Basketball fans in Boston are once again excited for the NBA season, and general manager Danny Ainge deserves the majority of the credit for that. He has assembled a team without a true superstar, but enough young talent for head coach Brad Stevens to be creative with. Last season’s playoff push was must-watch basketball, and the team was below .500 and playing for the last seed. That says a lot about the product that he had assembled, and while the team may be in a similar situation this season, the fans in Boston are ready for it to begin.
Ainge has had some interesting off-seasons in his past, but never has he had as many options as he did this summer with a young team, favorable contracts and the most draft picks in the room. Every possible scenario was discussed with the Celtics, but in the end, the general manager shocked everyone by keeping all of his picks and drafting three guards in four of his picks. The rookie ball handlers are quality prospects, but they are going to be put in the depth chart behind Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart. Isaiah Thomas and James Young.
Ainge did bring in some new talent through free agency as well. While players such as LaMarcus Aldridge were being targeted by multiple teams throughout the league, Ainge focused his efforts on finding veterans to add to his roster, such as Amir Johnson, who will begin his 10th year in the league on a 2-year $24 million contract. He then negotiated a trade to bring in reigning NBA Champion, and two-time all-star, David Lee.
The Celtics are a better team than they were last year, and should be in contention for the playoffs once again, but the question is, how much better are they? The 2014-15 season ended with a 40-42 record and a 0-4 showing in the first round of the post season as the 7thseed.
It appears that the frontcourt to start the season will feature Lee, Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk, with Amir Johnson, Jared Sullinger and Evan Turner being the first set of reserves off the bench. We could see Johnson play some minutes at the center position as well. The Celtics needed a solid rebounder and it was very evident last season that this was the team’s weakness. Lee and Johnson will certainly help improve that. Lee has averaged 9.5 rebounds per game throughout his career and Johnson pulled down an average of 6.1 last season. To put this in perspective, Olynyk averaged just 4.1 rebounds last year.
The starting shooting guard position is locked in for Avery Bradley, but behind him it get’s interesting. James Young will likely get the initial nod as the back up, but if he doesn’t perform, rookie, and first round pick, RJ Hunter will be waiting. When asked about James Young’s potential for the upcoming season, Brad Stevens noted, “I think the biggest thing is, are you a good defender? Because we have a team full of guys that are good defenders.” He does have a very team-friendly contract and will only make $1.7 million this year and in all, he is due just under $10 million throughout the remaining four years of his deal, which is a great contract for any team for the former first-round pick. Young may earn the back up role so the team can showcase his talents in hopes that some successful minutes could result in trade offers from across the league. He has worked hard in the off-season and has said, and done, all the right things in the media, but the question remains whether he is good enough defensively to stay in the line up. The back up position should be his to loose but with high expectations for Hunter and his scoring ability, Young will not have much room for error.
Then we have the position battle everyone is wondering about. Last year after Rajon Rondo was traded, rookie Marcus Smart started 38 of the remaining 57 games. At the trade deadline, the Celtics brought in Isaiah Thomas to play back up point guard and he quickly became a fan-favorite in town and a big scorer off the bench. In 21 games with the team he averaged 19 points and 5.4 assists per game and was the leagues’ top bench scorer. We will likely see Smart begin in the starting role, but Isaiah Thomas will still get big minutes off the bench. He might be the best player on the roster, and he will certainly light up the scoreboard against every team’s second unit, but the challenge here will be if head coach Brad Stevens can juggle the minutes between Smart and Thomas for 82 games while keeping the locker room happy. It is one thing to bring Thomas in mid-season and ask him play a back up role for a playoff push, but it’s another thing to begin from training camp and ask the same thing. Thomas still hasn’t warmed up to the idea of playing second-string and wants to be the starting point guard.
Stevens has the confidence of his locker room and if the veterans Lee and Johnson can be positive influences on the younger players, the Celtics could not only be in a position for the post season, but they have a real shot at winning the Atlantic Division. The New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers are so bad right now, their failures are almost funny. The Brooklyn Nets spent a lot of money keeping their own talent in town, so it’s tough to see them improving from last season, The Celtics biggest threat with the Toronto Raptors, the reigning division champions.
The NBA season starts soon, and while the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers are likely the favorites once again, the Boston Celtics have assembled a very exciting roster that has people talking. They should play beyond the regular season, and if they get a high enough seed, they may be able to win a round. Even though they did not land a big name free agent this summer, basketball fans in Boston are once again enthusiastic about their team and the chances of success.
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