Team Name: Boston Celtics
Last Year’s Record: 50 – 32
Key Losses: Tony Allen, Rasheed Wallace
Key Additions: Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, Delonte West, Von Wafer
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge just pulled off the best offseason he’s had since he traded for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in 2007. Ainge not only resigned Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Marquis Daniels, and Nate Robinson, but also signed free agents Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, Von Wafer, and Delonte West. And he did it without any cap-space, just a mid-level exemption and a slew of minimum contracts available.
Of the offseason additions, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal and Delonte West will make significant contributions to the team next season. Jermaine O’Neal should be the starting center until Kendrick Perkins is healthy. He will make the first unit more dynamic offensively than last season with his ability to make open 15-footers, in addition to his knack for scoring around the hoop. Shaquille O’Neal and Delonte West, veteran guys with loads of playoff experience, will emerge as the leaders of the second-unit, contributing to the best bench the Celtics have had in recent past. Von Wafer will likely receieve sporadic playing time, but with age and health concerns, will have a chance to prove his worth.
With only two players (Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce) under contract past next season, Ainge retained cap flexibility for the near future, while also making the necessary additions to challenge for a championship season. He’s earned an A for his offseason manueverings in my gradebook.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
The Celtics biggest strengths are their leadership and experience. Doc Rivers in the unquestioned leader of the Boston Celtics, but he has The Big Three to lean on. Garnett is the vocal leader, Pierce the emotional leader, and Allen, the one who leads by example. With such a strong core of leaders, the Celtics always remember the ultimate goal (see question four) and work toward their goal with an all-consuming focus and passion.
In terms of experience, eight players return from last season’s Finals appearance. Of the offseason free agent additions (West, Wafer, J. O’Neal, S. O’Neal), only Von Wafer is without significant playoff experience. Jermaine O’Neal has played 81 career playoff games, Delonte West 45, and Shaq a whopping 214, to go with four NBA championships.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Here’s what I wrote for the ESPN Boston Celtics summer forecast, in response to this question:
“ The biggest weakness is age and health concerns. I’m sure you’ve heard it all: Kendrick Perkins will be out until February while recovering from a torn ACL; Kevin Garnett has played more than 1,100 games in his career, and his knee did not look right for much of last season; Shaquille O’Neal has also played more than 1,100 games and is rapidly deteriorating as a player; Jermaine O’Neal has played for 14 seasons, more than 800 games, and has battled knee problems for the past few seasons; Paul Pierce and Ray Allen aren’t over the hill yet, but they’re standing at the peak, looking down at the valley. Every team has to deal with the injury bug, but the aged Celtics may be running low on bug spray.”
4. What are the goals for this team?
The goal is the same every season: win an NBA championship. I’ve already gone on record stating my belief that the Celtics will win the 2011 NBA championship.
5. Will this team coast and flip the switch again?
I don’t believe the team coasted (much) last season. The causes of last season’s horrid finish (27-27 over last 54 games) were injuries, loss of identity, and the stubborness of the veterans, not a lack of effort. Let me explain. Last season, Rajon Rondo emerged as a superstar, one of the top point guards in the league. Normally that would be a good thing, but Allen, Garnett, and Pierce’s egoes wouldn’t allow them to see what had become clear to anyone watching: Rondo was emerging as the Celtics best player and The Big Three needed to sign over the on-court ownership to Rondo. With the prideful Big Three feeling their alpha dog statuses threatened, an internal power struggle slowly tore apart the once cohesive Boston Celtics.
The Celtics had built their vision on the concept of Ubuntu, a brotherhood of harmony and humanity, but distrust and disunity were breaking the Celtics apart. The veterans distrusted the younger players, while the younger players resented the veterans. Internally, the turmoil grew and the on-court product suffered. Eventually, entering the playoffs, the veteran’s realized their mistake and turned the team over to Rondo. With the blessing of the veterans, Rondo emerged as the leader of the Celtics, delivering a breakout postseason and guiding the Celtics back to the NBA Finals.
This season, Celtics coach Doc Rivers will not have to worry about any power struggle. We are undoubtedly Rajon Rondo’s team and the veterans understand that. It took half a season for The Big Three to set their pride aside and do what was best for the team, but they finally did. Boston will be more consistent this season because Rajon Rondo is the captain of the ship, and there will be no mutiny. All hands on deck, and set course for the NBA Finals.
Predicted Record: 54 – 28