Last Year’s Record: 33-49
Key Losses: Raef Lafrentz, Oriene Greene, Dan Dickau, and Michael Olowakandi.
Key Additions: Rajon Rondo, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, Kevin Pittsnogle, Allan Ray, Leon Powe, Brian Grant and Coaches Clifford Ray and Kevin Eastman.
Breaking Down The Offseason Moves
Once again the Celtics roster underwent many changes during the offseason. The biggest splash being a draft night trade (in case you weren’t paying attention) that sent defensively challenged point guard Dan Dickau, the sporadically hot handed Raef Lafrentz, and the Celtics #7 overall pick in the draft to Portland (netting the Trailblazers hometown phenom Brandon Roy). Boston received Rucker Park stud Sebastian Telfair, oft injured blocking machine Theo Ratliff, and Brian Grant’s salary with his well-known intention to retire. The Celtics also picked up Rajon Rondo and Leon Powe on draft night deals while signing undrafted free agents Allan Ray and Kevin Pittsnogle. Danny Ainge also chose not to pick up an option for a second year on lead-footed Orien Greene’s contract and he allowed Michael Olowantisanotherchance to become a free agent.
Sebastian Telfair is an immediate upgrade at point guard for this young team. While Delonte West did an admirable job manning the position last season his shooting percentage, range, and everyone’s favorite intangible – hustle – indicates that he is best suited to play away from the ball. For now that means West will come off the bench, but he’s one Wally Sczcerbiak injury away from starting and no more than 2 seasons from passing “Z” on the depth chart. Telfair should find himself in the starting role to begin the season, but there is an outside chance that Rajon Rondo could be hot on his heals. Rondo’s defense is reportedly superb and do not forget, even amongst all the turmoil of last season this team did not struggle with scoring but rather allowing too many easy buckets for their opponents. Just as it was last year the point guard position is up for grabs with Telfair garnering 4 to 1 odds of being the opening night starter.
Theo Ratliff was essentially swapped for Raef Lafrentz. While it seemed at first that the Celtics were benefiting most from the fact that Ratliff has one less year remaining on an almost identically bloated contract to Lafrentz’, Ratliff should mean so much more to the team this season. Theo fills a great need as a veteran presence and dominant shot blocker (when healthy) that is an upgrade over Raef if for no other reason than he can help teach toughness, rebounding and defense in the paint to the young bigs. That is something Raef Lafrentz could not do as well despite being the consummate professional during his time in Boston. If you need more convincing of just how much of an upgrade Ratliff is over Lafrentz, and it’s likely that you do not, the Celtics picked up undrafted free agent Kevin Pittsnogle to fill Lafrentz’ assigned role as the streaky perimeter shooting big man to spread the floor.
The Boston Celtics Are All About Development
One of the reasons the Celtics are notorious for overvaluing their own players is because they are truly committed to development. Trading away young prospects for marginal veterans or trading too many young prospects for an aging all star is out of the question because of the poor return on the investment. To be successful in this area you need to have a capable staff and they added coaches Clifford Ray and Kevin Eastman to help achieve their goals. Eastman is returning after a year long sabbatical with Nike and you may know Clifford Ray as the man brought in to mentor Dwight Howard in Orlando. Given that the Celtics have the youngest frontcourt rotation in the NBA the signing of Coach Ray in addition to acquiring Theo Ratliff was imperative for the team to make any major strides this season.
Biggest Misconception of the Offseason
The Celtics could have drafted Randy Foye rather than trading for Sebastian Telfair. While the Trailblazers drafted Foye with the pick they obtained from the Celtics, he was quickly swapped for Brandon Roy who had just been drafted by the Timberwolves with the 6th overall selection. The swap was done simply for a small fiscal savings that netted the Timberwolves a near negligible amount of cash in the difference between the salaries awarded to draft picks according to the rookie pay scale. Had the Celtics kept their own first round pick Minnesota would most certainly have selected Foye one pick ahead of them. This would have forced Danny Ainge to select Brandon Roy who has been described as a Paul Pierce clone and who also plays an overloaded position on the Celtics roster. Foye and Telfair will inevitably be unfairly compared throughout this season by Celtics fans that incorrectly believe that Danny Ainge had the choice to select Foye rather than trade for Telfair.
What Happened Last Year
Just about everything you can imagine. The roster has been in constant flux the past two seasons and that chaos has become the norm for Celtics fans and players alike. We become desensitized to the fact that there is no consistency to be found. Last season the Celtics were scoring at an outrageous clip to begin the season but it did not translate to wins because defense was lacking and the offense failed in the waning 4-6 minutes of every game. The only good news to come out of that period was the bad attitudes on the team were flushed out and subsequently dealt for Sczcerbiak and an expiring contract. Injuries plagued the team as well from the start of training camp and continued throughout the season. Tony Allen, Al Jefferson, and Marcus Banks were all lost to injury before the season began and Dan D’Achilles was not long after that. By the time Banks was healthy enough to pack his bags he was off to Minnesota. Jefferson and Perkins began playing well while Wally seemed to have re-energized the team, but then all three of them went down in a matter of weeks leading up to the all-star break. But at least Tony Allen was back on the court and playing point guard off the bench. OK – well at least Gomes got a chance to shine.
What Will Happen This Year
I can’t imagine things getting any worse than last season. They can truly only get better and that is not the Kool-Aid talking. While the Celtics youth need to gain the confidence to play a bigger role in the latter part of the game, savvy veterans have been added and, if used correctly, could have a significant impact on how well the Celtics finish games. Limiting Wally and Ratliff to a reasonable number of minutes per game so as to preserve them for a possible showing in the playoffs will also be crucial. Specifically, it would be wise to save the players’ minutes for the fourth quarter until the youngins prove they are willing and able to perform when it matters most.
The number one goal for every team in the NBA is to make the playoffs and that is no different for the Boston Celtics. Last season was a disappointment because the Green were not on the court in May, not even for an early first round exit. The Celtics are committed to development and a key part of development is gaining playoff experience – the earlier the better. This team must make the playoffs this season.
It’s All About Health
Ironically, injuries decimated the depth of the ’05-’06 Celtics and the bench was short after Danny Ainge was scrutinized for carrying too many players heading into training camp. The same holds true for this season, but Ainge is wise in his ways. If a player goes down in training camp he has a few options to fill out the roster accordingly.
The biggest concern for this team is their health. The list of potential casualties is long. Sczcerbiak, Ratliff, West, Allen, Jefferson, and Powe have question marks in this regard. At least 3 if not 4 of those 6 players are integral to the Celtics’ success this season. This team can make the playoffs while suffering through an injury or two, but if they want to make any noise in the playoffs (i.e. winning a single series) they will need all these players in good health. Sustained health will also lead to consistent rotations and enhance the chemistry of camaraderie that breeds success.
Predicted Record: 48-34
As I see it with my Kool-Aid Goggles on.