Jeff Green’s Inconsistency, Celtics Injury Forecast Present Major Questions in Uncertain Season

Jeff GreenThe Celtics’ last preseason game drew more than 15,000 fans to TD Garden last week, even with first pitch of Game 1 of the World Series scheduled for just an hour after tip-off.

And once Jon Lester‘s pitch at 8:07 p.m. ET came and went, the stands were still full of diehard Celtics fans.

The shockingly strong attendance showed that even in a city with three championship-caliber professional sports franchises, there is still a sizable contingent of fans who love their Celts. With the regular season tipping off Wednesday, the Celtics will do all they can to make those fans proud — one way or another.

While most season previews are parsing the position battles and hyping the excitement surrounding new head coach Brad Stevens, the details of this roster or Stevens’ X’s and O’s might be moot. The squad is filled with players who could be moved, be benched or simply fail to live up to expectations. After all, it’s unlikely Stevens plans a system long-term that features no centers, no point guards and five wing players in the nine-man rotation.

So let’s see what the true fans are really pondering as the 2013-14 season dawns.

That is probably a better way of putting it than the lazy “inconsistent” shorthand I am guilty of using myself. Jeff Green‘s production is not uneven due to lack of effort. He is simply not the type of player who can “get his” no matter what, the way Paul Pierce was able for 15 years. Like a lot of nice, competent NBA players, Green can exploit matchup advantages and use his athleticism to get to the bucket, but evidence that he can generate his own offense regardless of the opponent so far is lacking.

(By the way, this is why players like Pierce are so special.)

Darn. I was going to skip over it, but then you told me I couldn’t, so I can’t.

My best guess as your rather sadistic question is Vitor Faverani — not because he is soft or injury-prone, but because he is a physical young player who figures to get some playing time. The last two players who fit that bill were Avery Bradley (in his second year) and Jared Sullinger (as a rookie), and we saw how those seasons ended.

Faverani has already had some back trouble from all the banging in the preseason, and the physicality will only get greater once the real games start. I’m not predicting anything serious — honestly, I don’t wish for anyone to get hurt, unless they are irresponsible in taking care of their bodies, in which case they get what they deserve — but I would not be surprised if Faverani had to shut it down for a week or so just to recuperate.

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge went into the offseason with two goals: Blow up the team while doing right by Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers. There are a ton of reasons why including Rondo, as you propose, instead of Pierce does not optimize Ainge’s efforts to accomplish his goals.

Money is no object for the Nets, who can play with owner Mikhail Prokhorov‘s billions all day. But Rondo is too valuable to just dump in a deal with the Nets for a bunch of flotsam and jetsam. A 27-year-old All-Star and assist champion is worth more than just a couple draft picks from a middling team and some wasted contracts, which is essentially all the Nets had to offer. The Celtics have to be hoping to at least get a higher pick(s) and some serious payroll relief for Rondo. I think they can get that by trading Pierce to Brooklyn and Rondo in a separate deal, but not by sending Rondo to Brooklyn and trading Pierce is a separate deal.

Also, the Nets already have an All-Star point guard in Deron Williams, who is 29, dealing with ankle problems and is signed through 2016. It’s hard to imagine Ainge would swap an affordable, better point guard on a short deal for a more expensive, older, now-inferior point guard given Ainge’s stated desire to reorganize the roster.

That’s a pointed question, so here is a pointed answer: I say between 28-32, with a margin of error of about three games on either side of that. So safely expect somewhere between 25 and 35 wins next year, depending on best-case and worst-case scenarios.

With the 28-win projection, I’m assuming Rondo comes back and gives the Celtics at least a couple of months of above-average point guard play and that Green or Gerald Wallace turns out to be somewhat serviceable as No. 1 scoring options. (That’s not saying a lot given the scoring options the Celtics have.) Anything less than that and the win total is likely to tumble into the mid-20s. The East is just too thin, and guys like Sullinger are too likely to improve, for me to go lower than that.

The 32-win estimate is based on a lot of things going perfectly, if you are in the camp that actually wants the Celtics to win games. If Rondo immediately returns to his elite level and is not traded; if Green, Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk make optimal jumps; if Faverani or Kris Humphries or Brandon Bass shocks everyone with a career year — then getting into the low- to mid-30s is possible.

The funny question is, will 35 wins be enough to make the playoffs? The Bucks made it last year with 38 wins, and the eighth seed in the East might be even worse this year, since teams on the fringe will probably start tanking to get into the lottery in the last two months of the season. Even if the Celtics try really, really hard to be bad, it will be difficult to do so because so many other teams will be trying to do the same. So I don’t think we are looking at one of the all-time historically bad seasons by the Celtics this season. Sorry?

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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