With the Boston Celtics’ opening the season this week, fans across the region are putting on their green jerseys, hoping that the team will carry last season’s momentum into the 2015-16 campaign. General Manager Danny Ainge made some risky trades last season, sending Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green out of town, but it worked and the team made the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s 7th-seed. This off-season he drafted three guards and brought in veterans Amir Johnson and David Lee. With the season set to begin against the 76ers on Wednesday, let’s take a look at some predictions for this upcoming season:
1. While this prediction doesn’t have anything to do with the Boston Celtics this current season, it still may just be the most important story line to watch all year. Next summer, the Celtics own the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected 1st round pick. Yes, the same Nets that finished in the 8th seed last with a record 6 games below.500, and whose management spent the off-season resigning the same players who couldn’t win games for them last season, such as the often injured Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young. They also brought in Wayne Ellington as their big addition, who averaged 3.22 points in 2014 and last season made just 3.5 shots per game. This team is worse than they were last year, and they don’t play hard for coach Lionel Hollins. They will end up playing in the Conference dungeon all season and if they are as bad as I think they are going to be, they might not win 20 games and finish in last place, giving the Boston Celtics the first overall pick, ping-pong ball willing of course. Score this one as a major win for Danny Ainge if this plays out accordingly.
2. Danny Ainge will trade at least two players this season, and it likely will be Jared Sullinger and James Young. Sullinger has an expiring contract in the summer, and playing behind big men such as David Lee, Amir Johnson and possibly even Jonas Jerebko, he will have little opportunity to make a big impact in his contract year. There will be some team in need of a forward off the bench who can score and rebound, and Sullinger will be able to do just that. Young is in a tough position in just his second year in the league. The former first round pick will back up Avery Bradley, but will also have rookie sharpshooter R.J. Hunter on his heels. Young is not as solid defensively as the other two, and head coach Brad Stevens has publicly mentioned that. If Hunter can light up the basket like he should, Young will need superb defense to stay in the line-up, something he is not capable of. With three years remaining on his rookie contract, he is going to be a great trade for a team who is willing to develop his talents.
3. Isaiah Thomas will be the starting point guard at some point this season. It won’t happen right away, but it will sooner than later. Team management added some complimentary pieces this off-season, but they still don’t have that elite scorer. Their best offensive player, with last year’s highest efficiency rating on the team, can score and change the flow of the game quickly. At times last year, he was almost unstoppable. Marcus Smart did shoot great this summer, and it is likely why he will start in week one, but if the first unit finds themselves in a hole early in games, they will be calling on Thomas to dig them out. Eventually, they will put him in the starting-five to avoid that hole.
4. Forward Jae Crowder became the heart of this team last year. A mid-season trade acquisition, the 25-year old scored 9.5 points and pulled in 4.6 rebounds in his 57 games in Boston. He played well enough to earn a 5-year, $35 million contract this offseason. That seemed like a high number for someone who wasn’t a starter in the league until late last year. Did the Celtics overpay this forward based on too small of a sample size? It is tough to tell. While in Boston, he scored 4 points more than his career average. A good reason for this increase was that he averaged 7 minutes more per game in Boston than anywhere else in his past. He is going to start this year for the Celtics, and as the team’s top small forward, he is going to be required to score. A career 5.8 points per game will not get it done. I like Crowder and think the energy he brings to the line up is unmatched in that locker room, but is that energy enough? At some point, the team will need scoring, and they might just need to call on Evan Turner more often.
5. Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson will emerge as the team’s best big-men unit. Make no mistake about it, Brad Stevens will focus on defense this year. Johnson is a solid rebounder, and while he may not fill up the stat sheet in points, that isn’t what they brought him in for. He will be asked to pull down rebounds and protect the rim. Having a presence like him below the hoop will give Olynyk the chance to grow defensively by taking chances. He has untapped potential, but playing alongside Sullinger and some of the other big men last year, Olynyk was forced to play safe and smart. Not this year. He will have more freedom within the system, and the team will benefit from that.
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