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Posted: Saturday October 11, 2008 2:15PM; Updated: Saturday October 11, 2008 2:15PM
Paul Forrester Paul Forrester >
INSIDE THE NBA

Season preview: Boston Celtics

Story Highlights

The Celtics return the entire starting lineup from last season's title team

Boston has several candidates in the mix to replace James Posey's contributions

An improved East will test a team relying heavily on its three thirtysomething stars

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Will the Big Three and the Celtics suffer a title hangover, or will they be driven to repeat?
Will the Big Three and the Celtics suffer a title hangover, or will they be driven to repeat?
AP
Projected 2008-09 lineup
Starters
PG Rajon Rondo
SG Ray Allen
SF Paul Pierce
PF Kevin Garnett
C Kendrick Perkins
Reserves
SG Tony Allen
PG Sam Cassell
PF Glen Davis
SG Eddie House
SF Darius Miles
C Patrick O'Bryant
PF Leon Powe
Blogger's Take
Jeff Clark from CelticsBlog.com offers his thoughts on the Celtics' prospects for the season:

Danny Ainge deserves a lot of credit for the summer of 2007 blockbusters involving Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, but those deals were made possible through years of superb drafting and managing the cap. Can he maintain the team's championship level by using that same formula?

Many will bemoan the loss of James Posey, but that was a necessary step back in order to maintain cap flexibility. The window is narrow enough with this core group that it is important not to clog up the future cap.

After watching the Red Sox and Patriots sustain excellence by refusing to overpay free agents, Ainge has filled holes through the draft and with low-risk, high-potential (i.e. cheap) free agents. The hope is that the veteran starters can once again carry the bulk of the load while the younger players step up to fill roles and set the table for life after the Big Three.

SI.com will analyze each of the NBA's 30 teams as regular-season tip-off approaches. For a complete list of team-by-team breakdowns, click here. The information in the "Go figure" category below is provided by Roland Beech of 82games.com.

Celtics at a glance

Last season: 66-16; won NBA championship

Notable additions: Patrick O'Bryant (FA), Darius Miles (FA), Bill Walker (R), J.R. Giddens (R)

Notable losses: James Posey (signed with Hornets), P.J. Brown (unsigned)

Coach: Doc Rivers (168-160 in four seasons with Celtics; 339-328 overall in nine-plus NBA seasons)

Reasons for hope

1. The core remains intact. There are worse ways to enter a season than with the return of a starting five that led the Celtics to the 17th title in franchise history. Having three perennial All-Stars is a luxury for Rivers, but equally important is the development of Rajon Rondo, who proved increasingly willing to attempt big shots and take control of the offense as last season progressed. Having settled in as the starting point guard, Rondo should make the Celtics' offense even more potent this season.

2. Tom Thibodeau didn't land a head-coaching job. The Celtics' defensive guru was rumored to be on the Bulls' short list of coaching candidates; Chicago went with the untested Vinny Del Negro instead. That means Boston brings back the mastermind of a unit that led the league in field-goal-percentage defense, ranked second in points allowed, produced the Defensive Player of the Year in Kevin Garnett and held MVP Kobe Bryant to 25.7 points (on 40.5 percent shooting) in the NBA Finals.

3. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Fresh off a championship season and loaded with veteran leadership, the Celtics can afford to cut a corner or two on character issues while trying to expand their talent base. Giddens, the team's 2008 first-round pick (No. 30), might have been taken much higher in the draft if not for a troubled past. Miles, a former lottery pick who is trying to revive his career after missing two seasons because of knee injuries, has a history of run-ins with coaches and has had his desire questioned. Perhaps the moves don't amount to much, but bringing talent into a locker room filled with players who command respect is worth a roll of the dice.

Reasons for worry

1. The potential of a title hangover. The Celtics played with an intensity last season that bordered on desperation, a focus undoubtedly fueled by the desire of the team's three stars to each win the championship that would answer a career's worth of nagging doubts about their legacies. With that mission accomplished, will the Celtics find the motivation to dive for those loose balls on a cold night in Minnesota? Equally important, Ray Allen is 33, Garnett is 32 and Paul Pierce turns 31 two weeks before the start of the regular season. Can the Celtics expect the Big Three to miss only 22 games between them, as they did last season?

2. The bench is a bit thinner. Posey's free-agent defection robs Boston of a proven playoff performer and one of the league's better complementary players. The Celtics will miss his defense, three-point shooting and the edge with which he played off the bench. Can a healthy Tony Allen fill the void? Will Miles, Walker or Giddens help compensate for Posey's loss?

3. The competition is improved. The East is a better conference than it was a year ago. The Sixers added Elton Brand and retained Andre Iguodala and Louis Williams. Jermaine O'Neal will partner with Chris Bosh in Toronto to form one of the East's most skilled frontcourts. The Cavs imported more offensive help for LeBron James by acquiring point guard Mo Williams, along with re-signing Daniel Gibson and Delonte West. Mickael Pietrus should help the Magic's defense. And the Pistons, who largely stood pat, should benefit as young froncourt players Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson continue to develop.

Keep an eye on ...

The bench. With Posey gone, the heavy lifting falls to the likes of Powe and House, both of whom starred in stretches during the playoffs but now could be asked to produce more consistently. After playing 23 playoff games on top of the regular season, Boston's star trio will be hard-pressed to duplicate last season's effort without some more rest. If this cast of reserves can't offer that, there won't be another 23 games next spring.

Go figure

Garnett isn't in it for the stats: He averaged 21 points on 54 percent shooting against top 10 teams (clubs with the best point differential) and 17 points on 54 percent shooting against bottom 10 teams last season.

Bottom line

Title defenses aren't so much about tactics but about focus, about convincing satisfied players that there is more to be accomplished, that history awaits. Rivers' ability to relate to his players on a personal level, to connect with them, will be crucial for the Celtics in their bid to repeat.

Sports Illustrated's NBA preview issue will be on newsstands Wednesday, Oct. 22.

 
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