Needless to say, the Celtics have plenty of work to do.
The Patriots are once again viable Super Bowl contenders, the Red Sox are in the midst of a down season, but have the ability to spend enough to get right back into the thick of the competition in 2015, and the Bruins are built as perennial playoff entrants.
As for the C’s, they’re staring down the second year of an undeterminably long rebuild after a disappointing but expected 25-win campaign in 2013-14.
To the fans’ credit, they stuck by Boston during Brad Stevens’ first year. The Celts ranked 14th in the NBA in home attendance with an average of 18,107 fans a night. More to the point, however, the Garden filled 97.2 percent of its capacity for the year, good for 11th in the league.
But, that was the first year. Are the loyal green-teamers prepared for another terrible season? Will they have the patience to keep attending loss after loss?
Our Boston.com panel of Celtics insiders weighed in.
Gary Dzen: Remarkably, I think some of them do. The hardcore Celtics fan base, the people who buy the season tickets and watch almost every game, are pretty invested. I talked to a lot of them at the team's draft lottery party, and the message I got was, "In Danny We Trust", even after the ping pong balls came up No. 6. Ainge's ability to pull off that magical Kevin Garnett trade in 2007 has bought him a lot of leeway with everyone but the "Felger & Mazz" crowd, who don't watch basketball anyway. People believe he's going to do it again.
I may be a jaded sportswriter, but I'd have a hard time paying to attend multiple games to see a 25-win team. Sure you want tickets when LeBron and Durant and Kobe come to town, but spending hundreds of dollars to see the Bucks and Sixers and Jazz of the world is really a stretch unless the home team is competitive. The gate will suffer a little more this season due to loss of interest from casual fans, and unless the team makes a big move or two, the interest in the TV product and in reading about the team will also be down. What will the talking points be once Kevin Love goes somewhere else? Rajon Rondo's trade value is already a tired story. Fans want something to cling to, and right now that's really lacking.
Jeremy Gottlieb: This is a tough one. On the one hand, Celtics fans proved themselves to be of tremendously high character this past season, when they continued to show up in droves night after night to watch a 25-win team that played a large chunk of its season without its best player, Rajon Rondo. The C's averaged 18,107 fans per game in 2013-14, just shy of TD Garden's capacity of 18,624. And while the Celts' 289-game home sellout streak came to an end in an early season game against the Utah Jazz, the fact that so many continued to come out to support a team in the earliest stages of such a big transition from the previous six seasons spoke very highly of the fan base.
Any attempt to properly determine whether that same kind of support will stick should the Celtics sit among the dregs of the NBA again this coming year must come with a look into the not too distant past. Prior to the first year of the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen triumvirate, the title-winning 2007-08 season, the Celts hadn't averaged 18,000 fans per night since 1997-1998, the third year of the new Garden's existence as well as the first season of the woebegone Rick Pitino era. And in '05-'06 and '06-'07, the final, very lean years of the pre-new Big Three era, topped out at just under 16,900 each.
So I guess the question is, how patient are Celtics fans? There have to be more moves coming from Danny Ainge and company since the roster as presently constituted is a complete mess. With the Kevin Love dream looking like it's dead, it seems pretty farfetched to assume that the upcoming season will be much better than the last, even with more deals. A dip in the attendance figures will probably represent at least a part of the collateral damage.
Adam Kaufman: Celtics fans are an interesting bunch. I was a season ticketholder for seven seasons and I’d certainly consider myself among the diehards, though maybe a bit more rational than some.
I have to tell you; there’s little that annoys me more in my trips to the Garden than seeing the Celts down by 20 with two minutes left and watching fans hooting and hollering on the jumbotron, having a great night regardless of the outcome. That may sound negative. It’s not that I want people to have a miserable time if the C’s are enduring a trying night on the floor; it’s just that it feels strange to see folks having that much fun.
It’s a pink-hat mentality, as we say around here. That’s okay; those “fans” buy tickets and merchandise and fill the seats just like the rest of us.
But it’s also the reason why the answer to this question is a resounding YES. The Garden will never have trouble - real trouble - getting fans out to games, no matter the product on the court, because Celtics games are viewed as a fun, potentially relatively inexpensive (compared to the other local teams, if you sit in the 300-section) night out for the family. You’re guaranteed to be entertained by the music, halftime presentation, video montages and games, and more. It keeps people coming and will continue to. Hats off to the Garden staff; attendance won’t be an issue any time soon.
As for the passionate segment of fans, this is a far more interesting question. In short, the answer is again, "Yes." There’s enough good will coming off of the new Big Three era, the optimistic hiring of Brad Stevens, and positive strides made by Danny Ainge to easily carry Boston through a second challenging season, even if a high spot in the lottery and selecting a top-three talent was what carried most people last winter and spring.
Ainge is far from done building his roster for the upcoming season. The roster is once again a jumbled mess of redundancy, similar skillsets, questionable contracts, and an abundance of bodies. Some will be moved, whether that’s Jeff Green, Marcus Thornton, Brandon Bass, Joel Anthony, or the non-guaranteed contracts of Keith Bogans, Chris Johnson, and Chris Babb. While unlikely, Rajon Rondo could go as well.
So long as there are some bright spots – Rondo, Jared Sullinger, Marcus Smart, and others – fans will support the Celtics in hopes Ainge can pull the team out of the muck for the second time in a decade. He has a few years of patience on his side for the diehards, and a lifetime of support from the party-goers.
Brian Robb: The refreshing thing about Celtics fans is that they are an informed and realistic group. They know basketball, know Danny Ainge's track record, and can see exactly what the team is trying to do here long-term. With that mindset in place, it is clear that the vast majority of this fan base will have the patience for another terrible season if that's what we get next year. In fact, based on the response during the Kevin Love pursuit, many of these fans prefer to go the patience route with this rebuild rather than overpaying for a player like Love in a trade.
Right now, the Celtics have all the elements of a potentially successful rebuild in place. You have a head coach that is on the same page with the team's front office and has his players working hard for him every night. You have promising young players up-and-down the roster, and you have the allure of the future where a treasure trove of future first round draft picks and salary cap space await. Celtics fans can add all this together and overlook another avalanche of losses next season as a necessary step in the rebuilding process.
The other important factor to remember here is that this fan base really doesn't have the right to be impatient about the rebuild. The Celtics only won one championship during the Big Three era, but that team was a contender for several seasons and outlasted the window in which it was expected to be seriously competitive. After six straight postseason appearances, Celtics fans are smart enough to know that rebuilds take longer than one year most of the time and it is foolish to be up in arms about two straight down seasons when it's expected.
As the team is currently constructed, I don't think the 2014-15 Celtics will be nearly as bad as last year's group anyway. A healthy Rajon Rondo, a year of improvement from the youngsters and a more experienced Brad Stevens won't ensure a good Celtics team, but it should at least be a competitive one most nights next season. Plus, the roster we see now is very likely to look different on opening night.
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