With the departures of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn this offseason, and beloved coach Doc Rivers moving on as well, most Celtics fans have jumped ship on the upcoming season.
Eighth-year point guard Rajon Rondo is now the undisputed leader and face of the franchise, but his need for an attitude-adjustment and questionable leadership qualities have been the talk of the town for the past several years.
Rookie NBA coach Brad Stevens will have to learn how to manage Rondo, and the NBA, on the fly.
As the dominoes fell one after another, most Celtics fans landed on the Andrew Wiggins fan bus. A word to the wise, though: Don’t count your Ping-Pong balls just yet.
While Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has insisted the team won’t be tanking games to improve its chances of winning the No. 1 overall draft pick next June, and several players have backed that notion up, it may well be in the best interest of the team to do so. Given the Celtics’ history in the lottery -– missing out on future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan in 1997 and both Greg Oden (a blessing) and Kevin Durant (a curse) in 2007 stand out –- it’s no surprise Ainge is non-committal to a losing campaign.
Taking a closer look at the current roster, it’s not unreasonable to see the Celtics finishing somewhere around .500 and “accidentally” making the playoffs. The Milwaukee Bucks just finished the regular season at 38-44, six games below .500, yet still managed to qualify for the final playoff seed in the East — a first-round death sentence against the eventual champion Heat.
There are certainly questions surrounding this team, but they have every reason to come out and play well. Rondo will be on a mission to prove his doubters wrong after his season was cut short last February with a torn ACL. If the Celtics are truly committed to the anti-tank, Rondo will be back sooner rather than later.
Jeff Green, despite his inconsistencies, finally has a chance to shine. Two full years removed from heart surgery, Green finally looked comfortable on the court again in the second half of last season. Now that Pierce has left town, the small forward spot is Green’s to lose.
Chew on this as well: Green had never really had to bow down to any veterans before coming to Boston in 2011. Through high school, his collegiate years at Georgetown University, and even his first few seasons with the Supersonics/Thunder, he was “the” guy. Green’s teammates were always his age, and although he wasn’t the number one dog playing alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They were going through the trials and tribulations of the transition to the NBA alongside him. With these roadblocks out of the way, Green could finally take over.
Avery Bradley will likely have a chip on his shoulder, too. The combo guard has a lot to prove this season after injuries have derailed the past 18 months off and on. He’ll be a restricted free agent at the end of the season and needs to improve his value in order to prove his worth and earn a raise, Boston or elsewhere.
Rookies Kelly Olynyk, Boston’s first-rounder in June and a 7-footer out of Gonzaga, Vitor Faverani, an athletic, 23-year-old big-man with promise from Brazil, and undrafted free agent point guard Phil Pressey all have indefinite ceilings.
In addition, while most fans are writing off the return the Celtics received from the Nets in the Pierce/Garnett trade, the established players coming back — Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans, and MarShon Brooks -– provide solid depth for the team. Are these Celtics better than a Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis-led Bucks team that has since been disbanded? We won’t know until the season ends, but it’s hard to conceive this team finishing with a record any poorer, which may well lead to something entirely worse: NBA purgatory.
What good does going .500, barely making the playoffs, and earning the No. 15 pick in the draft do? None. This 2014 draft class is being compared to the 2003 class, which featured superstars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh as four of the first five picks. That draft is hailed as one of the deepest ever, but it doesn’t mean anyone worth taking is left 15 picks in.
Take Reece Gaines, for example. The Orlando Magic did, 15th overall, out of Louisville in ’03. If you’ve never heard of him, don’t feel bad -– he only played 71 career games over three NBA seasons, averaging 1.7 ppg.
The eighth seed does nothing for a team. Making the playoffs and getting swept by the likes of James, Paul George or Derrick Rose doesn’t help your team grow, and a useless pick at the end of or outside the lottery doesn’t, either.
The Celtics have a lot of promise for the future, and that is comforting news. They are also going to exceed expectations, though not by much. That, unfortunately, is the worst news of all.