BOSTON (CBS) — The 2014-15 Boston Celtics won’t be raising the franchise’s 18th championship banner or hosting a parade through the streets of Boston next summer.
That in itself is no bold prediction, as many have the Celtics pegged to finish at the bottom of the NBA barrel.READ MORE: Richard Seymour's Full Patriots Hall Of Fame Induction Speech
However, these Celtics will win more than the 25 games they won last season in Brad Stevens’ first year on the bench, and may even compete for the final playoff spot in a weak Eastern Conference (earning them a first round exit at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers). While the Celtics couldn’t bring in a star player over the offseason to turn their rebuild into hyper drive, there is enough talent on the roster that if they can put it all together, the playoffs are not out of the realm of possibility.
That doesn’t mean they’ll have a winning record. A tough November schedule will likely lead to a mighty big hole to claw out of after the season’s first month, so these Celtics won’t be sniffing .500 very often — if at all. But in the East, that could be enough for the postseason. It’s basically NBA purgatory, but the Celtics aren’t terrible enough to finish among the bottom three teams in the league.
So now we enter a season full of questions, and very little hope, but here are five predictions that could very well happen and are worth following:
1. Rondo Isn’t Going Anywhere — Yet
Rondo trade rumors will dominate the headlines, but don’t expect a deal to happen this season.
The Celtics are in quite the conundrum when it comes to Rondo, their only true marquee player on the roster. On one hand, he’s the only draw for additional All Star players to make this a quick rebuild. On the other, he’s one of a few players that will land the Celtics anything of value in a deal, and at this point, that value is not as high as it would have been in years past. The Knicks and Rockets are among the only teams that actually need a point guard at the moment (injuries throughout the season could change that in a hurry), but both have little to offer Boston in return.
There is no questioning what Rondo can do on the court; he’s a wizard with the ball and more times than not, he makes those on the floor with him better. But with a severe lack of talent to surround him, there really isn’t much of a point to keeping Rondo around during the peak years of his career.
It’s a pretty big predicament for Danny Ainge, who has said over and over again that he wants Rondo to be a part of Boston’s future. Rondo has also said he wants to remain a Celtic long term, but should he decide to bolt in free agency, then Ainge and the Celtics risk getting nothing in return for their talented point guard.
The rumors will continue, but in keeping Rondo this season Ainge and the Celtics will have a highly motivated player (in a contract year) leading the way on the floor. Even though Boston won’t be making appearances on national TV, expect “national TV Rondo” to materialize when the Celtics play the best teams in the NBA.
Rondo won’t get dealt this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s part of the future. The Celtics can offer him the most money after the season, and then flip him in a sign-and-trade for future assets. If they want to get something for Rondo, this may be their best bet; they get a motivated Rondo to help sell tickets for one more year, let him cash in with a max contract that someone else will pay, and cash out with some more draft picks and young players.
If you’re a Rondo fan, enjoy watching him go to work every night this season. If you’re in that other camp, just be patient.
2. Fans Will Fall In Love With Smart
While this could be the final chapter in Rajon Rondo’s run with the Celtics it’s a new beginning for Marcus Smart, who has already had a pretty incredible journey to the NBA.
And it shouldn’t take long for the rookie point guard, selected sixth overall by Boston out of Oklahoma State, to win over Celtics fans.
If you watched any of the preseason, you know that Smart cannot shoot the basketball (yet). But that’s OK, since fans already learned to love a point guard who couldn’t shoot (at least some of them did) with Rondo. Smart doesn’t possess the passing wizardry of Rondo, but his tenacity in attacking the basket and on the defensive side of the floor will quickly earn him a lot of love from Celtics fans.
C’s color analyst Cedric Maxwell is already sold on Smart.
“I love him,” Max said of the C’s rookie on Sunday’s Sports Final on WBZ-TV. “He will shoot the ball better, but what I like about him is he defends, he understands how to play the game and he’s a tough-minded kid. The shooting will come, but defense and some of the things he’s done so far, I’ve been impressed.”
Smart isn’t afraid to put his head down and attack the basket (attempting 8.1 free throws per game last year as a sophomore at OK State), and he can finish when he gets to the hole. He’s not going to back down from any challenge, and his competitive nature will show in his first NBA game Wednesday night. That won’t waver throughout what could be a long season for Boston.
If Rondo isn’t part of the future in Boston, Smart will be, and Celtics fans should be happy about that.READ MORE: COVID Outbreak Reported In New Hampshire's Largest Jail
3. Celtics Will Be In Top 5 In Three-Point Attempts
Antoine Walker isn’t walking through that door, but it may look like it throughout the season (wiggle not included).
The Celtics have a severe lack of size when it comes to their roster. Granted, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller both stand at 7-feet, but neither are the big bodied centers who will own the paint. Because of that lack of size, the Celtics are going to try to run teams out of the building, and would like to be a very opportunistic team when it comes to the three-point shot in hopes of stretching the floor.
And by opportunistic, we mean they’ll take them any chance they can get.
The Celtics averaged 28.8 attempts from downtown in the preseason, which ranked third in the league in games that didn’t count. That’s almost eight more long-range shots than they averaged last season, when they ranked 18th overall in the NBA. Expect a huge increase in that ranking when the season comes to a close.
When Brandon Bass says he’s going to start shooting more threes, you know it’s caught on like a virus in the Celtics’ locker room.
The Celtics attempted 1,729 threes last season, which was middle of the pack in the NBA but the third most in franchise history. Only the 2002-03 and 2001-02 Celtics took more attempts from downtown, and both of those squads led the NBA in attempts those seasons.
The Warriors and Rockets are going to send those shots flying this season (Houston led everyone last season with 2,179 attempts), but the Celtics won’t be too far behind.
It’s hard to say where they’ll rank in terms of three-pointers made (they hit 36 percent in the preseason, good for 10th in the NBA), but they have some chuckers on the current squad. Avery Bradley isn’t passing up many looks from downtown, Jared Sullinger is falling in love with the shot a little too much, and Marcus Thornton brings his 4.6 attempts to Boston in a contract year. Jeff Green took a career-high 4.8 attempts beyond the arc per game last season, and now that he’s on a quest to make his first All Star team this season, that number could go even higher.
While shots from out deep are an emphasis heading into the season, Brad Stevens is still adamant that the extra pass could lead to an even better shot. But that won’t stop the current roster from sending those shots flying, and the three-point bug can get pretty contagious as the season goes on.
4. Sully Will Average A Double-Double
Though an injury kept Sullinger from having a full offseason heading into his second NBA season, the C’s forward took some big steps throughout the 2013-14 season. With no true center, Sullinger was asked to play against much bigger and tougher opponents on a nightly basis. He handled this job honorably, averaging 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
While he’ll still be asked to go against larger bigs this season, Sullinger looks ready to take an even bigger step forward. He looks to be in better shape, yet still possess that huge asset (his backside) that can clear just about anyone out of the paint. He recorded 22 double-doubles last season, missing out on six additional ones by just a single rebound. He also had 25-20 night against the Toronto Raptors, and flirted with three other 20-20 nights throughout the season. If Sully focuses on the glass, those 20-20 nights will be much more common for the Boston big man.
Life won’t get easier for Sullinger, and let’s pray he doesn’t become a mini-Toine with a newly found love for the three-point shot, but he’s going to become a bigger household name around the NBA this season.
5. The C’s Will Finish With A Top 10 Defense
The defense will be much better and could indeed finish in the Top 10 in the NBA — as Avery Bradley said earlier this offseason.
After the Celtics finished last season ranked 20th overall in the defensive end of the floor, Brad Stevens said he wanted defense to be part of his team’s DNA going forward. The team was a focused bunch on that side of the floor throughout the preseason, holding opponents to just 91.9 points per game.
Things will certainly change once the games count, but with a potential back court of Smart and Bradley, opposing teams will have nightmares at the prospect of facing the Celtics. Bradley, who has been a great one-on-one defender in his four years in the league, has his sights on First Team All Defense this season, which is trouble for anyone who tries to score against him.
But while Rondo, Bradley and/or Smart will be applying the pressure up the court, the Celtics still lack the rim protection that the front office mentioned so often at the end of last season. Teams should be able to dominate in the paint, which is where they’ll lose the majority of their games.
The season as a whole might not be pretty, but the Celtics are going to make it tough on teams every trip down the floor. It might not get them into the postseason, but building a defensive-minded blueprint for the future will help speed up the rebuilding process.MORE NEWS: Maine Hikes Tolls To Recoup Revenue Lost During Pandemic
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