COMMENTARY | The Boston Celtics' tremendously disappointing 2012-13 campaign can be attributed to key injuries, poor chemistry, and despicable bench play. A team rich in history with 17 championship banners hanging from the rafters should provide more than a one-and-done playoff run with such a high payroll.
Ending the Atlantic Division winning streak hurt to watch, but after an offseason of "rebuilding," rumors of "tanking," and predictions of not making the playoffs, I disagree with the norm. I say they surprise everyone and reclaim the division.
5. Nothing to lose
The world is against you, hoping that trading away your heart and soul will crush what's left of the team and send you off to years of frustrating failure. Celtic pride can't be underestimated; there will be no dumping in order to win the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes. Forward Jared Sullinger sums it up best: "When you have Celtics pride, you really don't have time to rebuild." So they'll go out there for 82 games, play pressure-free basketball, develop chemistry, and polish skills with no expectations whatsoever -- just a giant chip on their shoulders.
On the other hand, the Brooklyn Nets have a small window to seal the deal. The time is now, and the future has been mortgaged. And don't think for one second that these young Celtics will lie down to legends Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett when they come to town. That's the day old friends become enemies. On paper, the Nets have a nice squad, but rookie head coach Jason Kidd will have his hands full adjusting to life on the other side.
4. Carmelo's complicated
Have you ever gone to play ball at the schoolyard, and you're on a team with a guy who never passes? He just shoots and shoots, never passing to anyone at all. He can be triple-teamed in the paint, make eye contact with you, see you're wide open, and still take the bad shot. It's not fun to play with that guy.
That's how I feel about Carmelo Anthony. Some of the New York Knicks' veteran leaders from last season are gone, and I foresee this group imploding before the beginning of March. If you compare Anthony's game to the days when prolific scorers like Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury ruled the NBA, their playoff success was limited. Although Iverson did come close once, neither won a championship, and Marbury only played in 32 career playoff games (14 as a Celtic sub.)
3. He's baaaaack!
Remember the All-Star point guard who gutted out a triple-double performance in double overtime vs. the Atlanta Hawks on a torn ACL? Well, he's back. Rajon Rondo -- the fiery competitor and potential next team captain -- aims to be in the starting lineup come opening night. His play-making ability and basketball IQ couldn't be compensated for last season, especially with no backup PG on the roster and Danny Ainge not picking one up after Rondo went down. That problem has since been corrected with the signing of impressive rookie free agent Phil Pressey.
Rondo's edgy personality, often mistaken for poor attitude, makes him an X-factor. When you put a top five point guard back in the lineup that cares about winning the way he does, anything can happen. He leads by example. Unfortunately, it's true that standing up for a teammate cost him his double-digit assist streak, but if that makes him a headcase then what about the time Larry Bird had his hands around Dr. J's throat? These icons nearly killed each other, and we don't regard them as such.
2. New sheriff in town
Doc's gone. He won a ring in Boston and will always hold a special place in my heart and Celtic history. However, moving forward, I applaud the hiring of Brad Stevens, 36, which allows young to coach the young. With no NBA experience in any capacity, he just may relate to players much better than critics think because of his age and the respectable resume he carries.
With a 166-49 career record at Butler University, Stevens brings a winning culture with him. He set a school record with 30 wins in his first season, taking them to the second round of the tournament. His second season, sans senior players, he still won 26 games. In a six-year span, he set numerous school records and guided a relatively unknown program to back-to-back NCAA title game appearances. Now he will do what everyone thinks he can't and guide this young Boston team to an Atlantic Conference title. All he knows is how to win, and he's got a lot to prove in his new environment.
1. Emergence of Jeff Green
Filling Truth's shoes won't be easy, but small forward Jeff Green is ready to explode. With the recovery from his aortic aneurysm operation fully behind him, Green can pick up where he left off last season -- showing signs of the player that was drafted fifth overall out of Georgetown in 2007. The 43-point performance vs. the Miami Heat and buzzer-beaters vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers prove he can be the go-to guy at the end of the game. He's clutch, which is something that cannot be taught. Also, in the postseason series vs. the Knicks, he stepped up, averaging 43 minutes and 20.3 PPG, up from 27.8 and 12.8 during the regular season.
His athletic ability impresses me the most. Many times I witnessed him aggressively take it to the rim, flying higher than anyone on the court to throw it down for a jam. He brings to the table a respectable perimeter game, plays solid defense, and the physical stature to compete in the post. Starting lineup minutes for a full year playing alongside Rondo in an aggressive running offense will allow Green to blossom -- finally silencing critics who booed the Kendrick Perkins swap. I anticipate a huge first half, complete with a trip to New Orleans for the All-Star game.
Craig Pisani has been a Celtics follower since the days of the original "Big 3." His works have been published online as well as local papers.
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