October 05, 2009
Once again back is the incredible ... Ball Don't Lie's NBA previews, outlining offseason moves, projecting win totals, spinning tracks and much, much more. It's a fun, hot mess. First up, the Boston Celtics.
Apologies for telling you what you already know, but the story is the same now as it was last spring. Even the opening pangs of training camp haven't changed a thing — Boston's fortunes ride entirely on the health of Kevin Garnett(notes).
This isn't anything new. Nor is it particularly revelatory, especially when you consider that teams 1-30 generally kind of tend to perform as well as their best player is performing. Yet Garnett's such a special case that it deserves batting into the ground again and again.
For one, his injury isn't a typical basketball-styled malady. There's nothing to fall back on, no "oh, I remember Boozer having that a few years back, he wasn't right until January, but he was fine eventually." Apparently his tendons had to be stapled back onto his right knee. Apparently he was limping around in practice last week. Apparently things are going to be fine by the end of October. Apparently, C's fans haven't had fingernails to chew since last February.
Additionally, because Garnett is such a unique player, there's no real telling from game to game just what his teammates need to do in his absence, should there be an absence to make up for. Because he does so much defensively to disrupt a game, alongside the usual all-world stat lines, it's not as simple as looking to run more for Paul Pierce(notes), or letting Rajon Rondo(notes) dominate the ball a bit more.
Both would help, and we again apologize for acting as if Garnett is some sort of ghost, but we've just as much reason to think about that end of things as we do the end that has KG pounding his chest and pounding the glass for 82 games plus the playoffs.
Let's deal with the half-full approach. This team is quite talented, there's a blind dedication to winning from the top on down and they're a little over 15 months removed from deservedly hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy over their heads. The Celtics obviously have what it takes to get back to that peak. The team is too good.
Rondo's 23. That's young, and he was a borderline All-Star last year. I don't read too much into his white-hot, first-round stats from the playoffs last spring (19.4 points, 11.6 assists, 9.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game is nothing to sneeze at, but most of those numbers came against Chicago's Derrick Rose(notes), who is a miserable defender). But Rondo has a great chance to become the fifth All-Star on Boston's roster. That's up to him, and on a team with this much peer pressure, I don't expect Rondo to fall backward like he did for some stretches in 2008-09.
Rasheed Wallace and Ray Allen(notes) are two former All-Stars who are (when Rasheed's head is on straight and Allen's ankles are in place) a step or two below that level these days. That said, the two can play. Rasheed can't replace what Garnett brings at all angles if KG were to step aside, but he's just about the closest thing there is to that. Ray's 34, but that jumper's not going anywhere.
Kendrick Perkins(notes), assuming he continues to stay in shape, will continue to improve. He's not even 25 yet, and if Kendrick Perkins is the weak link in your starting lineup, than you're doing pretty well.
Depth? Not great. Wallace helps, a ton. Marquis Daniels can really play. I have misgivings about his ability as a reserve point man, but he can help this team if the motivation is there. Glen Davis(notes) can score, Eddie House(notes) can shoot, Wallace can do a bit of everything, Shelden Williams(notes) can sop up minutes (and perhaps a turn with Boston assistant Clifford Ray can turn his career around) and Brian Scalabrine(notes) is still on the team. Could be a lot worse.
The rock here is Paul Pierce. He put the Celtics on his back to lead them into the playoffs with Garnett on the pine last year, he carried the team for years with no help, and though he might level off a bit in his 12th season, he should be there again in 2009-10. No matter what's falling or rising around him. Points, points in the fourth quarter, helping the team toward the win.
And the team will win. As high as the low 60s, if KG is around and playing as well as can be reasonably expected. Possibly the high 40s or low 50s, if KG struggles. I hope this doesn't come off as flip, but the team is just going to have to try and make it to the playoffs with tendons intact. This group is made for the postseason, and the trick is going to be getting there with everyone on board this time around. You already knew that. Let's see what happens.
Can the aging Celtics stay healthy?
"Last season, the big unknown was how or if the Celtics would replace the valuable James Posey(notes). They never really did, and it hurt. But the title defense hopes went down with the season-ending knee injury to Kevin Garnett. The Celtics have covered themselves there, both with a healthy KG and the addition of Rasheed Wallace. Health is the only critical issue facing this team; an injury to any of the Big Three akin to the one suffered by Garnett would seriously damage their title hopes."
— Peter May, Yahoo! Sports 2009-10 NBA Preview magazine
• CelticsBlog: "Defense always comes first on this team, and that's perhaps the biggest reason why the Celtics are among the elite. Imagine a point guard using all his quickness and strength to get past Rondo, only to find himself staring up at 4 long arms waving frantically in his face while expletives and guttural yells reign down on him. Meanwhile, he just got pickpocketed by Marquis Daniels sneaking over from the weak side to help. Rondo's already streaking up the floor with the ball before the guy knows what happened. Can you tell I'm ready for this season to start?" [more]
• Celtics Hub: "This team will not be satisfied unless it brings home another championship. Right now, there look to be five viable contenders out there for an NBA championship. Considering the C's took one of these teams (Magic) to seven games last season at far less than full strength, anything less than a NBA Finals return trip with this revamped squad would be a letdown. The time is now for this aging team full of stars, and the focus will be immense to bring the title back to Beantown." [more]
• RedsArmy.com: "Sometimes we forget that Rondo is a really young guy. He's not even 24 yet [...] he's still years away from his prime. He's still getting better ... but he's plenty good enough to be the second most important player on this team. And with the addition of Rasheed Wallace to absorb any lost KG minutes, you could argue that Rondo is the most important guy. I only hope he gets the message to wear tighter shoes. I'm sick of those things falling off his feet during games." [more]
"You're A Jerk," New Boyz
During last year's playoffs a lot of people soured on the Celtics. Why? Maybe because of Kevin Garnett yelling in people's faces even though he wasn't playing. Or from Rajon Rondo punching people in the head. Or the general Rock Steady and Bebop-ness of Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis. OK, there were a lot of reasons that the Celtics became the bad guys. The jerks, if you will.
But the thing is, they embraced it. And it worked. Someone needs to play the bully, and the Celtics are as good of a choice as any. Boston is so good, and so OK with being despised, that we don't care that this song was made in the heart of Laker country.
— Trey Kerby, The Blowtorch
A number of fantasy titles could be decided by Kevin Garnett's status this season, just as it will largely affect the level of success the Celtics have on the court. You need full return on draft picks in the early rounds if you are going to compete, and KG's current Yahoo! average draft position (13.1) is not leaving room for downside that the potential for fewer minutes and occasional games off would necessitate.
The Garnett trickle-down affect will also help determine the extent of Rasheed and Perkins' fantasy contributions, as well as how much (extra) responsibility Pierce, Allen, and Rondo will take on throughout the season. Rondo could take a big step forward in the fantasy realm if he complements his great counting stats with an uptick in offense.
Sign up now for Fantasy Basketball '09.
Morgan: My boy, Doc, is wicked smart. #Celtics #NBA
5:07 PM October 3, 2009 from TweetDeck