So how might the Celtics exceed those predictions of falling short of the Championship for a fifth year in a row? The first post covered some of the systemic changes that might create a sea change, now some of the individuals who could pleasantly surprise.
Dateline: September 15, 2012––15 days until the start of training camp!
First let’s point out that one hopes the thirty-something veterans just meet expectations, it is not particularly realistic to expect any huge surprises to be positive. Mostly we will settle for them to stay healthy, hardly a given in recent years. The team will be well served if Pierce, Garnett, and Terry maintain their play—although we might wish for a high level of performance similar to Pierce’s middle third (first third out of shape and last third gimpy), and Garnett’s last half (after moving to Center) of last season. Dooling and Collins are security blankets, they won’t give you much beyond stopgap fill-in but they also won’t make a lot of costly mistakes.
I have higher standards of hope for the other veterans. I thought the last month of play for Chris Wilcox was the most efficient and consistent of his career. He seems to finally have matured to allow his athleticism free rein without being encumbered by the brain farts that plagued his earlier career. He and Rondo began to meld and flashed the first glimpses of the “speed kills” attack that surfaced occasionally last year. Sadly he was already medically sidelined by the time the Rondo/Bradley dynamism emerged.
The veteran Rajon Rondo (that feels strange to say because it is easy to see Rajon as a perpetual youth as he has seemed the kid brother of the Big Three) has been in the league for six years, and has improved every season. He has continued to shoot a little better, gamble a little less (or at least calculate those gambles a little better), and ply his trade ever more adroitly. I don’t expect to see a huge jump in any area but I am totally excited to see what castles he can build with all his new blocks, what masterpieces he can paint with all his new colors, what tapestries he can weave from all his new threads.
Brandon Bass is the oldest and most experienced of the in-their-prime vets. I was thrilled at the swap of Bass for Davis; but accepted that he was a limited defender and that in addition to the 16-foot jumper he had, well, a 17-foot jumper. Over the course of last season he improved his defense, especially recognition–although this meant one or two missed assignments or rotations rather than the 8-10 earlier in the season. Also he began attacking the basket, adding an element of uncertainty to his offense that served both the jumper and the drive to the basket well. The boost to his game that I would hope for is the same progress as a passer and facilitator as he made last year in defensive acumen.
The recovering cardiac-surgery twins represent an intriguing conundrum. Will they return with the timidity, rust, and weakness of a long rehab from major surgery to correct life-threatening aortic defects? Or will they blossom in the return to health and the new-found lease on life, and basketball? I’ve already gone through some positive outlook for Wilcox, but if his medical crisis is a life-changing experience, then this might unleash a whole new level of focus and effort. If anything, this is even more true for Jeff Green. Prone to disappearing, flashing only splashes of brilliance, and damned with accusations of passivity and lack of aggression—a somber reassessment of life and a grab for the gusto seems like the perfect Rx. The blossoming of Green in Green is a horse that has been half beaten to death, or resigned to the glue factory, depending upon your point of view. One aspect of Jeff Green’s athleticism and size that I haven’t seen discussed is what it might mean for clamping down on the several over-sized two guards around the league. Players like Paul George, Joe Johnson, and James Harden have a decided length advantage over our tallest two guards. If they are taking our shooting guards into the post, an interesting situational adjustment would be to put Green on them defensively. Usually the Celtics try to force the other team to adjust, but especially in the late game offense/defense substitutions, this might be an effective countermove.
Our final vet is Courtney Lee. A lot of people see him as a career journeyman, a vagabond shunted from team to team, never able to break into the starting lineup. I see him as a multi-tool and savvy athlete who was only used appropriately in his rookie season in Orlando. They traded him along with Rafer Alston and Tony Battie to the Nets for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson. Two fading journeymen and a rookie for a fading All-Star and power forward in his second year (who moved into the starting lineup for Orlando the next year)—seems pretty obvious he had substantial value then. I also think that Lee has never had the chance to play with a great point guard, nor for a cohesive team. I think he will thrive with the Green and become a vital, maybe even shining, cog in the revved up Ubuntu Express.
The kids (and I include Bradley who has missed every summer league, most of every camp, and part of each season so far) will have to wait for another day. They are the least reasonable to expect to make a huge contribution, but on the other hand they have the most room to improve. More tomorrow.
Boston, and all points beyond