Year 6 of 5 for the Celtics

In the Summer of 2007 Danny Ainge architected two trades that netted the Celtics Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Bringing those two on board to join Paul Pierce transformed the Celtics from the second worst team in the league to an instant title contender (they won the championship the very next season). About the only downside of the trades was that given the ages of Pierce, Garnett and Allen (30, 31, and 32 at the time) it only gave them a short time window to win. The general thinking was that they would have about 3 or 4 good years together, and perhaps a 5th of everyone stayed healthy.

This past season was the 5th since those trades. After a slow start and a rash of injuries, they rallied down the stretch and then played very well in the playoffs. They were just one win away from reaching the NBA Finals, but ultimately they ran out of gas against a younger Miami Heat team. The off-season came - Garnett turned 36 and Ray Allen decided to take his talents to South Beach. Thus it's now time for them to start the long and painful process of rebuilding... or is it?

Actually, I'm surprisingly bullish on this year's Celtics and think they might have their best collection of players since the 07-08 championship team. My friend Aaron thinks I'm blinded by my Celtics fanaticism - he may be right, I do look at the world through shamrock green glasses. Nonetheless, here are my reasons for being so optimistic:

  • They still have Pierce and Garnett. In his first season with the Celtics Kevin Garnett was among the 3 or 4 best players in the game and probably should have won the MVP. He's no longer that same force, but he's still really, really good and he's still 7 feet tall. Pierce was never quite in Garnett's class, but he's aged remarkably well. According to statistics compiled by ESPN's John Hollinger (the Bill James of basketball), on a per-minute basis Pierce was almost the exact same player in 2011-12 as he was in 2007-08. Expect him to be their go-to guy and lead the team in scoring for the 13th consecutive year.*
  • Rajon Rondo is entering his prime. The word "freak" (i.e. "freak of nature") is overused in sports these days, but Rondo truly is a "freak". He has ET's arms, the Road Runner's wheels and Superman's x-ray vision. He handles the ball as if it were attached to his hand by a string and he delivers assists through passing lanes the rest of us can't even imagine. For my money he's the most entertaining player in the game. His achilles heel is his outside shot; if he could just improve a little in this area he'd be an MVP candidate (I said it and I'll stick to it).
  • They have a deep backcourt. Ray Allen is gone, but a trio of good shooting guards - Avery Bradley, Jason Terry, and Courtney Lee - should more than replace him. Bradley provides suffocating defense, Terry is a skilled offensive player, and Lee does everything well (but doesn't really excel in any one area). One of those three will start next to Rondo and the other two will come off the bench. Leandro Barbosa was also added to the mix at the end of the preseason. He's somewhat redundant because his skills are similar to Terry's, but he provides emergency depth. There's no real backup point guard (that's basically been the case throughout the Garnett era) so they'll shoe-horn in one of the shooting guards at point guard for about 10 minutes a game while Rondo gets his rest.
  • They also have a deep frontcourt. Jeff Green missed all of last season recovering from heart surgery but is healthy and ready to go this year. Forget the fact that the Celtics greatly overpaid him ($36 million for 4 years), he's more than adequate as a backup at both forward positions. Last year's starter at power forward, Brandon Bass, returns but might lose his place in the starting lineup to rugged rookie Jared Sullinger. Sullinger dominated in college but fell to the Celtics on draft day because other teams were concerned that he lacked athleticism and may have a degenerative back (the Celtics thought his upside more than outweighed any risks). He looked very good in the preseason and may already be the best rebounder on the team. Sullinger should also be able to log some minutes backing up Garnett at the center position, which is good because none of the true backup centers on the roster are particularly inspiring (not many teams have a quality backup center).
Is that enough to win it all? Who knows. I don't think I would bet the proverbial farm on it. The fact that I'm even pondering it though is remarkable considering that 5 years ago I was convinced the window would be shut by now. Go green.

* Technically Paul Pierce didn't play in enough games in the 2006-07 season to officially lead them in scoring, but his scoring average was by far the highest on the team.


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  2. Very well put....after last year and not even expecting them to make it as far as they did was shocking in its own. Kevin Garnett's desire and love for this Celtic team will always make them a contender!!! Go celtics

    How did you feel about Garnett's cold shoulder to Ray Ray classy? Not? Justified


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