BOSTON (CBS) – The Boston Celtics are old. Plain and simple.
Kevin Garnett may have moved to center to take strain off his 36-year-old body, but the fact is this will be his 17th NBA season, and KG isn’t known to tone it down either — on the court or off it.
Right below him on the soon-to-be AARP list is Paul Pierce, who is entering his 15th season with the Celtics. It seems like just yesterday Rick Pitino was selecting Pierce 10th overall in the 1998 NBA Draft. Now, he is the 35-year-old leader in search of another title.
But, just because the Celtics have a pair of old-timers running up and down the court doesn’t mean they will necessarily fall apart come playoff time. They have a franchise player in the making in Rajon Rondo, but more importantly, they have the depth to keep their veterans fresh throughout the year.
“I think this is the deepest team I’ve had,” Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said last week. “That doesn’t mean it’s the best team or most talented, but it’s the deepest. I’m hoping it’s the most talented as well, so I love that. I love versatility.”
Doc is right. Depth is not something he’s had the luxury of during his time in Boston, especially the last five years when the books were jammed with the contracts of Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen. He was lucky to have a 7-8 man rotation at times, and usually didn’t have that thanks to the wear and tear that go with the 82-game NBA season.
But over the summer, Danny Ainge made sure Rivers would have a deep bench to work with, and plenty of chances to rest his aging stars.
To start, Ainge brought veteran swing-man Jason Terry to town. The 2009 Sixth Man of the Year will provide plenty of scoring – and the flash – off the pine for Boston — something they haven’t seen in years. Terry is loving his time in Boston so far, and has fit in nicely with the mix of savvy vets and young players on the roster.
Not only that, but he loves to practice now too.
“What Doc told me before I came here was do something different; change your habit. My habit coming to this team was I hated practice. I’ve grown to love it over the last month,” Terry said last week. “It’s challenging, competitive and brings out the best in you every day.”
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Terry said he would still feel that way come April, because “the playoffs will be right around the corner and we’ll be getting ready for a championship run.”
But Ainge was not done after adding Terry. When it was clear Avery Bradley wouldn’t be ready until midseason, he swung a trade for veteran shooting Courtney Lee, who will start in Bradley’s spot for the near future. He brought back both Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox, who both missed extended time after having heart surgery last year. He even brought in former No. 2 overall pick Darko Milicic, who is being told simply to defend and rebound in his sixth NBA stop.
While Wilcox and Milicic will provide depth among the bigs off the bench, Green will be the key to the second unit’s success. It’s been that way since Ainge traded for him at the trade deadline two years ago, and after an impressive preseason campaign, it looks as though Green is ready to fill those expectations that would have trouble wiggling into a size 15 sneaker.
But where the Celtics needed help was bringing down their average age. Ainge did just that with his three selections in June’s NBA draft. While Fab Melo and Kris Joseph are both projects a few years away from making their name in the NBA, the prize for Ainge was Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger.
The undersized, but big-bodied, Sullinger could prove to be the steal of the 2012 draft after being selected 20th overall by the C’s. He’s turned heads with strong showings in the summer league and preseason, and even has Doc Rivers thinking about using a triad of starting lineups — with Sullinger included in one of them.
The praise has been endless for Sullinger, from his high basketball IQ to his ability to box out down low. And he knows exactly what do to when his number is called to pull down rebounds, thanks mainly to his best asset.
“That’s my rear end; that’s what my momma gave me,” Sullinger said with a smile.
With all of that, and their star-studded starting lineup (whichever one Doc Rivers chooses), the Celtics are primed to make another run at a title. Pierce is not only a fan of what his new crop of teammates will bring off the bench, but the relief he’ll give him and Garnett throughout the season.
“We really have some great explosive guys off the bench, with Jason Terry leading the pack. We’re really excited,” Pierce said last week. “Jared Sullinger is coming along; our rookies have had a great impact in practice. Jeff Green, after having a year off, is really showing what he’s capable of. They’re really going to be able to take a lot of pressure off me and Kevin.”
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Not only that, but they give Doc Rivers all the options he can imagine.
“I like all the different ways we can play; we can play fast, we can play big, we can play small,” said Rivers. “I think that bodes well for a great season.”
Only time will tell, but with a bench as deep as the Celtics, it’s hard not to expect the most.
Even from a group of old men.
Follow Matthew Geagan on Twitter @MattyGWBZ