By Randy Ball
RotoWire Staff Writer
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Celtics never really caught the attention of Boston fans last year, winning just 33 games, after it had appeared they were going to build off their 45 win season in 2004-05. The team struggled out of the gate, losing 17 of their first 29, and remained in neutral all year. Things got embarrassing, when the team dealt Marcus Banks, Ricky Davis and Mark Blount to the Timberwolves for Wally Szczerbiak only to get blown out two nights later in Minnesota. After that, the season was essentially over. GM Danny Ainge had hoped the Szczerbiak trade would have ignited a team that had its best defender (Tony Allen), best low-post scorer (Al Jefferson) and spot duty point guard (Dan Dickau) all miss significant time with debilitating injuries. Meanwhile, their biggest free agent signing (Brian Scalabrine of the $15 million Scalabrines') was on the top of most "Biggest Bust" lists everywhere you look. On the flip side, Kendrick Perkins appears to have cemented himself as a viable low post option. Another youngster, Gerald Green, had moments during the end of last year where he was the best player on the floor; regardless of who was on it. Finally, the captain of the team, Paul Pierce, turned in his best season as a pro in 2005-06. He has welcomed all of the young talent around him and wants to win in Boston, with the roster he has. There were rumblings that Pierce would not accept his role as babysitter and look to opt out of his contract after this season, which he debunked by signing a maximum extension over the summer.
Ainge, being Ainge, tried to make it easier on Pierce by taking on enigmatic Sebastian Telfair as his point guard, believing the problems he had in Portland were fixable. Thus far, Telfair has been a company man and wowed everyone who saw him play during summer league play. Ainge was also able to add some frontcourt depth, via Portland, grabbing Theo Ratliff, while ridding himself of Raef LaFrentz's poisonous contract and Dickau's bad foot. During the NBA Draft, Ainge did some more wheeling in dealing, getting a player he coveted, Rajon Rondo, with the Suns 21st pick, for a future first round pick. Telfair and Rondo are expected to battle incumbent point man Delonte West, who incidentally is coming into camp with back problems.
This is probably Doc Rivers last shot in Boston as nothing short of a 45-50 win season will save his job. Rivers' teams have periods of absolute dullness, with a large lacking of creativity during in-game situations. There were numerous occasions last year that Ainge voiced his displeasure with some game management decisions that were made (i.e. playing a woeful Blount over Perkins for most of the first half). Those are the kinds of things that Orlando folks were saying in 2004 when the team started 1-10, and Rivers become Al Michaels' color man for ABC. It is pretty easy to see a scenario, where Boston starts off slow, and Ainge comes down from the luxury boxes to man the sideline.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The most intriguing battle will be at the point. Telfair should emerge as the starter, while West will back up both guard spots. Rondo is a wildcard that should be eased into the rotation. Pierce is starting the season as the off-guard, after being a small forward to begin last year. He'll be backed up by Green (see more on Mr. Green's potential below), Allen, West and sometimes Sczcerbiak, who should get most of the minutes at the three. Upstart Ryan Gomes expects to get a lot of time behind Wally, while Scalabrine needs to live up to his ridiculous salary. Jefferson will begin the season as the starter at power forward and must stay healthy; something that has eluded him thus far in his career. Perkins will be the main man in the middle, while Theo Ratliff should be a great veteran presence and shot blocker. Others that figure to be in the mix are Leon Powe at both forward spots, Allan Ray at the two and Kevin Pittsnogle at center.
Kendrick Perkins: Perkins returns as Boston's starting center in 2006-07 after 37 starts last season. He's improved his conditioning since entering the league out of high school, but still has mediocre athletic ability. He's way down the list of players the Celtics are looking to for offense, so all his value will be tied to his ability to rebound and block shots. To have a starter's value, he'll need more than the 19.6 minutes he averaged last year. And we're still trying to get a read on head coach Doc Rivers' playing rotation, so we're not assuming Perk will get that playing time.
Theo Ratliff: Ratliff, who came over to Boston with Sebastian Telfair, will back up Kendrick Perkins at center. At 33, Ratliff can still give a team 20-25 minutes a night if need be. That's enough for him to be a specialist in the blocks category. He averages 2.7 per game over his career in 27.4 mpg. While we like Perkins the player, he didn't play a full season last year because of a shoulder injury. Perkins is definitely the starter, but doesn't have a clamp on the starting job, so Ratliff may find himself with more playing time.
Kevin Pittsnogle: Brought in as an undrafted free agent, Pittsnogle really isn't expected to play much, if he makes the roster at all.
Wally Szczerbiak: Szczerbiak is one of the best jump-shooters in the NBA, consistently shooting 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three-point range, and 85 percent from the free-throw line. At 6-7 and a sturdy 235 pounds, Szczerbiak is one of the bigger swingmen in the NBA which allows him to play some in the post, but his bread-and-butter is his beautiful jumper that often barely even rifles the nets. Szczerbiak was in the midst of a career-year with the Timberwolves (20.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.5 threes per game) before the midseason trade that sent him to the Celtics. His scoring and FG percentage dipped slightly with the Celtics, possibly because he no longer had Kevin Garnett in the middle to collapse defenses, but likely more due to the Celtics' depth at swingman and a nagging knee injury that eventually caused Szczerbiak to shut down his season a month early. Szczerbiak has had knee issues in the past, but if healthy, he should continue to be a solid scoring/threes/percentages option.
Al Jefferson: Jefferson's second season in the NBA was supposed to be his coming out party, but conditioning issues and injuries nagged him all year before eventually an ankle injury ended his season. In his absence, then-rookie Ryan Gomes came in and showed that he can play at a high level. The Celtics would prefer for Jefferson to be their PF of the future with his more prototypical size and strength (6-10, 265 pounds), but Jefferson will have to show that he can physically handle it. Jefferson has the ability to be a nightly double-double threat if he gets the minutes, as he averaged 7.9 ppg and 5.0 rpg last season in only 18 minutes per game.
Brian Scalabrine: Scalabrine was a disappointment last year and has a lot to prove in 2006-07. Management insists the average fan cannot see the true value in Scalabrine's efforts, but you cannot argue the numbers. The veteran forward averaged 13.2 minutes, which, we are pretty sure, are not worth $3 million a year. He needs to play his way into that contract, or he'll eventually be one of those albatross contracts on Boston's books.
Ryan Gomes: Gomes shocked many people as a second-round rookie last season, taking advantage of injuries to Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins to move into the starting lineup. Gomes averaged a respectable 12.4 ppg on 51% shooting from the field and 78% from the line in 33 games as a starter. He also used his quickness and strength to overcome his height limitations (6-7) to pull down 7.6 rpg as well. Gomes dominated in summer league action this offseason, suggesting that he may be even better as a sophomore. The only thing that puts a damper on his prospects is the possibility that Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins will eat into his minutes and possibly send him back to the bench.
Paul Pierce: Pierce set career highs in points (26.8) and FG% (47.1%) last year, and as if that weren't enough, he also averaged 6.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 threes. Pierce did have minor arthroscopic surgery on his elbow this summer, but he is expected to be 100% for training camp. The Celtics don't have a legitimate second scorer (sorry Wally Szczerbiak) or a reliable low-post presence, so Pierce will have to do most of the heavy lifting again this year. If last year's numbers are any indication, Pierce has no problem carrying the team on his shoulders.
Tony Allen: Allen battled injuries and legal problems last year, but comes into 2006-07 with a clean slate. He seems poised to assume his usual role of defensive stopper and occasional scorer.
Sebastian Telfair: Telfair's every instinct as a basketball player is to run and gun. In Portland, his primary responsibility was "walk it up and feed Zach Randolph in the post." Doesn't take John Wooden to see that something isn't right in that setup. Recognizing that their two young stars weren't compatible, Portland management decided to build around Randolph, and sent Telfair to Boston. This is a match made in heaven - the Celtics are made to run, and they have plenty of young legs that are just itching to get up and down the court. Look for an across-the-board improvement in Telfair's numbers this season, as we'll finally get to see him play his game.
Delonte West: There was a lot of talk last season about Delonte West as the Celtics' point guard of the future, and West fit the role pretty well, posting totals of 11.8 points, 4.6 assists and an impressive 4.1 boards per game in 71 games. But apparently, there's been a change of plans. The Celtics gave up the seventh overall pick in a trade for Sebastian Telfair, and then used another first-rounder to bring in Kentucky phenom Rajon Rondo - one of the more impressive performers in this year's Summer League. If one assumes that Telfair is the starter, and one further assumes that Paul Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak will get the lion's share of the minutes at shooting guard and small forward, one has to wonder where West fits in.
Gerald Green: Green's numbers from last season are not all that impressive, but his per 48 are. The rookie guard averaged 21.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists for every full game he played last season and is very likely to improve upon his 11.8 minutes a night this season. If he can grab 20-25 minutes there will be some significant ownership across most fantasy formats.
Rajon Rondo: Often compared to Tony Parker, Rondo is a lightning-quick point guard who can handle the ball, defend and rack up steals. Rondo isn't much of a shooter yet, but his strong showing during the Summer League could earn him a role in the rotation.
Gerald Green: There are a lot of things that have to happen for this to work out, but the potential is there. If Ainge gets an itchy trigger finger and deals Szczerbiak, which has already been rumored, the beneficiary will be Green. He's an electric scorer, who carried Boston's second unit in a lot of situations last year.
Paul Pierce: This is merely a regression to the mean type of pick. If Boston's young kids develop and Szczerbiak remains healthy, Pierce's scoring numbers have the real possibility of going down.
Article first appeared on 10/9/06