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After getting beat in the playoffs last season it seemed that the Boston Celtics needed to make some changes to get back to the promise land over the newly revamped Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls who are growing up right before our eyes. Some of the holes were exposed and some of the negatives were shined upon. We found out during that series that Carlos Arroyo, while seeming ideal, did not turn out to be a good back up for Rajon Rondo after being picked up off waivers from the Heat so late in the season. We also learned that Jeff Green isn’t as effective as a bench player but still has some potential to grow and be a decent player, that Glen “Big Baby” Davis can actually disappear despite his size, that the only productive thing Jermaine O’Neal did during the season was start a clothing line, Rondo takes things hard sometimes but is tough as nails and that the signing of Shaq was better than most thought but still fell short of expectations. I will be the first to admit that when I heard that we signed Shaq I was not thrilled about it at all. I did not think he would be productive but I was wrong and he did good in the games he played and I have little doubt that Shaq, if he played, would have made a difference in the Heat series and the playoffs.
In the NBA draft in the 2010-11 season they picked Avery Bradley and Luke Harangody, both picks I thought were very solid picks and although he was traded I thought Harangody looked promising. I was also fairly impressed with the contributions of Von Wafer, Delonte West and Semih Erden. This season will most likely be remembered for “the trade” where Danny, for some reason, blew up his bench and traded Kendrick Perkins, and Nate Robinson for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, and a 2012 protected first round pick. They also sent Luke Harangody and Semih Erden to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a mere 2nd round pick in 2013 and finally sent the injured Marquis Daniels to the Sacramento Kings for a 2017 2nd round pick. At the time the Celtics were 38-14 and had a big hole to fill after Daniels went down with a season ending injury and lacked SF depth but I am not sure why they blew up the bench after such a strong start to the season. The players added afterwards were fillers at the most and did not do much. They signed Point Guard Carlos Arroyo, Power Forward Troy Murphy, and Small Forward Sasha Pavlovic to fill out the players they gave to the Cavs and Kings but I argue that they might have been better off just keeping those guys (Harangody, Erden) because they were more familiar with the system than the three that came in.
So how do you recover from such a huge gamble that backfired? Well first in the 2011 draft they drafted MarShon Brooks who was then traded to the New Jersey Nets for Power Forward JaJuan Johnson, from Purdue, a great move by them for sure and then in the second round drafted Shooting Guard E’Twaun Moore who was also a solid pick. The focus was on a productive bench who could cut into the minutes of the Big 3 without much lose in productivity and a bench that could hold their own. So they set their eyes on Chris Paul, since Rondo has not made such advancement in the shooting development, and they needed a scorer to take some weight off of Paul Pierce and the rest of the Big 3. The reports varied in what the Celtics actually offered the New Orleans Hornets but one constant was Rajon Rondo. However, it fell through and now the question was how would Rondo react?
In the first few games of the shortened NBA season Rajon Rondo reacted very well and was aggressive and effective on the offensive side of the ball. Maybe this is a new Rondo? Maybe he has in fact turned a corner and improved his offensive or maybe this is just false hope and he is just the same Rondo, just motivated. What better motivation than the team you call home, the team that you thought was going to go forward with you as the centerpiece, trying to trade you but was it enough to last the season? Can he consistently score 15-20 points per game and really start to take his game to the next level? The first few games’ stats might have just been skewed in Rondos favor because he had to be better offensively since Boston Celtics Captain Paul Pierce was out of those games with a heel injury. The Celtics filled out the revamped bench with Point Guard Keyon Dooling, Power Forward Brandon Bass after trading Glen Davis and Von Wafer to the Magic for him, Power Forward Chris Wilcox, Small Forward Marquis Daniels who came back from a scary injury, Small Forward Sasha Pavlovic, the surprise key pick up in Center Greg Stiemsma who was the D-League defense player award winner and proved so by blocking 6 shots in one game alone and finally just signed Shooting Guard Mickael Pietrus off of waivers from the Phoenix Suns. I think that this is a good bench for the Celtics and the key members o the team will be Jermaine O’Neal, Bass, Pietrus and most of all I think Rajon Rondo.
The Celtics did not start off the season very strong at all with 3 losses to start the season to the New York Knicks who improved on defense with the pick up of Tyson Chandler, which might have been a play to lure Chris Paul to them but I’m not talking about that… it will give me a headache. Other losses to the Miami Heat and the New Orleans Hornets did not give a good impression to the fans and raise any hopes of Banner 18. The losses seemed to be a lack of chemistry and the injury to Pierce, so it just told me that eventually this team will get it going but what will this condensed schedule do to the older Celtics team? The Celtics got the first win of the season against the Detroit Pistons who are in the middle of the rebuilding process and let a key member of the team walk away to the Bulls in Richard Hamilton but the rookie Brandon Knight has played nicely and they are led by former Celtics assistant coach Lawrence Frank. While the win was nice and needed to keep some illusion of dominance Rondo crawled back in his cave it seemed and just had 9 points and 5 assists shooting 50% from the field and at the line as well so that had me wonder and worry.
So far Rondo has played well and better than he did last season and his percentage from the field and the free throw line are good at this moment but can he keep it up consistently? So let’s go over what I think the keys are for the Celtics to finish the season one of the Top 3 teams in the East.
1. Rajon Rondo must be more aggressive, consistent, and effective on offense and take that next step in his progression as a top Point Guard. The Big 3 are getting older and with a new bench it will be on Rondo to provide some offense to help Paul Pierce, who is usually relied upon as the top scorer. He also has to take that next step for the future as well because once this season is over the Celtics’ options are vast but limited at the same time. They will have enough cap room to sign two players to max contracts and they will need Rondo as the major selling point and a person that they need to be a top guy to draw in some high-caliber names. I am very skeptical of the future just because I remember that the Celtics could not draw in big names when Paul Pierce was “The Guy” and the major selling point and he was and is better than Rondo.
2. Jermaine O’Neal must be healthy throughout the season and the playoffs. Jermaine might never play to the level he played when he was an all-star with the Pacers but he can still be a factor on both sides of the ball and with limited minutes he can give enough to make people forget about that awful trade last season. We all know which one, it still stings so never mind.
3. The bench must keep leads or keep them in a game and maybe even sometimes get them back into a game that is slipping away. The best bench thus far since the championship season was last season, before “The Trade” and this bench can be better than that. What they lacked last season they have this season, for the most part anyway, so the potential is there. So far they have played pretty well but you can tell that sometimes the chemistry is still developing and some of the players don’t know where they will fit or where there shots will come from. Until they have some defined roles then this will continue but Doc is a great coach and he will figure it out. The rookies E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson must be ready to get their number called because despite Doc’s reputation to not play rookies, he just might have to with this schedule. The one area that has always been a problem was Rondo’s back up and the only name to even come close to being a good one after Cassel left was Nate Robinson and that was only when he was focused and on his game. Dooling and Bradley will be looked upon to carry that label and do the job right. Some names are still available if Dooling can’t get it done, but so far so good and he is a welcomed part of the bench.
One thing you might have noticed I did not mention was the health and play of the Big 3. I’m not really that concerned about it, at least not more than I am those other three things. Doc will do a good job with minutes and making sure players don’t wear themselves out before the end of the season. Plus it is an obvious key part to the overall success of the Celtics that I think it just didn’t need to be said. Garnet has lost a step defensively, at least that’s what I have seen thus far, but that comes with getting older and he is still one of the best Power Forwards in the game. So how will the Celtics finish?
The Boston Celtics will finish the season as the third seed but probably won’t make it past the Heat. Surprise of the season? Steimsma will become a key member of the bench and Rondo will be involved in more trade talks mid-season. Some names to keep an eye on? James Posey, Andrei Kirilenko, and yes Nate Robinson. My diagnosis of Rajon Rondo and his offense is that he is playing with three hall-of-famers and might not feel the need to score but rather just run the floor effectively and focuses more on his defense. When a member of the Big 3 goes down to injury or is just inactive for a game he is more aggressive and scores whenever he wants it seems. He is still below average as a shooter and free throw shooter but I believe that we will notice more of his progress when the Big 3 aren’t here or he is on another team. However I think it is vital for him to get that shot consistent now rather than later and if he does improve his shooting and free throw percentage this season somehow then it will be one of the main reasons why the Boston Celtics claimed Banner 18 this season.
Season prediction? Miami Heat wins the Finals over The Oklahoma City Thunder in 5 games.