Several of the best Celtics and NBA bloggers in the business were kind enough to join me for a roundtable to discuss the upcoming NBA season. They are, in no particular order, Jimmy Toscano of Celtics Blog, Jay King of Celtics Town, Ethan Norof of Bleacher Report, Jeff Clark of Celtics Blog, Steve Alexander of Rotoworld, Jon Duke of Celtics Stuff Live, Jessica Camerato of CSNNE.com, Brandon Paul of CLNS Radio, and John Karalis of Red’sArmy.com. This is the fifth installment in a series previewing the season.
It’s looking more and more like this will be the Celtics roster for 2011-2012. The Celtics had their official media day on Tuesday, something they might not have done if they expected major roster changes in the coming days. If this really is the team going forward, it’s time to start breaking down some of the players.
Here we go …
— Can Keyon Dooling (above) make fans forget Delonte West?
Dooling finally gives the Celtics a capable backup for Rajon Rondo. Avery Bradley is not ready to handle the responsibilities of facilitating the offense when Rondo has to rest, and Dooling is a veteran option in the second unit to serve in that role. Additionally, Dooling’s arrival bodes well for insurance in case of a potentially serious Rondo injury. The Celtics still need a distributor to make the offense work around the “Big Three” should Rondo be forced to the sideline, and Bradley is not that.
— Can the Celtics get anything out of Avery Bradley?
Of course they can, and they will. They really don’t have a choice. As it stands, point guard is the position of least need, whether it’s Rajon Rondo or Chris Paul getting the start. The C’s won’t be big players in free agency for point guards, instead focusing on big men as Danny Ainge said last week. The bad news is that Bradley has missed two summers now — the first with injury and this one with the lockout, so again, he’s still got work to do. We’ve heard all about his defense, but it’s clear that his confidence isn’t there yet at least offensively. Doc Rivers will have to find ways to get him minutes, and in time, he should help.
— Will JaJuan Johnson contribute this season?
Plain and simple: Johnson will have to. With a condensed season and 19 back-to-back games, managing minutes is critical on the Celtics. That means bench players will be called upon to spell the veterans’ playing time to keep them rested — and more importantly, healthy — for a playoff run.
While there will be a learning curve for Johnson (which is heightened with a shortened training camp), he is entering the league with four years of college basketball experience at Purdue University behind him. The 22 year old logged nearly 4,000 Big 10 minutes and has already been hitting the gym with his new teammates at the Celtics practice facility. Expect him to soak up everything he can from Kevin Garnett as well. The keys to his success will be learning the C’s system, committing to defense, and leaving rookie nerves on the bench. If he can do that, he could earn a contributing role as a young backup to Garnett on this veteran team.
— Is Brandon Bass a better ‘Big Baby’?
Ethan Norof, Bleacher Report What a shrewd pickup by Danny Ainge. The commitment to Bass is minimal for just $4 million this season (and a $4 million option for 2012) in exchange for Glen Davis, who was destined to be overpaid by another team. Additionally, Bass allows the Celtics to roll out Kevin Garnett at center and serve as a viable option at power forward. He fits the scheme of what the Celtics want to accomplish more than Davis ever did, as Bass is a banger beneath the rim who isn’t afraid to do the dirty work. He adds depth to the second unit, and that was an obvious area of weakness for the Celtics that was constantly exposed throughout the 2010-11 season.
— Was it a mistake to trade Kendrick Perkins?
Viewed underneath a microscope that solely examines last year, the Perkins-Jeff Green trade can only be considered a failure for Boston. It wasn’t necessarily that Perkins was irreplaceable (though few centers combine Perkins’ defensive capacity with a team-first attitude that never ceases, not to mention a scowl that could scare bears into hibernation) — it was that nobody on Boston’s roster, or at least nobody healthy on Boston’s roster, could replace him.
The Celtics had achieved a 41-14 record prior to the trade mostly without Perkins, who was still recovering from an ACL injury suffered in the 2010 NBA Finals. But that was with a (relatively) healthy Shaq and the active-if-not-incredibly-productive Semih Erden. By the time Perkins was traded, Shaq was already injured, Erden was about to get traded himself and Nenad Krstic — who shows far more excitement throwing chairs than he does making defensive rotations — became Boston’s starting center until Jermaine O’Neal came back in the final week of the regular season. (Note: The Erden trade was the most questionable trade Boston made last season. Seriously. Ainge traded away a reasonably talented, dirt-cheap seven-footer in order to open a roster spot for Sasha Pavlovic. I’ll never understand that.) Meanwhile, Green struggled to adjust to life in Boston, continuing the inefficient play that marred his time in Oklahoma City. In three short months, Boston transformed from the clear Eastern Conference favorites and the team Miami could not defeat into the East’s third seed that was bounced in five games by Miami. Ugh.
Fast forward to the present time and the Celtics need to make a free agency decision on Green, who could potentially command a pricey, long-term deal. Signing him could seriously hinder Boston’s cap maneuverability in the future. Losing him could leave Boston without much bench talent behind Paul Pierce. There are arguments for keeping Green — he’s young, versatile, level-headed, reasonably skilled and fits a need. There are also arguments against keeping Green — he’s adverse to rebounding, doesn’t do anything especially well, and according to 82games.com, his teams normally play better when he’s on the bench.
The effects of the trade haven’t been completely sorted out. But if you’re scoring at home, the Celtics fell apart after losing Perkins last season, Green struggled in Boston, and Danny Ainge — who stuck his neck out by trading Perkins while the Celtics were thriving — should be extremely worried about the possibility of spending significant cap space on a player with a track record of making his teams worse. In a related question: With Perkins traded away, and in the event that Dwight Howard doesn’t miraculously find his way onto the Boston Celtics, who is Boston’s center of the future?