The big thing is replacing Ray Allen with two guys: Jason Terry, whom they hope can still make the clutch shots, and Courtney Lee, who had a great rookie year and then has kind of teased everybody since. You had to know the ball was eventually getting to Allen in the last two minutes of a tight game, or if not then he was opening up the floor for the next guy. Terry is a good three-point shooter, but he's more of a shooter on the move with the ball in his hands than he is a spot-up guy. Spacing the floor and closing out to him defensively will be a little bit different than it was when Allen was there. A lot of times at the end of a game they would run a play for Kevin Garnett to get an easy lob -- a side pick-and-roll where he would slip to the rim. That was made possible because on the other side of the floor the defense was worried about Ray. So that would be one issue with Allen's departure, and whether their end-of-game shots will be different.
Terry is going to be the best backup to Rajon Rondo that they've had, even though Terry is more of a 2 than a 1. You have to use him like Dallas did. You bring in Terry at the end of the first quarter and for maybe the first six minutes of the second, and then you play him at the end of the third and for as much of the fourth as you can. He has to be on the court at the end of the game if he's taking Allen's spot. He also has to be the backup point -- which is something they couldn't get from Allen. Terry is a tempo changer, too, because he's a full-speed guy. They may score more with the second team than they have in recent years.
Based on his age, competitiveness, defense and offense, Rondo is easily among the top five point guards. After Derrick Rose, he is the point guard in the East who you want to build around. In the past you always said that Rondo can't shoot, but he and Doc Rivers have figured out how to make him effective, so that's not an issue any longer. He's worked on getting deeper on his pick-and-roll or running into the post more, and they've utilized his strengths to where you can't back off him like you could before. If you play off him, he gets a running start at you and that's a problem. It's like an NFL running back who gets up to full speed coming up to the line and that makes him hard to stop. He continues to improve, and if he ever got his shooting to the point that it was really good, you wouldn't have any question about saying he's No. 1 or 2 among point guards.
[Photo Gallery: Rajon Rondo through the years]
I think the smart play is to consistently attack Rondo at both ends to get him in foul trouble and pressure him. The best you can do is to keep pressure on him without overplaying him, but it's obvious there is no simple answer.
If Garnett gets hurt, what happens to their team? They're not very good without him. You could say that about any star player, but it's more of an issue because of Garnett's mileage. The way Garnett was able to play so well over the second half of last season was surprising. I would be nervous as a GM to have so much riding on him at age 36. You hate to keep pushing your luck. But the way he prepares and goes about his job, he could be an anomaly in that respect.
I think of Garnett as a center now. That should be his main position for the remainder of his career. It makes sense because your center is your captain in the back of the defense and seeing everything in front of him. The thing that sets him apart is the way he talks and directs people on the floor. Having him at center also allows those other guys around him, like Jeff Green or Brandon Bass, to get more quality time. With Dwight Howard gone, the only tough matchup [at the position] in the East from a strength standpoint is going to be Andrew Bynum in Philadelphia. Most of those other centers are not going to scare you with their size and strength.
[Chris Mannix: What to expect from the Celtics this season]
The Celtics added a lot of big men around Garnett. Let's say they meet Miami again in the playoffs, and now they'll be able to bring in Chris Wilcox, Jason Collins, Jared Sullinger, Darko Milicic and Fab Melo to try to exploit Miami's lack of size. But it won't make much of a difference because Garnett is the only one who is going to matter against Miami. The key to playing Miami is your team defense. You have to be good defensively and efficient offensively so they're not getting out in transition. It's more important for Boston to hope that Green can help defensively against LeBron James.
In terms of the big men, Melo isn't going to give them anything as a rookie. The others may each give them one good game for every eight games they play. Every now and then someone like Wilcox may come up with 16-and-10 with three or four dunks, but I don't see any of them becoming that solid guy who contributes to the team defense night after night. Sullinger is a crafty player, but he's going to have trouble if he has to guard mobile 4s.
Now that Pierce is 35, they're going to have to pace his minutes in order to keep him where he needs to be for April and May. It all comes down to beating Miami, and the matchup against LeBron makes Pierce have to work so hard. Though Pierce is strong and big enough to make LeBron work, it just takes so much out of Pierce to guard LeBron that Pierce doesn't have much left to give on the offensive end.
Pierce has grown more selective with his shooting. He's always been a crafty player with tricks to his game and he has continued to improve on that and using his brain more than his body. He can knock down the three-pointer more efficiently than in the past. He has a veteran's presence about him where he doesn't have to be the focal point offensively. He's a bit more willing to share it than when he was younger. He understands angles really well. When he gets hit, he can still get up a good shot because of his strength. He's a great shot faker and ends up getting to the free-throw line a lot because guys bite. He has pretty good hesitation, too. He does a good job of reading defenses and getting you off balance.
[Ian Thomsen: Atlantic Division preview]
If everything works out, Lee could be their starter at shooting guard for the next three to five years. He's a good athlete who can shoot off screens. They'll hope he embraces defending and that his three-point shot becomes more consistent to where he thinks it's a knock-down every time he shoots it.
Lee did a good job in Orlando as a rookie when demands were made of him. That's why I think it might work well for him in Boston with Rivers. The young guys who get better playing for Doc are the ones who have some toughness like Kendrick Perkins -- the ones he can challenge. Lee was at his best playing for Stan Van Gundy and Stan was a guy who will challenge you. Maybe that's exactly what Lee needs, rather than a quiet guy like Rick Adelman or a laid-back guy like Kevin McHale.
A reasonable expectation for Green is that he'll play the stretch 4 and come off the bench to give them a different lineup. Terry is probably going to be the first offensive threat to come off the bench, and they'll hope the second one is Green. He is a decent ball-handler but there's not much to that part of his game. If Green could improve enough so that he could get by people, that would be a big help. He's good at a lot of things. He's solid defensively -- not a great defender but a willing defender. It will be important to take some of the responsibility from Pierce of having to guard the 3s, because 3s in the East are the best. You can't say Boston has had a hybrid or stretch 4, because Garnett hasn't been a shooter out to the three-point line.
[Ben Golliver: Green an X-factor in Eastern Conference]
Bass was an upgrade over Glen Davis last year, mainly because Bass was a relief to be around every day. Bass doesn't need shots, but when he gets them he knocks them down. He finds that open spot in the seam and guys have the confidence to give it to him. He's not as good as you want as a rebounder or defender. He can go out and guard a shooter on the perimeter, though he isn't so good against the drivers.
Avery Bradley started to show consistency on defense last year, and he also showed glimpses offensively. He looked like he could become an important part of their team going forward. I'm not 100 percent sold on him yet. He can guard the 1 or 2, but offensively he doesn't think the game well enough to be a point guard. And he has got to be a better shooter to be a 2. They took a lot of pressure off him last year so he could just play and didn't have to think about having to run offense and defend as a point guard. He has got to become a knock-down guy because you can't play him and Rondo together unless one of them is 35 percent or better as a three-point shooter. Otherwise, you'll be able to sink in the paint and take away those cuts. But right now because of his defensive pressure, he's a hard player to ignore.
I don't think they can beat Miami. LeBron is too good and Miami has gotten better.