Depending on whom you ask, the Celtics may not even be in the playoff race. However, this doesn't mean that there is nothing to get excited about with the season just around the corner.
Here are five things Celtics fans have to look forward to:
The return of Rajon Rondo
This one is obvious. At some point this season, Rondo will return from an ACL injury that ended Boston's hopes at one last run. Of course, he could pull a Derrick Rose, but I don't see that happening.
Perhaps the most exciting part of Rondo returning is that he may finally be in his element. With a new coach and some different players, the painfully slow half-court Celtics may be a thing of the past. Surrounded by Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, MarShon Brooks, Gerald Wallace, and Kris Humphries, this team could be a fast one.
They figure to be dreadful in a half-court offense, so why not get out and run? There is some athleticism on the roster, and they will no longer need to slow down for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Rondo should have the opportunity to run and gun a little, and that should be pretty exciting.
Avery Bradley is finally healthy
For a while, Celtics fans have sold themselves on the idea of Avery Bradley developing into something special. To this point, he hasn't. For the first time, he has had a full offseason where he is healthy and can work on his game full time. Now it's time to see how he uses it.
When he returned to the court last season, he was thrown into the fire and had to take over point-guard duties following Rondo's injury. Bradley should benefit from playing off the ball once again, and hopefully he can show that he took full advantage of a healthy offseason. An improved 3-point shot and a little extra ball-handling would go a long way.
Jeff Green will get a huge opportunity
Yeah, it's going to be a long year. I know.
Without Garnett and Pierce, Green should get an opportunity to be featured in the offense. He started to turn the corner last season, and finally showed flashes of the player he should be. Although many have criticized Danny Ainge for trading away Kendrick Perkins for him, it's clear that Boston would rather have Jeff Green at this point. Is there anyone out there who would like to build around Kendrick Perkins?
Brad Stevens will take advantage of Green's versatility at both forward positions, giving him an opportunity to succeed. A big step Green needs to take this year will be learning how to constantly be in attack mode, and avoiding the long, passive stretches where he hangs around the perimeter. When he's aggressive, he's a very good player.
It might not be pretty at times, as Green isn't yet the type of player that an offense can run through. He will have flashes, and this season will be a bit of a learning experience for him. Hopefully, he will become a better player because of it.
Kelly Olynyk is a dark-horse candidate for Rookie of the Year
Going into the draft, Olynyk was the type of player who was ready to contribute at the NBA level right away. At Butler, Brad Stevens had huge success with Matt Howard, a high-energy big man who stretched the floor with his outside shooting. See the resemblance?
He may not play huge minutes right away, as there is a logjam of forwards competing for minutes. You have to imagine Ainge would love to deal Brandon Bass or Kris Humphries if he gets the opportunity, meaning both players could get more than their fair shot to showcase to other teams.
As the season goes on, Olynyk's energy and high basketball IQ will win over Brad Stevens. He'll get a shot on this mediocre team, and he should put up pretty solid numbers. The rebounding will be there, and Rondo should get him enough outside looks to post efficient scoring totals. His defense will not be very good, but a lot of voters don't care about defense anyway.
Brad Stevens will win over Celtics fans quickly
Finally, the Celtics have a coach who can unleash Jordan Crawford's full potential.
Just kidding. Take a deep breath.
He might not have any NBA experience, but Stevens will be a great fit in Boston. This team won't be very good, but he will have them playing hard every night. While many question how he will command respect, it's hard to imagine this roster not giving it all they have for a coach who gives his heart and soul to his job. This all changes if you believe a lot of the media, who suddenly believe that Rondo is a sour apple and a coach killer who is just never happy.
Stevens is a bright mind and a notorious hard worker. He doesn't possess the ex-player toughness that Doc Rivers does, but his different style will be a breath of fresh air. He will squeeze everything out of this young group, and Celtics fans will feel very confident in their new coach.
Keep your heads up, Celtics fans. This season will be tough, but there is plenty to look forward to. We're entering unfamiliar territory, but it could be worse. At least we're not the Charlotte Bobcats, right?
Mark lives in the Boston area and has been covering New England sports for various blogs over the past 4 years. He has been featured on Fox Sports Yardbarker, Fox Sports, and Sports Illustrated "Hot Clicks", and has been published on Celtics 24/7, Bleacher Report, and Sports-Kings.
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- Avery Bradley