Inside the NBA | After roster changes, Celtics ready to compete
Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 01:12
When Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2007, basketball fans all across New England were given hope.
The franchise that had been known as a perennial champion for decades was coming off one of the worst seasons in its long history, finishing as the second worst team in the NBA with an abysmal record of 24-58. The acquisitions of Garnett and Allen, along with the continued excellence of Paul Pierce, restored fans’ faith in general manager Danny Ainge and rejuvenated the organization.
This trio of all-stars led the Celtics to a league-best 66-16 record, and the team’s 17th NBA championship. But after the first championship had been won, both the players and the fans in Boston expected more.
But over the next few years, injuries would prove to be the Celtics’ primary obstacle in their championship efforts. A season-ending injury to Garnett in the 2008-09 season prevented the Celtics from repeating as champions, while Kendrick Perkins’ knee injury in Game 6 of the 2010 NBA finals resulted in the Celtics losing a heartbreaking seventh game to their bitter rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Then, in the second round of the 2010-11 playoffs against the Miami Heat, point guard Rajon Rondo’s dislocated elbow derailed the Celtics’ title hopes once again. And in the shortened season last year, it seemed that nearly every player on the Celtics roster aside from Garnett was hampered with injuries during the Eastern Conference finals, resulting in a disheartening Game 7 loss to the eventual champions, the Miami Heat.
But despite the recent playoff failures, this year’s Celtics team is deeper than it has been for the past few seasons. Despite its 9-8 record in the early going, the current iteration of the Celtics still has a decent chance of securing another title.
It is clear that Ainge prioritized depth in reloading the Celtics in preparation for a long playoff run. While they lost Allen as a free agent to the Heat during the offseason, they reloaded their roster accordingly and now have arguably the deepest backcourt in the NBA.
For example, third-year guard Avery Bradley gives the Celtics a lock-down perimeter defender, and once he fully recovers from shoulder surgery he will be in the starting lineup alongside All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.
Meanwhile, veteran guard Jason Terry was one of the Celtics’ most exciting acquisitions of the offseason, and many feel he is an upgrade from Allen, as Terry is a better defender and can create his own shot. Also, the Celtics still have Courtney Lee and Leandro Barbosa from last year’s roster to provide a spark off the bench. Barbosa paid instant dividends by catching fire in the team’s season opener against Heat, and Lee’s athleticism has been put to good use. He has performed admirably in the absence of Bradley and Rondo’s recent suspension.
In addition to their backcourt, this year’s Boston Celtics are far more athletic than previous years. A problem early last season was that Rondo would often run the floor on fast breaks, but would have no one running along with him. This is no longer an issue, as forwards Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox are now healthy, and, in addition, rookie Jared Sullinger provides Rondo with yet another target and has already impressed many with his performance so far this season.
As the Miami Heat look to become the first Eastern Conference team to repeat as NBA champions since the Michael Jordan era, the revamped Celtics will be a significant roadblock to their success. But the Celtics’ main problem this year has been their defense, with the team ranking just 16th in the league in terms of points per game allowed. In comparison, Boston ranked second in the league last season in the same category, a marked drop off that coincided with the roster changes on the team.
But if the Celtics can address their defensive weaknesses thus far, they will continue to be a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference, if only because of their playoff experience. While their current record is in the middle of the pack, the Celtics have the veterans that know how to find their rhythm by April.