The most anticipated regular seasons since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen wore something other than a Boston Celtics uniform is finally here. Of the two, though, only Garnett re-upped with Boston, as Allen chose to play with the Miami Heat in free agency (I'll get back to this a little later) The dawn of this season has a similar feel to that one as well. There are a lot of new faces that bring a lot of expectations. Those faces don't come with the reputations that Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett do, but their addition and potential impact may yield similar results.
Ever since KG's injury in 2009, the future of this team was in question. Danny Ainge, known as a wheeler and dealer who was always willing to make the cold-blooded move to improve his team, was always lingering in the background, ready to break up the band. Since that year, Celtics fans were waiting to see when this thing was going to be blown up, and where the team would be when the dust settled. After Ainge decided to reload and retool rather than clean house, the core of the team you will see on the floor tonight in Miami is what you are going to get for the near future. Rajon Rondo, Garnett, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, , and Jared Sullinger are all under contract through the 2014-15 season. Avery Bradley's option was picked up for 13-14 and the he will be restricted in 14-15. Pierce is locked up for this season and next, and I would bet my house that he aligns the remainder of his career to match KG's, he said so himself. For the next three years Celtics fans get to sit back and just watch this team play basketball...
Let's see if this team can live up to the last team that we watched in such comfort. The 2008 Celtics are a mammoth pair of shoes to fill, and probably an unrealistic target to hit for the 2012 version. The 2008 Celtics were a wagon; fueled by three hungry Hall-of-Famers with something to prove. Time will tell how many of the 2012 end up enshrined in Springfield, but the tone of the team is different. One thing that this team has that 2008 didn't have, however, is a loaded bench. Jason Terry, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger, and Leandro Barbosa could play starters minutes on more than half the teams in the NBA. Chris Wilcox, Darko Milicic, and Jason Collins have all been starters elsewhere in the league. James Posey, Eddie House, Glen Davis and then P.J.Brown and Sam Cassell had their moments, but I believe were a largely overrated group of reserves. P.J. Brown's rep was basically one shot in Game 7 against the Cavaliers, and I remember praying Sam Cassell would hit a shot when he was in the game. Eddie House was hot and cold, and Glen Davis was inconsistent with his play and playing time. James Posey was their one, great bench player. This year, the Celtics should have at least five players off the bench that will make a major impact. I'll spotlight players individually as the season moves along, but I think the player who will have the most surprisingly good year to Celtics fans is Courtney Lee. Lee won't start the year on the bench with Avery Bradley still out after shoulder surgery earlier in the year, but assuming Bradley regains his starting spot, Lee will be a valuable asset off the bench. In Lee the Celtics have a young role player with confidence who can shoot threes, defend as well as he scores, runs the floor and has good hops to throw down the alley-oop at the other end. Since 2008, the Celtics haven't had a player as versatile as Courtney Lee, and now they do...
I think the Boston Celtics are going to be a really good basketball team this year. Over the past few years the Celtics have dragged through the regular season, doing just enough to earn a top-five seed, and then flipped the switch in the playoffs, when it counts most. In 2010 and 2012 the Celtics went further than most have expected, only to lose heartbreaking games against rivals on the road. I believe that this is the year they buck the trend of mediocre regular seasons. With Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger, Avery Bradley, and Rajon Rondo as major contributors in the rotation, the Old Celtics somehow got younger while getting better. When Ainge added solid, experienced veterans such as Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa, and Jason Collins, he gave the Celtics the depth that they needed to win games while resting Pierce and KG. If Doc Rivers can rest Pierce and Garnett against weaker opponents, or really good opponents on the road (like his mentor Gregg Popovich does with his aging core), I think the Celtics can post a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference. If the Miami Heat suffer an injury to one or two of their top four players, the Boston Celtics may host the critical Game 7 this year. If that's the case this year, it would be hard to bet against this team with the type of home court advantage they have at the Garden. (click that if you don't remember Game 6 of the ECF).
Time will tell. The playoffs are a long way away, and the journey begins tonight against their rivals, and the preseason favorite to win a second consecutive NBA championship; the Miami Heat. The Heat also tried to reload, although they made only one significant addtion, in my opinion. Ray Allen turned down twice the money and turned his back on his teammates when he signed with Miami. The decision showed what I believed had always been the truth; Ray Allen was not a true member of the Big Three. It never felt to me that he bought into the mystique and the camaraderie like Pierce and KG did, and if we are honest with ourselves, he was never as important as the other two, and later Rondo. I think Allen knew it from the beginning, and waited until he had the opportunity stick it to the organization and the other three. He never planned on coming back and didn't even really try. I think he's trying even less to hide it, tossing halfhearted comments about how he had no problems with the team and blah, blah, blah. The bottom line, is that the great ones in league history, a group that Ray Allen considers himself a part, never switched to their rivals for a lesser role and half the money. It was a lame move and shows a small, petty side to Ray Allen's character that was hidden during his five years with the team. Once Allen left town, he was able to express how he really felt about his final years in Boston...
As far as tonight's game goes, I see the Celtics doing what they usually do; winning games everyone else thinks they're going to lose. I see the Heat going up big earlier in the first half, feeding off of the energy boost that comes with receiving a championship ring. When that boost fades, along with the attention span of the South Beach crowd, the Celtics will creep into the game, take a fourth quarter lead, and actually hold it, thanks to their new closer, Jason Terry. It will be nice to have someone other than Paul Pierce to create shots in the fourth quarter and make them...
I'm picking the Celtics to finish with the second best record in the Eastern Conference, behind Miami. I think they have a great shot to win the top seed, but it will take injuries or issues with Miami that I can't force into my preaseason prediction. By the same token, I am picking the Celtics to lose in the Eastern Conference Finals in Game 7 in Miami, again. Would I be surprised if they are back in the Finals this year? Absolutely not. I just need to see them play some regular season games before I'm willing to pick them to beat the Heat. One thing I am sure of is watching this team for this season, and the next few, will be extremely enjoyable. Celtics fans have been waiting for this season to start since the closing minutes of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and now it is here...
Regular season record: 60-22
Rajon Rondo, 2nd in MVP voting, 1st team All-NBA.
Jeff Green, 6th Man of the Year.