Last season: The Celtics went 25-57, their worst record and first time out of the playoffs since their championship.
Boston set up its fate by trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce before the season, and Rajon Rondo missing a majority of the year due to injury sealed it.
Brad Stevens worked through his first NBA season and had his team playing hard, but the Celtics just didn’t have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot – even in the East. Brandon Bass was their best player. Let me repeat: Brandon Bass was their best player.
Signature highlight from last season: If you want the Celtics’ best play of the season, it’s Jeff Green catching an inbound with 0.6 seconds remaining and nailing a 3-pointer to beat the Heat:
But if you want the moment that truly captures Boston’s season, it’s Rajon Rondo sitting on the bench and cringing at the box score. The video has been pulled, but he asked for a box score, looked down at it and shuddered. Rondo on the bench, the Celtics losing and their star player unhappy – Boston’s year in a nutshell.
Key offseason moves:
Keys to the Celtics’ season:
Fitting in Rajon Rondo: This starts on the court, where Rondo is an All-Star-caliber guard. He’s an excellent passer, hounding defender and very good rebounder for his position.
But his skills are best used with other good players around him, and the Celtics are woefully short on those – which is why they might trade him.
There was a report Rondo asked to be traded this summer, and of course, denials followed. For now, we’re all in wait-and-see mode.
Rondo’s contract ends after the season, and he’s notoriously prickly, especially when his team is losing. Obviously, that makes him a prime trade candidate.
At this point, Boston will probably keep Rondo to begin the season, but after drafting point guard Marcus Smart at No. 6 and not improving the team in the short term this, the writing is on the wall for a Rondo trade.
Seeing progress from Brad Stevens: On paper, the Celtics lack talent to compete into the postseason.
But so did Butler.
Stevens came to Boston with a great college pedigree. Him translating that to the NBA might be the Celtics’ best chance of defying expectations this season.
If Stevens can implement the sound defensive and offensive systems that worked so well at Butler, Boston will be a very tough out each game. Any feisty team in the East has a chance.
Taking advantage of having a center: Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Kris Humphries often played the pivot for the undermanned Celtics last season. Not only were those players – power forwards by trade – ill-equipped to handle the job, it wore them down.
Humphries left in free agency, but with Tyler Zeller in line to start and Vitor Faverani hopefully healthy enough to back him up, Sullinger and Olynyk can take advantage. Both are skilled bigs, which they can better show if they’re no longer taking such consistent poundings.
Why you should watch: Rondo. Nobody impacts a game quite like him. Whether he’s turning down open shots to make a pass, gambling for steals or crashing the glass, Rondo is a point guard unlike any other. His all-out effort and high awareness give him a unique style.
Plus, watching Rondo is scouting. He might be playing for your favorite team soon.
Prediction: 24-58. Rondo is very good, and Green will have his moments. But I don’t think this team is good enough to be in the playoff race at the trade deadline, and I think that means Rondo gets dealt. The Celtics are probably capable of finishing better than 24-58, but I anticipate trading Rondo will be part of a tanking effort. Smart and Young could get plenty of minutes down the stretch, aiding their development and Boston’s losing. Danny Ainge seems ready to kick rebuilding into full gear.