a nice pickup, but there's still plenty to be done. Nate, T.A. and Marquis may only be role players, but they're the new keys to this offseason. The ball's in Danny Ainge's court now.
NESN.com will answer one Celtics question every day in July.
July 10: Will the Celtics' starting five still be the best in the game?
Monday, July 12: Will the Celtics miss Rasheed Wallace?