When this team won it all in 2008, it did so with a rotation that legitimately went 12 deep. The C's won with significant contributions from rookies (Glen Davis) and geezers (Sam Cassell, P.J. Brown) alike. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce played more minutes than anyone around, but when the superstars needed a break, there were plenty of guys who could give them one.
It remains to be seen whether the same will be said of the 2009-10 Celtics.
Here's what we know about next year's team. The starting five that won it all in 2008 will be back, fully intact. The bench will be led by Rasheed Wallace and Eddie House. Brian Scalabrine and Tony Allen will likely be back, too, provided Danny Ainge doesn't ship their expiring contracts out of town in a hurry. That's nine players locked in. Then the "maybe" list includes Marquis Daniels (probably a done deal, but it sure would be nice to see proof), Glen Davis (although someone might overpay to snatch him away) and Stephon Marbury (who still may come back).
The Celtics have somewhere between nine and 12 players on board for next season. But just in case they can't make a clean sweep of those "maybes," perhaps it would be best to have some faith in the youngsters waiting in the wings.
The three names no one's mentioning — Gabe Pruitt, J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker — are the three that could sneak into the conversation over the course of the next year. All three are recent draft picks that Ainge was raving about upon first selecting them, but none has quite made it so far as a regular contributor to Doc Rivers' lineup.
Relatively speaking, Pruitt is the star of the three. Few people remember that he was actually selected ahead of Davis in the 2007 draft — Pruitt went to Boston at No. 32, three picks before Seattle took Big Baby as part of the draft-and-deal maneuver that also sent Ray Allen to the Celtics. Pruitt came from a USC team that went to the Sweet 16 in 2007 — he led the Trojans past Kevin Durant's Texas Longhorns in the Big Dance and threatened to take them all the way.
Pruitt established himself as an excellent floor general in the half-court offense — the kind of guy who fits in perfectly on a team with great passers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. If the Celtics are looking for a backup point guard, they might want to look down at the end of their own bench.
Giddens has a total of eight NBA minutes to his name, but he was a star in college. After transferring from Kansas, he was an honorable mention All-American at New Mexico, where he averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 boards. He shows flashes of a young Pierce, showcasing his ability to grab rebounds from all over the floor. He even averaged 1.3 blocks a night in the D-League — as a shooting guard.
Walker is a similar player to Giddens, only bigger. At 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, he served as Michael Beasley's partner in crime at Kansas State, averaging 16 and six even though the superstar Beasley dominated the Wildcats' offense.
In the NBA, he had a quiet rookie season, but after coming off the bench in 29 games, he's put together some decent numbers. On a per-36-minute basis, you're looking at a 15-point, five-rebound guy in Walker — those sound like the stats of a suitable Pierce backup. If this Marquis Daniels thing doesn't work out, here's a great fallback option.
No one's saying that any of these guys are stars right now. They're not. But all three have the potential to contribute on the Celtics — as a 10th, 11th or even 12th man, any of them would suffice.
The Celtics' depth is not what it has been in past seasons. This team is loaded at the top, but at the bottom, it still needs a little extra something.
Some have seen the Celtics' youngsters simply as trade bait. Need to unload the expensive Big Baby? Just throw in Giddens and Pruitt, that'll work.
But that might not be the answer. In its current state, this team should be wary of any trade that hurts its numbers — sporting a 12-man rotation that can win a title is far from easy. And these recent draft picks are ready to contribute, however modestly.
Danny Ainge has always been a draft guru. He has an eye for young talent. It's served him well in the past.
Now's a good time to trust that eye.