With the NBA season not too far away I thought I would begin doing my season preveiws for every team, beginning with the Atlantic Division. Up first the Boston Celtics:
2007-08 Standings 66 – 16, NBA Champions
2008-09 Predicted Record 64 – 18, 1st Atlantic Division, 1st Eastern Conference
Projected Starting Five: Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajan Rondo
Sixth Man: Tony Allen
Everyone knows what happened with the Boston Celtics last year. Before the season began they prized Ray Allen away from the Seattle Sonics and then even more stunningly, they traded away the future of the team Al Jefferson, for the present and acquired the Big Ticket himself, Kevin Garnett. It was a gamble and it paid off. KG infused the team with his energy and defensive mindset and the team dominated the regular season, playing suffocating defence.
Then they hit the playoffs and struggled to put away the lowly Atlanta Hawks in seven games. They had more troubles against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, prevailing in another seven game series before beating the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Finals. In the NBA Finals they were underdogs against the Kobe Bryant led LA Lakers yet triumphed in what some have called a “six game sweep”. The Boston Three Party had brought the Celtics their first title since 1986.
The team is mostly intact from last year’s championship squad except for one major loss – James Posey to the New Orleans Hornets. Posey played great defence through the playoffs and hit numerous big shots when needed and his absence will be felt. To replace him the Celtics have signed Darius Miles, a player who had already retired due to medical reasons, and a pair of rookies JR Giddens and Bill Walker. Needless to say Pierce’s backup is a weak spot.
On the surface the Celtics are all about the Big Three and KG, Allen and Pierce are all excellent players. Yet the success of the Celtics depends on their supporting cast. Kendrick Perkins and Rajan Rondo are ultimately as important as the other starters, Rondo in particular. Last year in the playoffs opposing teams made the Celtics pay for Rondo’s poor shooting so it is imperative that Rondo has worked on his shooting stroke in the off-season. If he has developed a reliable outside shot then the Celtics will be favourites to repeat.
Until last year I was not a believer in Doc Rivers. I was in the Bill Simmons school of NBA watchers who thought Doc only kept his job because of his expert playing of the media. But in the NBA Finals he won me over, out coaching the Zen master Phil Jackson. It helps that he has one of the best assistant coaches in the league on his bench, defensive maestro Tom Thibodeau.
The bench is not the league’s best but nor is it the worst. At times they proved game changing through the antics of Posey, Leon Powe, PJ Brown and Eddie House. Posey is gone and Brown will probably retire so the onus falls on Powe to continue to improve. Tony Allen is fit again and he should hopefully develop to take on a lot of Posey’s role. Sometime in the season a quality veteran will become available ala Sam Cassell and PJ Brown last year, and that will also strengthen the bench.
Paul Pierce proved himself the Celtics star in the playoffs, outdueling LeBron and Kobe at different points. He’ll be outstanding this season and while he won’t put up giant numbers I fully expect him to take his game to the level of the all time greats.
Kevin Garnett is amongst the elite of the NBA in that he elevates the play of all those around him. Last year he transformed a woeful team into the champions. He did it through his intensity and his defence, rightfully winning Defensive Player of the Year honours. There won’t be any let up this year either. He could have a challenger for this prize however. If Rondo has developed a jump shot he could become a genuine stud and ultimately the future leader of this franchise.
Despite the loss of Posey the Celtics should still be one of the favourites for the title. The key will be managing the minutes of their veterans so they are still firing and healthy in the playoffs.
You can find an index of past Previews here.