WALTHAM, Mass. — It took 33 games for Celtics coach Doc
Rivers to find a starting lineup he truly liked last season, and with only some
slight injury-related tinkering, he stuck with that starting five the rest of
the way. The grouping of Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Paul Pierce, Avery
Bradley and Rajon Rondo was so effective, pretty much every member of last
year's team believes the outcome of their Eastern Conference Finals series
against the Miami Heat would have been different had all five been healthy.
Whereas starting lineup stability became a strength for the
Celtics last season, this year's squad could be built on lineup diversity. Rivers
suggested Wednesday that he could design three different starting lineups,
given the Celtics' newfound depth, depending on matchups. Jared Sullinger
thrived as the starting power forward Sunday in place of Brandon Bass, spurring
the discussion of a lineup shake-up, and Rivers brought up the idea of a fluid
A mere two games into the exhibition season, though, Rivers
stressed that every move is experimental.
"I'll throw Jared in a couple games, then I'll throw
Brandon in, I'll throw Darko [Milicic] in a couple times," Rivers said.
"You can read into whatever you want, but there have been no decisions
made on anything yet."
With six preseason games still remaining, Rivers is open to
anything — and he means anything.
"We could slide Kevin over to the four to start
games," Rivers said. "The first half of the year, I don't know if
that's a bad thing so Kevin doesn't have to have a wrestling match the entire
season with bigs. There's a lot of thoughts. We may go to a transitional
starting lineup, have three different starting lineups. We've put a lot of
thought into it, so we'll just have to figure it out."
Any lineup-juggling may not be confined to the frontcourt,
either. Jason Terry replaced Courtney Lee as the starting shooting guard on
Sunday, and Bradley presumably will get a shot at his old job when he is
healthy. Jeff Green has not participated with the "green" team of
would-be starters in practice, but Garnett complimented Green's familiarity
with the Celtics' system and professes to enjoy playing with him.
Rondo claimed that he sees more flexibility with this year's
team than any other he has played for, and he has quickly familiarized himself
with all the new additions since the team began informal workouts in early
"[Going to multiple starting lineups] won't be tough,
because that's who we practice," Rondo said. "Doc has about eight or
nine guys on the green team, which is the starting group, so I get accustomed
to Jason, I get in a flow with Courtney, so it all depends on rhythm and matchups."
Regardless of who starts alongside Garnett, Rondo and
Pierce, the Celtics' first unit is bound to be a formidable one. The Celtics
thrived once those three were able to get on the court together regularly last
season, whether they were teamed with Bass, Bradley, Ray Allen or Mickael
Pietrus. The same is expected to be true this season, provided Garnett plays
like he did in the second half of last season and Rondo continues his growth.
The second unit is more uncertain, for now. Terry is brand
new, Sullinger is a rookie, Green has played only 35 games with the team and
Milicic traditionally has struggled to stay focused over long stretches. Bass
could blow up the chemistry if he lost his starting job and sulked, and it
remains to be seen how committed Lee or Bradley is to coming off the bench, now
that both have been starters.
Rivers' "transitional" approach therefore may be
as much about fortifying the bench as improving the starting five.
"I'm not worried about our starting lineup,"
Rivers said. "I'm far more worried about our second lineup. That's the
lineup that we're going to keep moving guys around. I've said it before, if you
can take a starter and put him on the second unit, that's good for the second
unit. I don't know if we'll do that, but we may."
When Sullinger stood out on Sunday, the rumblings of a
Sullinger-Bass battle could be heard faintly.
If Sullinger does assume Bass' spot, however, it could be only the first of
many changes to come. Rivers and the Celtics are hoping this team is so deep
that one starting lineup will not be enough.