After a long, tortuous summer filled with sunny days and absolutely no NBA news of any importance, the 2013-14 season is set to kick off. This means the leaves will change, the cheeks will redden, and 400-some NBA players will ready those aching knees to play for the right to work all the way to June.
The minds at Ball Don’t Lie – Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine, and Eric Freeman – have your teams covered. All 30 of ‘em, as we countdown to tipoff.
Kelly Dwyer’s Palatable Exercise
The nagging impediment that is getting in the way of Boston Celtics fans fully embracing their upcoming rebuilding turn is the unfortunate knowledge that the haul they received in response to trading away all those legends isn’t a particularly compelling one. After an injury-plagued and mediocre 2012-13 turn, Boston personnel chief Danny Ainge smartly decided to stave off decrepitude and the possible indignity of paying luxury tax money for a team that missed out on the playoffs, and deal his 2008 championship core away.
Unlike most rebuilding general managers, though, Ainge was forced to deal with a string of caveats and mitigating factors.
First, there was Kevin Garnett – a player that famously refused to demand for a trade from Minnesota even after his awful Timberwolves team missed the playoffs three straight years while in his prime. His contract owns a no-trade clause, and he wasn’t afraid to use it.
Then there was coach Doc Rivers, and you can’t really trade coaches. Even if they’re still under contract, after having professed to want to ride out yet another rebuilding turn.
Then there was the case of Paul Pierce, a Celtic legend. He and Ainge were Boston brothers, and they kind of like each other. So it wasn’t as if Ainge could deal his former franchise stud to some lowly team for a series of lottery picks.
Because Ainge was dealt to work with limited trading partners for various reasons, the team only received a series of spare parts from the Brooklyn Nets for KG, Pierce, and Jason Terry. Yes, copious amounts of Brooklyn draft picks (along with the right to switch picks) will be in Boston’s possession for the next few years, but Brooklyn figures to be at worst a mediocre team even with KG and Pierce getting on in age, and at best a championship contender. Those picks aren’t hitting the lottery any time soon.
As a result, Boston enters 2013-14 with no obvious young prospect to show off in return for that championship core. Guard Rajon Rondo will be out until winter hits, the team drafted last June on the heels of a 41-win season (and not a trip to the lottery), and rookie head coach Brad Stevens doesn’t have a scintilla of NBA experience on his side.
What this crew does have is intrigue on its side. Despite his button down, BYU legacy, Danny Ainge has always marched to the beat of his own drum both as a player, coach, broadcaster or executive. He takes chances and owns a superb drafting history, especially in the latter stages of the first round (where the Brooklyn picks should end up). Stevens made waves in Butler with his work ethic and ability to mix unique scouting techniques with old school draw-‘em-ups. Rajon Rondo is one of the stranger, more thrilling, and (most importantly) productive point guards you’ll find in this league.
The rebuilding task is still enormous, though, because this roster is still dotted with the middling talents that were signed to support superstars, and not replace them. Other teams may balk at trading for players like Brandon Bass (two-years, over $13 million left on his contract), Courtney Lee (three-years, over $16 million) and especially Gerald Wallace (three years, over $30 million). Even Ainge favorite Jeff Green would be a hard sell to most GMs at three years and over $27 million.
Until then, Kelly Olynyk will get his touches, and a chance to prove that he won’t disappoint as a starting-caliber, 33-minute per game center. Rondo will have to bite his tongue, Jared Sullinger has a lot of making up to do, while Green and Avery Bradley will be afforded the opportunity to work offensively away from the glare of Mssrs. Garnett and Pierce. All while Brad Stevens attempts to both adapt to this brand new league, and change it from within.
That’s an intriguing team, as you’d expect from Mr. Ainge. Unfortunately, it won’t be a winning team. Not for a while, anyway.
Projected record: 16-66
Tune In, Turn Up with Dan Devine
While only a handful of NBA teams each season harbor serious hope of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy come late June, all 30 come equipped with at least one reason to keep your television set locked on their games. Dan Devine shares his suggested reasons for the season ahead.
Tune into the Celtics for … the Jordan Crawford Experience.
Let’s be clear: Crawford isn’t especially good. He’s an inveterate gunner despite boasting career shooting percentages of just 40.2 percent from the field and 30.1 percent from downtown. He’s a quick, athletic player who’s capable of getting past defenders and getting to the foul line -- the one place he is an above-average shooter -- but he’s taken just one free-throw attempt for every 4.7 shots from the field in three NBA seasons. He’s a capable enough facilitator when he’s of a mind to pass, but he’d just about always prefer to call his own number; he’s a wildly incapable defender whether guarding on the ball in the pick-and-roll or isolation or tasked with off-ball help assignments.
There’s a reason Crawford’s been on three teams in three years and was traded last season for one guy with a blown-out knee and another who subsequently logged just 54 minutes before setting the world on fire; by most measurements, the 24-year-old Xavier product is a below-average NBA player. And yet …
I mean, he’s Steezus, dude.
He’s got guffaw-inducing confidence, the kind of unshakeable self-belief that allows him to refer to himself as a “dominant scorer” who can be better than Michael Jordan despite, y’know, the cruel burden of reality. The sort of unflappable sneer that makes him think he absolutely belongs in the middle of a heated smack-talk scrum with the NBA’s leading scorer after a playoff game in which he played zero minutes and zero seconds. The brand of unvarnished moxie that results in him being completely convinced that a 31-foot buzzer-beating heave is his team’s best late-game offensive option … and making it, because of course he made it.
Crawford will produce flashes of brilliance, like this awesome in-and-out lefty dribble-drive to shake a defender, draw help and hook up his big man for an easy deuce:
… and eminently enjoyable moments of serendipity like this fast-break-underhand-shovel-pass-turned-deflection-turned-sort-of-self-alley-oop-layup:
… and even stretches of (comparatively) stronger play, like a December 2012 that saw him average 19.1 points, 6.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game (including a 27-11-11 triple-double against his former team, the Atlanta Hawks) for a Washington Wizards team desperate for just about anyone to do just about anything in the playmaking department in the absence of injured star point guard John Wall and backup A.J. Price.
He won’t get quite the same opportunities on a Celtics squad that returns Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee. But until Rajon Rondo comes back from his partially torn right ACL, new head coach Brad Stevens could find himself frequently in need of emergency injections of offense and shot-creation, much as predecessor Doc Rivers did at times late last season. In those instances, Crawford figures to get run; in those instances, he figures to be chaotic, in ways both positive and negative.
He’ll drive, dish, hoist and score in bunches; he’ll also work to find inventive new ways of coughing the ball up, chuck up garbage that would make fellow ex-Wiz/kindred spirit Nick Young blush and get caught out of position enough times on defense to drive his coaches, teammates and fans to the brink of insanity. But he won’t be boring; that, I can pretty much promise you. He’ll be fun to watch … especially if you’re not a Celtics fan relying on anything more from him than that.
Honorable mentions: Learning whether Kelly Olynyk’s smooth offensive Summer League turn translates into prime-time; watching Bradley bulldog ball-handlers the length of the court; seeing Jeff Green do this to someone once every few games.
Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion
NBA analysis typically thrives on certainty, a sense that a trained expert sees the truth and points fans towards the key issues and most likely outcomes. Yet, as any seasoned observer of the league knows, events often unfold in unforeseen ways, with players performing against predictions or outside of the realm of presumed possibility altogether. In fact, it may sometimes make sense to dispense with the pretense of predictive genius and instead point towards those issues that as yet provide no simple answer. In Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion, we investigate one player per team whose future remains vague.
In a less than ideal season for the Boston Celtics, Jeff Green at least gave fans something to cheer. After missing all of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season with a serious heart issue, Green returned to put up several game-winning shots, three 30-point games (including a 43-point outburst in a narrow loss to the Heat in March), and many thrills. Many Boston fans, eager to embrace a new player with the team’s long-term core on its way out, even began to consider Green as a potential star moving forward.
In 2013-14, Green will have the opportunity to prove those fans correct. The problem, though, is that 396 games in five seasons presumably serve as a better predictor of future success than a few huge games in big spots. We pretty much know what Green is — he can serve as a capable third or fourth scoring option, rebounds decently, and does just enough to entice people into thinking he’s a lot more valuable than he actually is. Given the makeup of this Celtics roster, it seems like the team and its fans have fallen into thinking Green can be a major part of their future. If that’s the case, they’re likely in for disappointment.
Or maybe we’re looking at everything the wrong way. While the Celtics have protested against charges of tanking and warned fans not to expect a star via the draft, they’re most likely going to be pretty bad this season. Counting on Green to serve as a star, or even the guy who’s going to make Boston competitive every night, would seem to be a fool’s errand. The Celtics, though proud, are smart enough to know that they’re nowhere near the title contenders they were just a few seasons ago. But a franchise still has to promote what it has, and Green remains one of the most recognizable names and faces on the team. Perhaps Green only appears to be a major figure in the team’s plans because someone has to occupy that role.
Read all of Ball Don't Lie's 2013-14 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Bobcats • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors