By: Bobby Krivitsky | Flashback 2010 – After suffering a heartbreaking loss in game 7 of the NBA Finals to rival Los Angeles Lakers, Doc Rivers met with Danny Ainge for their annual end of the season meeting. As the two discussed the direction of the team, the conversation centered around strengthening the bench. Ainge and Rivers both knew that the team needed to be deeper in order to prevent their aging Big Three from wearing down, just as they had in Game 7.
In 2008, when the Celtics won the championship, the bench was one of the team’s strengths. Headlined by James Posey, P.J. Brown, Tony Allen and Sam Cassell among others, the bench was filled with veterans, ready to step-up and make a play when called upon.
Since Banner 17, the Celtics have tried piecing the bench together using aging veterans. Before the 2009-2010 season, the Celtics made a splash by signing highly skilled but hot-tempered veteran, Rasheed Wallace. While he did play admirably in game 7 of the finals, Wallace was plagued by injuries and lack of production. After his lone season in Boston, Wallace retired.
Players such as Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal also spent their Celtic careers injury-riddled and were unable to contribute come playoff time.
The last three years, injuries have caused the Celtics bench to be razor thin during the playoffs, hampering their run at Banner 18. With the backups down, Paul Pierce and company were forced to log heavy minutes. This resulted in key players breaking-down, as the team got deeper into the playoffs.
This offseason was pivotal for the future of the franchise. Working with limited cap flexibility, Ainge was able to keep most of the team’s core intact, while strengthening the bench. This offseason did mark the end of the Big Three era, with Ray Allen leaving for South Beach. Allen’s departure further damaged the Celtic’s financial flexibility and forced Ainge to get creative. He did just that. Through a three-team sign-and-trade, Ainge was able to land Courtney Lee. Lee is a significant upgrade over Allen defensively. He can create for himself and likes to get to the rim. This will provide much relief to the Celtics offense. Most of Allen’s offense came from the team using picks to free him up. However, Lee’s ability to create and get to the rim will set up his new teammates and force opposing defenses to make difficult decisions. Lee is also a good three-point shooter, going 40% from behind the arc last season. Allen shot 45% from three.
The Celtics also added veteran guard Jason Terry from the Dallas Mavericks. Terry’s three-point shooting will help to offset the loss of Allen. Last season, Terry shot 37% from three. Terry will also see time at point-guard. Terry and Lee’s ability to create their own offense will help make the Celtics offense more dynamic and turn what was previously a weakness, into a strength.
Outside of Allen, Ainge was able to keep the rest of the core intact. This includes Garnett, the Celtics defensive anchor and team leader. Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, and Keyon Dooling will also be returning to the club for a second season.
The team also recently signed the man who is expected to be the centerpiece of a revitalized bench, Jeff Green. After missing last season due to a heart ailment, Green is determined to reward the confidence that Celtics brass has in him. He is a versatile and athletic forward who can play both small and power-forward. Green has a unique skillset, featuring a combination of three-point shooting and ability to post-up smaller forwards. Defensively, Green possesses the ability to effectively guard both forward positions. He is perhaps the most interesting Celtic to watch for this season. Green’s success will likely parallel that of the team. He will play a large role in the Celtics effort to overtake the Heat, the team that has eliminated them the last two post-seasons.
Boston also drafted power-forward Jared Sullinger, who averaged 11.2 points per game in the Las Vegas Summer League and 13.8 points per game in the Orlando Summer League. Sullinger will back-up Brandon Bass, further strengthening the bench. Sullinger is a good rebounder and has the strength and ability to score on taller defenders. He also possesses a jump shot that has improved significantly since his freshman year at Ohio State. Sullinger is an effective and skilled outlet passer, something which will help the team’s fast-break offense.
The Celtic’s bench has undergone a complete makeover, getting younger, more athletic and more versatile. The players featured on Boston’s bench are also good defenders, which the Celtics will need when going up against the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
The Celtics bench features a lot of young talent, who are signed to multi-year contracts. Ainge and Rivers, not only expect, but at this point in Pierce and Garnett’s career, are counting on this bench to be better than the one that helped lead them to a championship in 2008. If they are correct, then banner 18 might not be far away.