The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same: A Boston Celtics Season Preview
This year, for the first time, Hickory-High will be tackling the challenging of crafting season previews for all thirty NBA teams. Beginning today we’ll be rolling out these previews, one each day, leading up to Opening Night. This was a task of considerable size and complexity and it required the help of every member of our staff. The only guidelines given were that each writer approach team by staying true to their own style and the result is season previews of a difference sort. We hope you enjoy!
It was a simple task describing Brad Stevens’ Butler teams. They were the very definition of an underdog, the type of team sports movies are centered around. They lacked the athleticism, size, and in some cases talent, that much of their high profile opposition possessed. The Bulldogs’ miracle NCAA tournament runs were made possible by Stevens’ style of coaching and the winning culture he created at the small, Indianapolis-based college, or at least that’s we were led to believe.
Now, despite the 17 NBA championship banners that will hang above Stevens’ head, the 36 year-old finds himself in an oddly familiar situation with the Boston Celtics.
The aura of both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are gone, each off to Brooklyn to chase a ring as their career clocks tick to the end. The pair have left Boston fans with a small taste of a championship in their mouths and a belief that there should’ve been at least one more. The current roster is filled with parts that you would find at the second or third levels of a title-contending depth chart in the NBA, suggesting a losing season could be on its way.
Whether or not general manager Danny Ainge and his staff is committed to losing a bunch of games this season, they brought Stevens in at the perfect time. The parts at Stevens’ disposal make it difficult to believe a winning scenario exists, at least for this upcoming year. It’s a Celtics group that should remind Stevens of his Butler teams of the past; a team that he’s going to have to get the most out of if he doesn’t want to find himself at the bottom of the standings.
Boston’s most valuable player will be on the shelf as this new Celtics era begins - Rajon Rondo continuing to recover from an ACL injury suffered last season. The true potency of Rondo’s game is often up for debate, but whatever side you fall on, the polarizing point guard will be the wildcard of 2013-14. If he does come back healthy some time this season — assuming he hasn’t been dealt — Rondo will get to prove that his worth wasn’t created by future Hall-of-Famers and that he can lead an NBA team serving as the best player on the floor. Removing Rondo from the equation — which is what Boston is facing early on — leaves Stevens with a lot of unproven pieces.
The back court features Courtney Lee, Avery Bradley, MarShon Brooks, and Jordan Crawford. One of them will act as Rondo’s replacement at lead guard and in all likelihood it will be Bradley. Bradley’s strengths can be found on the defensive end of the floor where he’s a pest for opposing ball-handlers, often in their face as they attempt to get the ball up the court. And that’s basically where Bradley’s positives end. He lacks the play-making and offensive skills to be a plus at point guard, but another opportunity to prove otherwise will begin on opening night. Lee offers the most immediate value of the remaining three. Just like Bradley, he can defend despite being short for a 2. Unlike Bradley, he’s developed a reputation of a shooter over his career, especially from the corners. Lee’s ability to be an above-average performer, and the three years remaining on his contract, make him viable a trade chip should Ainge decide the Celtics aren’t losing enough.
The possibility of being shipped out of Boston this season will also follow the other “veterans” around. Brandon Bass and his excellent mid-range shooting from the power forward position could prove worthy to a contender at the deadline. Too bad he offers virtually nothing else. While Kris Humphries doesn’t offer much besides rebounding these days, his expiring contract could peak some interest around the league.
Not all is lost when it comes to this Boston roster, though, as the front court duo of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk seems like they could produce some upside. Sullinger was selected in the first-round in 2012 and was undergoing a promising rookie debut before suffering back issues, the same issues that lowered his stock before the draft. If Sullinger can stay healthy (highly questionable), his collegiate profile and early returns of his first year suggest there’s plenty of value there. Olynyk, the Celtics first-round pick of 2013, is a skilled 7-footer who tore up the West Coast Conference while at Gonzaga and continued it at the Summer League back in July.
Ultimately, it’s a mixed bag of an NBA roster. There are more specialists here than true talent, and because of that, betting on Boston to carry a top-ten pick into next year’s draft would be wise. Nonetheless, this type of group is what Stevens built his mythic college reputation on at Butler. The six-year contract Stevens received from the Celtics suggest they are right next to him during this rebuild and that this first season is just the first step of him creating more believers of his coaching style.
It’s unclear whether Stevens’ magic from college will work on professional athletes playing the professional game. But due to the underdog, less talented moniker that will be placed on this year’s Celtics, it’s difficult to believe he won’t get the most out of them.
Brad Stevens has already went through a process similar to this once, why can’t similar success happen again?