Maybe this question is useless to begin with — the Celtics proved last season that regular-season standing means nothing, and bringing your A game once postseason play tips off is everything. But just for fun, let's toss this one out there: How many games will the Celtics win this season?
Stringing together solid regular-season results isn't totally futile. It establishes momentum for the playoffs that lie ahead, it earns respect from the rest of the league, and most importantly it decides playoff seeding and can land you that all-important home Game 7 with your season on the line.
So what can we expect from the Celtics this year? Take an aging nucleus, add a young rising superstar of a point guard, mix in a few added role players, and voila. You have guesstimation. Let's do our best imitation of Al Gore circa 2000 and try our hands at some "fuzzy math."
We'll start at 50, which was the Celtics' win total last season despite starting the season 23-5. Injuries and inconsistency set in, and the C's played .500 ball the rest of the way. So from 50, we can make a few tweaks considering the following:
- Kendrick Perkins could miss half the season, maybe even more. The torn ACL of the C's defensive stalwart will be a huge factor for the Celtics at the start of next season — they'll miss having their enforcer down low. Losing Perk will make them softer, weaker on the defensive glass and more vulnerable to low-post scorers than they've been in years. Subtract four.
- The Celtics might not have Perk, but they have an army of new bigs ready to fill the void. How many times last season did you turn off a C's game thinking, "If only we'd gotten that last rebound … " You don't have to think that anymore. Adding three new seven-footers in Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, and the so-far-unheralded Turkish youngster Semih Erden will be a huge boon to the C's on the glass, shoring up a major weakness of theirs last season. And don't forget Luke Harangody, the second-round draft pick that could easily make the team out of training camp. Add three.
- Rasheed Wallace is gone. Meh. No change.
- Losing Tony Allen will hurt. T.A. was a key defensive stopper against even the very best wing scorers — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant. You name them, he slowed them down. The C's will have to scramble to find lock-down wing defense. Subtract two.
- An incredible amount of depth at the guard positions will be a huge relief to the overworked Rajon Rondo, and it'll give Doc Rivers the ability to mix and match his guards off the bench, depending on the situation. He's got an electrifying scorer in Nate Robinson, a lock-down defender in Avery Bradley, and a pair of jack-of-all-trades two-guards in Delonte West and Von Wafer that can handle whatever comes their way. Add three.
- The coaching staff has taken a couple hits. Tom Thibodeau is no longer around to mastermind the Celtics' defense, and Clifford Ray won't be there to nurse the Boston bigs anymore. Subtract one.
- Doc Rivers, however, is staying, and his focus should be much better in a season that's not clouded by speculation about a premature departure. Doc's commitment to the Celtics is a huge boost. He's the one calming influence in a raging sea of egos in the TD Garden locker room. Add two.
- Age isn't only a number — it indicates that the C's biggest stars are still declining. Paul Pierce is turning 33, Kevin Garnett is 34 and Ray Allen is 35. That can't be good. Subtract two.
- But even so, you can't expect the injury bug to keep biting the Celtics the way it did last season. Garnett missed 13 games last season; Pierce sat out 11. That's a lot, and there's no indication it'll be a problem again this season. What we saw in the postseason was encouraging — we know these Celtics are capable of staying healthy despite their age, and if they can show it over the long haul this season, that would be absolutely huge. Add four.
- Urgency. The Celtics know that with each year they age, their window to win a championship closes a little more. They're going to give it their all this season, because they don't have a choice. Expect them to work hard for every win. Add three.
While math may not be my strong suit, it would appear that 55 wins is a reasonable projection for the Celtics next season.
And more importantly, you can project the C's to be ready for what comes after those 55 victories. Another run at an NBA title isn't far away.
NESN.com will analyze 25 key NBA questions this September.
Sept. 22: Who wins the Southeast Division?
Sept. 24: Who will challenge the Lakers in the West?