The Boston Celtics finished last season with 25 wins, and there is no quick fix to get back to contention this time around. Now a year removed from the overhaul which saw the departures of head coach Doc Rivers and future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Celtics are continuing to reconstruct its roster and forge a new direction. This season is filled with uncertainties and the faces on the team in training camp could be drastically different over the coming months.
Basketball Insiders takes a look at the 2014-2015 Boston Celtics…
Five Guys Think
If Boston Celtics fans want to feel good right now, their best bet is to take a long, hard look at their “future draft picks owed” list and start counting all the first-round selections they’ll be making in the coming years. If they want to feel bad, however, they can instead take a long, hard look at the current roster. While Rondo is still the team’s best player, it’s hard to believe he’ll be there much longer, especially with a young stud like Marcus Smart waiting in the wings. Brad Stevens is an interesting young coach, but still doesn’t quite have the talent to show what he’s made of. This is going to be another long year for the Celtics, and if lottery rules change, it could be that they don’t even have Jahlil Okafor to look forward to.
4th Place – Atlantic Division
What will the Celtics do with Rajon Rondo? That’s the big question in Boston entering the season. Unless the Celtics are able to use some of their young assets and draft picks to land a star player before the trade deadline (like they tried to do with Kevin Love), I think Rondo will be traded. Rondo will be 29 years old when he hits unrestricted free agency next summer and he is used to playing for a contender. I can’t imagine him re-signing with the Celtics as they’re currently assembled, since the franchise is in the midst of a rebuild that requires patience, when he could sign elsewhere and win in the prime of his career. I think Danny Ainge realizes this as well and will move Rondo before the deadline for more young players and draft picks. Holding onto him is too risky since they could lose him without receiving anything in return next summer. The Celtics had a nice offseason, adding potential cornerstones in Marcus Smart and James Young to a young core that already features talented pieces like Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger among others. Boston is likely another year or two away from competing for a playoff spot, but they have an excellent young coach in Brad Stevens and a lot of talented young players and valuable draft picks, so their rebuild is going exactly as planned.
4th Place – Atlantic Division
– Alex Kennedy
The Boston Celtics are in the midst of a rebuilding process president of basketball operations Danny Ainge long predicted would take place when Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were no longer in the fold. But the biggest cloud hanging over the team headed into training camp is the future of All-Star guard Rajon Rondo with the franchise. Rondo will be an unrestricted free agent next summer which will likely lead to trade rumors surrounding the star to be rampant throughout the campaign. There are some solid young assets on the roster and a few veterans who have been in their share of battles over the years. Playoff talk might be too much of a leap for this team, but with a healthy Rondo the Celtics will definitely be more competitive on a nightly basis.
4th Place – Atlantic Division
– Lang Greene
Now that Kevin Love is officially a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, it appears that Rajon Rondo’s departure from the only franchise he has known for his eight-year career is nigh. As it stands, with Ray Allen, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce all having moved on, Rondo is the lone remainder of the five pillars that won the 2008 NBA Finals. Danny Ainge will likely continue to scour the market in search of a running mate for Rondo, but this is a team heading into the second year of what may be a long rebuilding effort. With second-year head coach Brad Stevens and newly drafted Marcus Smart, the Celtics do not seem to be a team capable of challenging for anything other than being the worst team in the NBA’s Atlantic Division. Fortunately for them, the Sixers are likely to wear that honor, but unfortunately for them, the Celtics will enter the season with nothing but questions about Rondo’s future at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
4th place – Atlantic Division
– Moke Hamilton
All you have to do is look at the Boston Celtics’ depth chart to realize that they’re more than ready to trade Rajon Rondo when the right deal comes along. They’re loaded in the backcourt with plenty of young talent to take his place whenever a deal does happen, and I’d expect to see it sometime before the deadline – perhaps even earlier if Rondo gets off to a strong start or becomes more vocal about his unhappiness. Danny Ainge pulled a contender out of his hat before, but this time it seems like the road back to contention is going to be a little bit longer, because he’s not going to get contending pieces in return for Rondo. He’ll be fortunate to get a promising young big man, like a Greg Monroe and a couple of draft picks. Brad Stevens really had his moments last year and looks like he could be the right guy for the job in Boston, but this looks like it’s going to be another painful year. The only consolation is that even with Rondo, their potential just isn’t that high. The East is weak, so perhaps they could slide in to one of the final playoff spots in the best-case scenario, but that’s not the goal in Boston. They’ll take a couple steps back in order to hopefully take several forward in the future before settling on just being a one-and-done playoff team with their most tradeable asset heading towards free agency and potentially laeving for nothing in return.
– Yannis Koutroupis
Top of the List
Top Offensive Player: There is no question Jeff Green has the ability to lead the Celtics in scoring every game. The question is, however, if he will do it consistently. Green’s offensive performances have roller coastered with standouts and struggles on any given night. Last season he averaged 16.9 points per game and should be the top scoring option again this year.
Top Defensive Player: The Celtics showed their belief in Avery Bradley by inking him to a four-year, $32 million contract this summer. When healthy, Bradley has proved himself to be a lockdown defender against some of the league’s top threats. If the guard can stay on the court, he could develop into an All-Defensive Team player.
Top Playmaker: Rajon Rondo is one of the most creative players in the NBA. The combination of sky-high basketball IQ and athleticism allow him to create plays on the fly. Over the years Rondo has shown it is often hard to predict what move he will make with the ball in his hands.
Top Clutch Player: Following up with the section above, the most clutch player doesn’t have to be the one taking the final shot. (Think back to Rondo’s in-bound alley oops.) He uses his stealth-like court vision to put his teammates in position to attempt that dagger game winner.
The Unheralded Player: Undrafted, undersized, and playing behind one of the best point guards in the league, yet Phil Pressey has still established himself as a legitimate floor general in the NBA. He showed growth in Summer League and proved he is a reliable backup PG who should develop his game even more in his sophomore season.
Best New Addition: Given the uncertainty of Rondo’s future on the team, the Celtics made a smart (no pun intended) move and drafted Marcus Smart with the sixth pick this summer. The 20 year old from Oklahoma State University enters the NBA at 6-4, 220 pounds. The Celtics now have backcourt security for the future and a gritty young player who can be utilized at the one or the two.
Who We Like
1. Brad Stevens: Amid a struggling season, the newly appointed head coach was one of the standouts. Brad Stevens is gearing up for his second year in the NBA and has already made a positive impression. The players bought into his system early on and he has a season’s experience to build upon with a solid coaching staff.
2. Jared Sullinger: No longer the young guy in a group of veterans, Sullinger could have a breakout year in his third NBA season. Last year was his return from back surgery; this season he will be entering the season healthy. If he can improve his conditioning, he still has a lot of potential to reach in the front court.
3. Kelly Olynyk: After being named to the All-Rookie Second Team last season, Kelly Olynyk continued to impress in Summer League. The seven footer can stretch the floor to give the Celtics options in rotations. With the rookie learning curve behind him, Olynyk should become a more consistent contributor in his second year.
4. Tyler Zeller: For as many frontcourt players as they had last season, the Celtics lacked depth at the center position. Tyler Zeller, who was acquired this offseason in a three-team trade with the Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers, will give the Cs a young contributor who can play both the four and the five.
The Celtics roster is packed with youth and athleticism, giving them the advantage to get out and run. Stevens up tempo system allows Rondo to play in transition and creates matchup problems when players one through five can move up and down the court. What they lack in experience, they can use to outrun veteran teams.
Who are the Boston Celtics? The team lacks a true identity after being contenders for many years. Rather, this is the time when they are developing who they will become in the future. In addition the Celtics do not have the star power they boasted during “The New Big Three” era. The one remaining player from that period (see below) may not be around the entire season.
The Salary Cap
The Celtics have so many players, they can’t ink Evan Turner — despite coming to terms with the free-agent guard/forward. The offseason maximum is 20 players, where Boston sits with five non-guaranteed players including Keith Bogans at $5.3 million. The Celtics may hope to cash out Bogans in trade, along with a number of players including Rajon Rondo, Marcus Thornton, Brandon Bass, Joel Anthony, and Gerald Wallace, among others. Boston won’t rush to deal Rondo, looking for a lot in return, but the team needs to also mind the luxury tax line at $76.8 million in any deal that might come up before the roster is cut down to at least 15. The Celtics are also loaded with future picks, a $4.2 million trade exception (for Kris Humphries) and their Bi-Annual Exception ($2.1 million). Turner is expected to get a portion of the team’s $5.3 million Mid-Level Exception.
– Eric Pincus
The future is simultaneously bright and dismal in Boston. The Celtics bit the rebuilding bullet hard last year, trading away Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers in exchange for salary ballast (Gerald Wallace still has two years left on what is probably the worst contract in the NBA) and a bevy of future draft picks. But the current reality is roster with only one player–Marcus Smart–who looks like a good bet to become an above-average NBA starter on the next good Celitcs team. Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, and Jared Sullinger have their strengths, but they all look to be mostly one-way players. Rajon Rondo’s contract will expire at age 29 next offseason, and he should not be a part of the Celtics’ long-term plans considering his age and likely salary demands. And while the squad has both draft assets and cap space, it remains to be seen whether superstars may be available via trade or free agency. Even if one were, the lack of established talent on the roster could hamstring efforts to acquire such a star.
Perhaps the best asset in Boston is their coach, Brad Stevens. The former Butler wizard scraped together a nearly league-average defense from a roster without a single decent defensive big man last season, but he (like most coaches) proved powerless to improve the offense given the lack of high-end talent. Some may point to the potential return to form of Rondo, but it is worth remembering that the Celtics struggled offensively in 2011 and 2012 even with a younger Rondo at the controls of an offense featuring Garnett, Pierce, and Ray Allen. It seems very unlikely the offense will improve much on last year’s 27th ranked attack.
Best Case Scenario
If you scrolled down, you will note the best case scenario involves a worse record. That is because this season is all about developing talent, both for internal development and to potentially land a star via free agency or trade. An improved draft pick would also help the rebuilding effort along as well, but this scenario is all about trading the older players and letting the young guys play. Rondo and Jeff Green are traded, hopefully for something amounting to a first-round pick between the two of them, while the team manages to buy out Wallace so he can sit on a contender’s bench. That opens the door for Smart, James Young, and Olynyk (probably the most promising of the young bigs due to his mobility) to play at the expense of the 2014-15 record.
Worst Case Scenario
Rondo, Green, Wallace, and Marcus Thornton are all Celtics at the end of the season because Danny Ainge cannot obtain anything worthwhile in trade. Both Rondo and Green have career years and block the young guys behind them, the defense gets into the top half of the league, and the team overperforms its point differential (it underperformed by 3 wins last year) to get stuck in the back half of the lottery.
– Nate Duncan
The Burning Question
Where will Rondo finish this season?
The Celtics captain has an expiring contract and the most value on the team. The combination of those two factors make him an instant trade candidate. The Celtics and Rondo have to determine whether they will to continue a future together. Rondo wants to win again, and there will be other suitors out there who can provide that opportunity. Expect the Celtics, as well, to explore what they could receive in return for their top asset. If Rondo doesn’t want to commit to the team beyond his current contract, it is hard to imagine him in a Celtics uniform at the end of the season.
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