Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our 2012-13 guide to the upcoming NBA season, in which we identify the reasons why your favorite team might have to start looking forward to 2013-2014 — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: the Boston Celtics.
We’re gonna level with you here, the Celtics are a formidable team. Despite the loss of Ray Allen to the worst possible location, they’ve done good by themselves adding bench player extraordinaire Jason Terry and 40-percent three-point shooter Courtney Lee. On top of that, the core of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett (who has signed on for three more years, or until his knees disintegrate) are still intact and still make for an intimidating triumvirate. That Doc Rivers guy? People tell me he’s a pretty good coach. While they might not be as screwed as most of the other squads in the NBA, have little doubt, they are screwed.
They have a painfully shallow frontcourt. They will (in a weird way) miss Ray Allen. Someone will be unhappy with their playing time. And when it’s all said and done, they still have to get past the Miami Heat.
You call that a frontcourt, bro? The Celtics are loaded with talent on the 2’s and 3’s. Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, Paul Pierce, and the list goes on. It might actually create a problem, but that’s another problem for another paragraph. In this paragraph, let’s talk about the low post, which is excruciatingly shallow on the depth chart behind Kevin Garnett. KG moves to center, and though it’s not his natural position, I don’t foresee any lack of effectiveness. What I do see however, is having to play defense against those other centers. Some might say Kevin is an aggressive player, with a propensity for physical play. Some might also say he is old and has an injury history. Some might say even further that centers are big, physical men. Foul-outs and injury just wait to strike, and when they do, let’s look at who will pick up the slack (hint: It won’t be Fab Melo or Darko Milicic).
Let’s start with Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, and Jared Sullinger, who Rivers says will all get their share of starts this season at power forward. Bass looks to get the bulk of those starts, and he’s pretty average (8.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG for his career). He did step up last season however, averaging 13.1 points and 6.1 boards a game at power forward, and almost a block per contest total (0.9). Onto Green, it seems like he’s fully recovered from a heart condition, which is good, but he hasn’t recovered from his mediocrity, which is not. He scores 13.9 points a game and notches 5.5 rebounds as well. Good, but certainly inflated from his years in OKC where as a starter, he was part of an offensive juggernaut and got lots of good looks thanks to attention drawn by Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. His numbers as a Celtic reserve in 2010-11? In 29 games (and two starts): 9.8 PPG/3.3 RPG.
Sullinger is an interesting case, and probably has the highest upside of anyone in the Celtics’ power forward carousel, but remember where he came from. Once though to be a lottery pick, Sully dropped to the C’s at 21 and people thought that was still too high. Don’t let an impressive preseason fool you: He’s playing against second-rate players in second-rate games. Regardless of abudnant medical questions and health issues, will the rookie be able to take on LeBron James in Game 7 of a playoff series (which is what Boston’s season did, and could possibly come down to again)? I vote nay.
Ray Allen and The Clusterfuck He Left Behind. Is it possible for a team to overcompensate for the loss of one of the top-five shooters in NBA history? The Celtics answered that question with a resounding, unequivocal “yes.” After Allen left in a nasty divorce that took him out of a Celtics uniform and out of Kevin Garnett’s phone, the C’s signed up for Courtney Lee and Jason Terry to fill the void. Avery Bradley gets in on the rotation too, and then it gets interesting. Paul Pierce will get the bulk of the minutes at small forward, so you basically have three guys sharing one position, all of whom are probably worthy of starters’ minutes, though none will get them. If Allen left because he was unhappy with part-time minutes, how long can you expect these three to stay happy. Terry is a perennial bench-rider, and maybe he isn’t a concern, but there are a lot of mouths to feed, and Rajon Rondo only has so many forks.
They can’t beat the Heat… and ultimately, that’s what their season will come down to. They aren’t screwed against 13 teams in their conference, middling teams who haven’t done enough to unseat the Celtics when it comes to crunch time. And then there’s the 14th team, the defending champs. You might be surprised to know that since the start of the 2010-11 season, the C’s are 6-2 against Miami in regular-season play. But the Heat made quick work of them in the 2011 Eastern Conference Semis (4-1) and bested them in last season’s epic Eastern Conference Finals (4-3), and own a clear postseason edge. Because of their post problems, the Celtics will be handled when the Heat decide to play LeBron at the 4. Kevin Garnett can’t guard everyone, and whoever assumes his spot at center to equalize Chris Bosh, well, good luck.
And even so, remember LeBron’s epic Game 6? That can happen at any time. Boston wasn’t prepared for it last year, and now that he has one of their former toys to play with, it’s hard to see the Celtics getting past Miami.
One reason they might not be screwed: Last year’s Eastern Conference Finals could have gone either way, and even without Ray Allen, there’s enough talent to plug the hole he left (assuming everyone stays happy and healthy). If by some freaky occurrence the Heat don’t cross paths with the Celtics in the playoffs and get eliminated early, the Celtics overmatch almost everyone else in the East, except maybe a healthy Bulls and an overperforming Pacers. And in general, they have an incredibly talented team. Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett will be playing in their sixth season together, and you can bet they want to exact revenge on the Heat, on Ray Allen, and want the taste of championship again before their window finally does run out.
Actual season prediction: Second in the East. Maybe third, again, depending on the Pacers living up to the hype and the Bulls holding down the fort until Derrick Rose returns. The players and their fans should expect nothing less than an appearance in the second round of the playoffs, with an ECF berth likely assuming everyone is healthy (not the fans, they don’t matter for that) and they don’t meet the Heat earlier in the playoffs.