NBA Season Preview: Boston Celtics

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Last season: 56-26 and a tough out by the hand of LeBron James.

Head Coach: The perennially fantastic Doc Rivers. He may not have the mystique of Gregg Popovich or the cult appeal of Stan Van Gundy, but Rivers consistently does a great job of balancing the personalities on Boston’s roster while drawing up highly effective plays. Swell guy, to boot.

Key Departures: Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal, Nenad Krstic

Key Additions: Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling, Chris Wilcox

Best case scenario: Rajon Rondo puts together a complete campaign to power Boston to the East’s second seed, but a tough Conference Semifinal with the third-seeded Bulls looms. Even the Big Four’s collective brilliance in that highly competitive series isn’t good enough, as Boston’s run — and this era of Celtics basketball — is fittingly brought to a close due to the team’s lack of depth. The more things change, the more you have to uncomfortably rely on Jeff Green to provide productive minutes.

For that to happen: First, the obvious: Rondo needs to find a way to dispose of all that weighs on his mind, and make an impact rivaling that of the league’s other top point guards. When focused, Rondo is Boston’s best player, and a true terror on both ends of the court. When moody and distracted, he’s a legitimate tax on his squad, and a thorn in the side of Boston’s core vets. Sadly, there’s no Rondsetta stone (I’m so, so sorry) for the Celtics to harness, no cipher that reveals the path to accessing his complete potential. It’s all between Rondo’s ears, and if he can find some sense of peace (Or consistent rage? Rondo seems to play rather well when he’s angry), Boston will roll through almost any competition.

It’s also essential that Boston’s bigs stay healthy and productive for the entire season. This Celtics aren’t at all in a position to deal with a significant frontcourt injury; Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal, Brandon Bass, and Chris Wilcox make up a pretty solid rotation of bigs, but Green would have to play some serious minutes at the 4 in case of disaster. Considering the injury histories of Garnett and O’Neal — and Green’s career to date — that should make Celtics Nation a bit nervous.

More likely, the Celtics will: Follow a different course of action to a similar fate. Rondo’s performance may have a ridiculous amount of variability, but the same can hardly be said of the Celtics’ likely result. Boston — even if hobbled — isn’t likely at all to be dropped in the first round by inferior competition, and yet the Celtics lack serious potential to compete with either the Bulls or the Heat. There’s a chance they could still overwhelm the new-and-improved Knicks, but even that much is far from certain.

It’s been a great run for the Celtics, but the road ends in this year’s playoffs. Maybe the’ll go out in style as they claw their way into a Game 7, or maybe they’ll go quietly in the night. But it seems inescapable that the Celtics will go before they’re good and ready. This just isn’t a championship team — there are just too many pitfalls, and so little potential for offensive improvement. The league’s 18th best offense isn’t going to cut it for a title team, no matter how oppressive its defense.

Prediction: 44-22, good for the East’s third seed.