Celtics-Raptors Preview

The Associated Press

When the Boston Celtics parted ways with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the offseason's biggest trade, it marked the end of an era and the beginning of a massive rebuilding job.

In the midst of a franchise-worst playoff drought, the Toronto Raptors have been trying to rebuild for some time.

With Doc Rivers now in the Western Conference and Rajon Rondo recovering from knee surgery, rookie coach Brad Stevens leads his new-look Celtics into their season debut Wednesday night in Toronto.

Following its 4-2 series loss to New York in the first round of the playoffs, Boston (41-40) said goodbye to Rivers on June 25 when it sent him to the Los Angeles Clippers for an unprotected 2015 first-round draft pick.

Three days later, the last of the 'Big Three' were gone, too. The Celtics traded Pierce and Garnett - along with Jason Terry - to the Brooklyn Nets for three future first-round picks along with Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks and Keith Bogans.

After Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen joined forces in Boston for the 2007-08 season, the Celtics went an East-best 314-161 with five division titles, two finals appearances and an NBA title in that first year together.

Now the 17-time champions are preaching patience after signing the 37-year-old Stevens away from Butler in July to begin a new era. While it remains to be seen whether they build around Rondo or move him as well, the Celtics appear to be well-armed for a long-term fix with nine first-round draft picks in the next five years.

"I think people outside of our circle need to have patience - fans, media," said forward Jeff Green, one of seven holdovers from last season. "I mean, you can't get perfection overnight."

There certainly could be some growing pains offensively with Rondo's return date uncertain after having surgery on a torn ACL that ended his season after 38 games.

With no experienced point guard, the Celtics are expected to go with defensive whiz Avery Bradley to fill in for the four-time All-Star, who led the league with 11.1 assists per game last season.

Green hopes to continue his growth offensively after averaging 20.1 points in 17 regular-season starts, including the final 13 games, while going 27 of 52 from 3-point range.

"With what I've done throughout this league, I'm going to have to be a leader on this team," said Green, who averaged a team-high 20.3 points in the playoffs.

Green will try to help the Celtics get off to a positive start against a Toronto team that finished in 10th place in the East last season.

The Raptors (34-48) are 152-242 since last making the playoffs in 2007-08, and their perpetual project took another turn in the offseason. They hired Masai Ujiri, the NBA's reigning executive of the year, away from Denver to take over as president and general manager.

Ujiri dealt former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani to New York in exchange for sharpshooter Steve Novak, a first-round pick and two second-rounders. He also signed forward Tyler Hansbrough and backup point guard D.J. Augustin, both part of Indiana's playoff team last season.

"We've added Tyler but we're basically the same team," coach Dwane Casey told the team's official website. "We just have to get better knowing our system."

Casey enters his third year at the helm hoping to avoid another dismal start after opening 4-19 last season, and it should help having Rudy Gay from the outset.

In his 33 games after coming over from Memphis via trade Jan. 31, Gay averaged a team-best 19.5 points while leading the Raptors to a 17-16 record. He averaged 21.0 points and 9.3 rebounds in three meetings with the Celtics after joining Toronto despite shooting 36.8 percent.

Teammate Jonas Valanciunas could be headed toward a breakout year after averaging 15.5 points in the last 10 games of his rookie season, while DeMar DeRozan looks to build on his career-best 18.1 points per game.

The Raptors have lost 20 of 25 to the Celtics but won 114-90 in the most recent meeting April 17 in Toronto to avoid a season sweep. Gay, Valanciunas and DeRozan combined for 61 points.

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