The NBA regular season is two weeks away and the Boston Celtics are making preparations for another run at championship number 18. After a busy offseason that resulted in perhaps the team's deepest roster since the 1980s, fans should be cautiously optimistic that the Celtics are built for another deep playoff run.
With expectations running high, the preseason schedule can become something that is a simple formality; a process by which the players can establish their game conditioning and build player rotation consistency. Despite the long-term vision the team and their fans are expected to have, there are a few interesting storylines developing that can help shape the look and play of the team in the season's early stages.
With last season's starter Avery Bradley sidelined through the season's early weeks, the team must move forward with a new face in the starting five. Ray Allen's departure was a disappointment to some, but the play of Bradley in the spring gave Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge confidence that their backcourt of the future was now in the present.
As Bradley recovers from double shoulder surgery, the Celtics must appoint an incumbent starter. Jason Terry has proven to be a great player off the bench; demonstrating explosiveness and consistency throughout his career, something that the Celtics could certainly benefit from. Courtney Lee is young and relatively inexperienced and would be better suited getting consistent minutes as a starter.
With Lee as the starter, there will be less pressure on the fifth-year guard to create offense, as that function will reside with Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce. With the focus of the offensive flow going through the revamped Big Three, Lee will benefit from open looks and not have to be a go-to scorer as he would in a reserve role; something Terry is more suited for. In either case, the depth that now exists at the guard position will give opponents different looks and skill sets to contend with.
Doc Rivers has not been one to rely on rookies to play significant minutes and deal with their occasional bouts of inconsistency. In Sullinger though, the Celtics possess a player with unexpected poise for a player with such a lack of experience.
The experimenting of Sullinger last week in Milan was more to see how Sullinger might perform with the starters during the regular season, when tight player rotations will force Sullinger into the game at critical moments with many of the traditional starters.
Bass' performance last season should be more than enough to convince Doc Rivers to stick with his starter from last season. Bass' ability to shot from the perimeter, post up smaller defenders, and drive to the basket against slower ones gives the Celtics more versatility in their line-up. In game situations where rebounding is needed, Sullinger may see more minutes; as his knack for carving out space in the paint and having a nose for the basketball will help the team.
With improved rebounding from Sullinger and Bass' ability to hit the perimeter, Doc Rivers can play either or both together and create position mismatches on the floor.
Is Darko Milicic's performance a tease or sign of things to come?
The much maligned Milicic has been an unadulterated bust since being the second pick in the 2003 draft; taken above such names as Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. The knock against the seven-footer is his occasional apathy on the floor; causing the 27-year old Serbian to drift between five teams during his eight-year career.
Through the preseason, Milicic has displayed a deft passing tough on offense and some aggression on the floor on the defensive end. For the first time in his career, the center enters a training camp with low expectations. For the first time, Milicic can be viewed not as the draft bust but as a journeyman center looking to contribute to a winning team. If Doc Rivers can keep the veteran focused and comfortable with his contributor role, the Celtics may find a diamond in the rough.
Can the Celtics expect a more productive Jeff Green this season?
Upon his arrival in the 2010-11 season, the expectations for Jeff Green was high. As the centrepiece of the much-criticized trade of fan favourite Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City, the Celtics and their fans were hoping that Green would bring scoring punch, athleticism and versatility to the reserve unit.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, Green's initial audition was a disappointment. His lack of aggression on the floor and inability to become acclimated with Boston's offensive and defensive schemes frustrated Celtics Nation; creating much debate over the need for the trade in the first place.
Last summer, early indications were that Green was a more aggressive. During offseason workouts, players and coaches began to express optimism over Green's changed style of play. Unfortunately for the Celtics, Green was sidelined for the entire season with a heart condition that required surgery.
In the early days of preseason, Green looks to be much more the player that the Celtics and fans were hoping for; showing a more aggressive offensive approach and a level of athleticism that will make this season's team very versatile. At this point in the preseason, there is no reason to believe that Green cannot add offensive potency to a bench unit that has been lacking for several seasons.
Training camp is a euphoric place for many Celtics' fans. With competitive pressures lessened, players have the potential to establish unrealistic expectations. This season, the Celtics appear to be a team built to play for another NBA title. There is more versatility on this team than has been for many years, and a talent depth that can contend with any team in the league.
Time will tell whether the team taking the floor in October will still be playing come June. Based on the players assembled thus far, there is no reason to think this team is lacking the talent to raise another banner in the Garden rafters.
Scott Duhaime is a passionate fan of the Boston Celtics and avid follower of the NBA for over 30 years; weathering the highs and lows of past seasons and witnessing five of Boston's 17 championships; with more to come.
Follow Scott on Twitter: @scott_duhaime
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