Danny Ainge has done his part. He has assembled the most well-rounded Celtic’s roster in the past quarter century. Not since the ’86 Champions has Boston been so well stocked through two units. Now the emphasis, and burden, shifts onto the players. For each there are requirements to be met if they are to fully realize the promise that Ainge has primed.
For all of the newcomers, recordings of the Celtics’ offense and defense will be on the study agenda. For now, the best way they can ease their introduction into the Celtic Way is to be devoted students. There is a world of difference between admitted video-philes such as Rondo and players like Andre Blatche who prefers watching pole dances. Some players invest in double and triple sessions with personal trainers and coaches; others max out on fishing charters, barroom pool, and video games. Many carry their passions into the wee hours of the morning, but the varied results demonstrate a vast chasm in the differences in their preparation (both mental and physical) to excel on the basketball court. This video study will be important for the incoming veterans like the Jet, Lee and Collins; but it will be critical for the draftees and Christmas. The Celtics’ schemes aren’t Basketball 101, more like Advanced Hardcourt Strategy 495. Failure to grasp the nuances of the defensive rotations and the offensive multiple options is a recipe for watching the games on the bench in Armani, or on the television in Maine.
For the oldsters (Garnett, Pierce, Terry, Dooling, and Collins), maintaining cardio-vascular conditioning without wear and tear is the order of the day. Garnett’s running on sand is a fine example of a workout that minimizes the pounding and strain that makes the NBA season so debilitating. I find it odd that we seldom see aquatics mentioned as part of the off-season regimen as it would afford a great workout without stressing joints. When they do hit the court, they might use part of each day honing a new move. The great ones seem to come back each fall with an added dimension to their game. One way to ameliorate the ravages of time is to add a novel wrinkle to the bag of tricks. A lost half-step is much less obvious when the defender is frozen with uncertainty.
Sullinger, Melo, and Joseph are facing important rookie summers. Sullinger’s might be most important as his conditioning factor is readily addressable. Melo can certainly work on developing his offensive moves (and yes he does have some although they are raw) but even more he desperately needs work on team defense (and offense)–and those are hard to address sans coaches and a team. He also needs to improve his conditioning, the level of which hardly reflects his soccer background. Joseph may be the most polished (as a four year player) but he is trying to overcome having the most marginal physical gifts of the three draft picks. Kris, like most college perimeter players, will need to extend his three-point range if he is to have a shot (chortle) at making the roster much less getting onto the court in actual games. As you might expect, one of the most interesting aspects of our camp-watching will be how much our draftees have “grown” over the next two months.
We have several players coming back from surgery, and long layoffs from the game. Both Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox have not only to build up to vigorous activity and knock off the rust, but also overcome the mental hurdles associated with major surgery to correct life-threatening conditions. Avery Bradley and his surgically repaired shoulders will have been off the court and on limited activity for months. He too will have some mental barriers to overcome about taking a hit on those freshly scarred shoulders. You have to believe that Avery will have gone a long time without shooting, or even dribbling, while he heals (heck just getting a fork up to his mouth was likely a challenge in July). Rehab is filled with mindless tedium and the NBA roadside is littered with incomplete recoveries. Fighting through the boredom and pain will be physical test and a mental trial. I wish they could work together both to push and pull one another and to even out the highs and lows of the days when progress seems so elusive. For all three of these key rotation players, it is a major leap, and often a long road, from “cleared for basketball activities” and “back at full speed and effectiveness.”
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the revamped roster is that there is so much room for improvement between now and the start of the 2013 Playoffs. We will get our first glimpses of the state/rate of progress with the first preseason game, or scrimmage. We will pore over the play of the rookies with a fine tooth comb, comparing their October performances to those in July. Will they be quick studies or in the slow-learners class. Will Sullinger sport a chiseled physique and increased mobility? Will Melo show the addition of a drop step or baby hook? Will Joseph impose his will or fade into the background? Will the aging vets look like the players of old, or just old players? Will the new vets look as lost as the rookies? Will the rehab patients looked renewed or like walking wounded? Did Bass have a career year, or was he just hitting his stride? Will Dionte Christmas be training camp fodder or can he force his way onto the roster?
These first “semester” grades will be a telling harbinger of how the season will go. Good progress this summer could translate into great progress next year. Fab Melo has gotten a lot of flack for his up and down summer league play. Yet, if you watch his games the first week and those of the second, you get a hint of why he followed up an entirely forgettable freshman year with a sophomore season as a key member of the Orange. If he continues to exhibit a high learning curve then he will carve out minutes this season. He may be a prime example of how the progress of a rookie can push a pedestrian veteran out of the rotation, and his team into the upper echelon. Then again, Fab may spend an awkward season in Maine and we may learn that Jason Collins leaves us searching for Tom Collins.
Yes, Danny has done his job. In October Doc will begin doing his. In the meantime, the onus of making this a BIG summer is on the players.
Boston, and all points beyond