4. Which players have any value, and what kind of moves will the Celtics make to capitalize on them? The very minor move of Fab Melo to Memphis for Donte Greene is actually a big deal financially for the Celtics. If they waive Greene and his non-guaranteed contract, they will get themselves about $500,000 under the tax line, a place the Celtics need to be this year. That should tell you a lot about Danny Ainge’s mentality this season.
The Celtics are not going to spend money on any free agents, and any moves they make will be to (a) shed more salary and (b) acquire assets such as young players or future draft picks. The Celtics have a bit of a weird roster right now with too many guys that play very similar positions. So this season will undoubtedly be a type of months-long audition for many of these players who will be available to other teams.
The big contracts the Celtics would love to move are the two newly acquired forwards from Brooklyn, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace. Wallace will be the trickier one .... the Celtics will have to find a way to make him especially effective this season so other teams can see the value in giving up something for him.
Humphries’ $12 million deal is expiring, so even if he walks, the Celtics will save money going into next summer. But, the team would love to find a way to attach one of their shooting guards to his expiring contract in a deal. There isn’t enough room on this team for Courtney Lee, Jordan Crawford, MarShon Brooks and Avery Bradley. Considering Bradley is a restricted free agent next summer, the Celtics would probably like to have a little breathing room to sign him. This all means that the team will be gauging interest on the rest of these guys (and probably forward Brandon Bass, too) throughout the season.
5. Are the youngsters pieces of a core around which the Celtics can build? Aside from Rondo, for obvious reasons, Bradley, 2012 first-round pick Jared Sullinger and 2013 first-round pick Kelly Olynyk are the three most valuable players on the roster. They are young, good, and cheap. But how good can they be?
Bradley has shown some very good and very bad things in his short time in Boston. He has been a top-notch defender who – when playing off the ball – can find holes in the defense and burn teams offensively with backdoor cuts or corner threes. But when Rondo went down, Bradley showed that he really isn’t capable of being a point guard. He is unsure when dribbling and running the offense, which drags down his passing and shooting to a point where he becomes an offensive liability.
Sullinger, meanwhile, started earning his stripes as a down-and-dirty rebounder who contributed to the offense without having to plays run specifically for him. He is also a very smart defender who makes up for a lack of size and jumping ability by anticipating the opponent’s moves very well and getting into position to take charges.
But Sullinger had back surgery to correct a disc issue midway through last season. He has been cleared to return to basketball activities, and doctors say this should correct the problem. But back issues are always tricky, and it’s always better to see for yourself whether a player is back to normal. Furthermore, Sullinger doesn’t have Garnett or Pierce around to attract attention – this is a running theme throughout the season until the effect of their departure is fully realized – so he will attract some more defensive attention. He might not be able to float into cracks in the defense for some of the offensive rebounds he was getting last season.
Olynyk impressed the hell out of some scouts in Orlando this summer. The 7-footer from Gonzaga showed he can hit from long range, put the ball on the floor and work in the post. It drew pie-in-the-sky comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki, which has Celtics fans salivating at the thought of a potential mid-first-round steal.
But Olynyk has yet to play in an NBA game or go through an official NBA practice. It’s one thing to do some of the things he did against a bunch of guys who may not make it in the league. It’s quite another to do it against the game’s elite players. There is no doubt he is in for a rude awakening at some point.
Celtics will see this season if these three guys are truly the quality of player that can be key cogs in a future championship team, or simply guys that will settle into nice roles off the bench and are ultimately expendable. Each has the potential to be either of those things. It’s a transition season for the Celtics, and they have a lot of questions that need to be answered before they can truly take the next step in their rebuilding process.
On paper, the team seems to have some nice pieces that if pulled together properly can be fairly competitive for a team in this position. But fate doesn’t always allow for the best-case scenario. In this tightrope walk across the chasm that is the NBA’s salary cap and luxury tax, the Celtics have to avoid missteps that could send them plunging into the abyss of mediocrity.