Next up, a young, rebuilding Boston Celtics team reeling from the loss of two leaders and the absence of an injured point guard.
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With a blockbuster trade that sent their two core players, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, to Brooklyn, the keyword for Celtics fans in 2013 is patience. For the first time in 15 years, Boston will have a new face at the small forward position and have to find a fourth quarter closer â€“ a near impossible task as Pierce is the Celtics second all-time leading scorer. Garnett provided veteran leadership and toughness in the paint as well as solid scoring production, even with his durability issues late in his Boston tenure. And to make matters worse, Doc Rivers left for the Clippers, leaving a huge vacancy at head coach.
In short, the Celtics are no longer an elite team in the Eastern Conference, but they’ve been chugging along even with their lack of star power. Boston received five players â€“ Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks, and Keith Bogans â€“ and three future first-round draft picks in the Brooklyn trade. They also drafted Kelly Olynyk and picked up shifty point guard Phil Pressey in free agency. With Rondo still recovering from his ACL tear, general manager Danny Ainge hopes that his young players can develop at a rapid enough pace to contend in the conference. Or he’s hoping to fall far enough for a chance at a franchise-changing pick in this summer’s mammoth draft class.
Here are five things to watch for with the 2013-14 Celtics:
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Who Will Replace Rondo for First Half of Season?
Now that Pierce and Garnett are gone, Rajon Rondo is the undisputed leader of this Celtics roster. So, naturally, not having the All-Star guard for the first 30 games of the season could prove disastrous for this young Boston squad. However, the Celtics have enough pieces to be productive collectively at the point guard position.
Avery Bradley has shown glimpses of defensive excellence, but his improvement on offense will determine Boston’s fate. His athleticism makes him a worthy slasher to the basket, but he’s still a below-average jump shooter who’s not a natural distributor. Pressey is quick as a cat and embraces Brad Stevens’ heavy ball movement system, averaging a team-high 4 APG during the preseason. Though he’s listed at a very generous 5-11, and could get bullied by bigger guards on defense, he provides both poise and excitement to a team that lacks the flair of year’s past.
Stevens said that there are all kinds of point guards that are having success in different ways, and that indirectly means they don’t have another proven, prototypical point guard like Rondo, so others to step up. I expect Bradley and Pressey to do so, with the latter stealing some starting minutes. It also wouldn’t be surprising if the Celtics enlisted Courtney Lee to assist in the point guard circus until Rondo gets back.
Can Jeff Green Become a Superstar?
Green is entering year 7 in the NBA, and it’s looking like “put up or shut up” time. Green was James Harden before James Harden, averaging over 15 points for the Thunder/Sonics during his three-year stint before heading to Boston. The Celtics forward is now on his second year of a four-year, $36 million contract and everything is in place for him to have a breakout season. He’s shown us that he’s capable of taking over a basketball game. He averaged over 17 PPG after the All-Star break last season, including over 20 points per contest in the playoffs. Green’s most memorable game came in a 105-103 loss to the Heat, where he dropped 43 points, snagged 7 rebounds, blocked 4 shots, and looked like the best player on the floor â€“ LeBron included.
Teams are sure to lock in on Green with the lack of scoring options on the Celtics roster this year. But Green’s offensive game is multifaceted enough for him to become a 20-point scorer. He can shoot from the perimeter, but he’s at his best when he attacks the rim relentlessly (ask Al Jefferson). Green is also active on the defensive end, playing the passing lanes intelligently and helping from the weak side on mismatches for possible blocks. If he can stay healthy and spearhead this team to a winning record, Green could be a dark horse All-Star selection.