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Eight questions about the Celtics

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  October 30, 2012 01:05 PM

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5. HOW MANY CELTICS WILL BE NAMED ALL-STARS?
piercepaulallstarfinn.JPGDzen: Two: Rondo and Garnett. I think realistically there are four Celtics in contention for the All-Star team: Rondo, Garnett, Pierce, and Jeff Green.

Rondo should be a virtual lock so long as he stays healthy. He may be the best point guard in the league this season. Garnett and Pierce both have good chances to make it. Why I give the edge to Garnett is because he exploded in the playoffs last season. People will remember that. Pierce is always under the radar, and while I'm not expecting him to be any less effective, I think he'll play less with Green in the mix. There's also the issue of position. Pierce's appears to be more crowded with stars, while Garnett could have less competition if he's listed as a center. All three players could make it, but I'm guessing two.

Green is a long-shot to make the All-Star team, but it wouldn't be unheard of if he had a stellar season off the bench. He wouldn't deserve a spot over Pierce, but juxtaposed with his recovery from heart surgery, Green could win some of the popular vote. Did I mention he's a longshot?

Finn: Who cares? All-Star Games are such a Laker thing. All right, I'll say this much: Rondo who is poised to be one of the top five players in the East if not the entire league this year, had better start. He's way overdue to get his due.

6. WHAT WILL BE THE BIGGEST SURPRISE, GOOD AND BAD?
schintziusfinn101.jpgDzen: First the good: Darko Milicic will be more than a punchline. When the Celtics signed Milicic, fans let the jokes fly. The former No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft has not lived up to his draft position, and he never will. But that doesn't mean he won't contribute. Milicic is currently the top backup to Kevin Garnett with Chris Wilcox still getting up to speed. Darko is a legitimate 7-footer with good touch and strong basketball instincts. He rebounds and blocks shots. As much as fans loved Greg Stiemsma, Milicic is the vastly superior player. His issues are known, and they've started to show in preseason. He can lose focus, sometimes in the middle of a play. But he'll be a factor.

Now here's the bad. The Celtics will lose to teams they shouldn't lose to this season. As we've seen since 2007, nothing comes easy with this group. The Celtics are the best team in the Atlantic Division, but that doesn't mean they won't struggle to beat the Nets, Sixers, and Knicks during the season. There will be losses in places like Golden State and Detroit. That doesn't mean, however, that there's a strong danger of losing to any of these teams during a seven-game playoff series.

Finn: The Celtics have such an accomplished core and familiar bench that surprises with this group are hard to come by. We know who they are and who they should be. Even Jared Sullinger is a very well-known commodity compared to most No. 21 overall picks. I'll say Courtney Lee, because his profile is relatively low among casual fans for a player of his skill-set, and his attributes (hitting the corner 3, playing tough D) jibe perfectly with what Doc will ask him to do. Negatively, I think we're all intrigued by Darko because there was something there the led Joe Dumars to take him over Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh, and it's hilarious that he's apparently developed a bond with KG over their favorite 12-letter words, but he is what he is at this point. And what he is at this point is Dwayne Schintzius without the party in the back, a good-passing big man with a low motor.

7. WHICH BENCH PLAYER WILL HELP MOST?
leecourtneyfinn102.JPGDzen: Jared Sullinger is going to have a huge year. He gets the nod over Green because he helps in an area where the Celtics are sorely lacking: rebounding. We've already seen what Sullinger can do with those big paws of his. He has a nose for the ball, can carve out space, and the ball just sticks to his hands. In this one area he is already a superior player to likely starter Brandon Bass. On offense Sullinger is also skilled, possessing an array of floaters and runners and baby hooks that may not look pretty but are highly effective. He'll play right away, and he'll play a lot.

Jason Terry and Courtney Lee also get votes here, but their roles are different. The Celtics are really looking for both players to combine into one Ray Allen. In that way, they're not really an addition to the team but more of stabilizing force. Lee can make more of a difference with his defense than Allen ever could.

Finn: The Celtics actually have a couple of potential Sixth Man of the Year candidates, and when is the last time we could say that? James Posey in 2007-08, maybe? Kevin McHale in '84?

It's tempting to say with Jeff Green based on the minutes he'll get and his encouraging preseason, but I'll go with Terry, who actually won the award three years ago. (Barbosa is also a previous winner.) Terry will shoot 36-38 percent from 3, make those clutch late 3s Allen was often called upon to make (Terry is a better 3-point shooter percentage-wise in the postseason than he is in the regular season), make 80-something percent of his free throws, and mesh better with Rondo on the court -- and off, obviously -- than Allen did.

He's a perfect fit in style and temperament -- he's so effervescent in interviews that a cynic might think he's auditioning. I think he's just a good dude who's happy to be here. I can't believe there was a time when I thought Miles Simon would be the better pro.

I don't think Sullinger will be a bench player by season's end. Wouldn't be surprised if he's the regular starter over Brandon Bass by the All-Star break.

terrypiercefinnpreview.jpg8. WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE OLD GUYS?
Dzen: It's not a big secret that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are getting older. The morbidly curious game is guessing whether Pierce (35) or Garnett (36) will break down first. I'mnot a fan of using the term "break down" because I don't think it's that simple. But the skills of both players won't be as sharp in two years as they were two or three years ago. Some loss of effectiveness is going to happen.

Before the second half of last season it was easy to say that Garnett would lose more of his effectiveness before Pierce did. The Garnett went out and was arguably the MVP of the team during the playoffs, while Pierce struggled at times. Garnett was fairly healthy, while Pierce labored through a knee injury. It will be interesting to see what kind of season Pierce has without being hampered. Given his status as a professional scorer, I expect it to be a good one. The addition of Jeff Green is huge and allows Pierce to get more rest. Garnett will get his rest no matter what, because despite the drop off without him in the game, the Celtics need him for the playoffs.

Finn: It's funny, "old guys'' should probably include Terry, who is 35. But he's a new guy around here.

We're talking about our old guys, I think, the guys who have been through the six- and seven-game postseason battles here. Which means KG and Pierce, heretofore known as The Big Two Featuring Rajon Rondo. To answer the question honestly, I have to say I don't know if I can answer it other than to say they will play with astounding toughness and pride no matter what their physical state happens to be.

I did not see Garnett's renaissance as a defensive force coming last year, and on the opposite end of that, it was jarring to see Pierce, who has always had an old man's game (I mean that as a complement), struggle to get the familiar angles and openings in the Philadelphia series. Part of that -- a large part -- was his knee injury, but it was also a window into what he will look like when his skills begin to noticeably erode.

The hope is that with the with the additional depth, any natural regression because of age is countered by Doc's willingness and knack for finding them a little bit of extra time off every now and then. That'll be easier to do with Pierce than KG, but it will be done, because this team is still about June, not November.

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