It’s offseason evaluation time, and I’ve already covered the winners and those teams that have me a bit concerned. Here, I look at the seven teams that left me most intrigued with their July work, both because of the sometimes-dramatically different paths between which they had to choose, and because of the varying directions they could still go after those initial moves.
• Boston Celtics
No team outside the Dwight Howard Nexus of Horror had a more interesting offseason than the 17-time champions. Boston had carefully set up its books so that this could be a rebuilding summer, with deals for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen expiring and the potential for more than $20 million in cap room. But then something funny happened: Garnett, 36, hung on as the team’s top all-around player and one of the league’s three best defenders, and the Celtics came within one victory of a third NBA Finals trip in five seasons.
Even that success brought questions. Was it the lucky result of injuries to Derrick Rose and Chris Bosh? Or was it a signal of Boston’s strength, winning with a hobbled Allen, a crippled bench and without Avery Bradley, the menacing second-year guard whose midseason insertion into the starting lineup transformed the Celtics?
The starting lineup with Bradley in Allen’s place outscored opponents by an unthinkable 20 points per 100 possessions and scored at a rate that would have edged the Spurs for the league lead. Such success might suggest that the way Bradley’s cutting fits within Boston’s spacing could solve the team’s long-term scoring decline and save another offense-first player (Jason Terry, now) to prop up bench units. But that lineup played fewer than 350 minutes together all season, meaning we know very little about it in the big picture.
Meanwhile, Boston got a first-hand look at Miami’s frightening emergence as a small-ball team with an emboldened and post-savvy LeBron James, a trend that firmed up in the Heat’s Finals win over the Thunder.
Add all of it together, and the Celtics faced an enormously complex set of questions this offseason. Were they contenders? How serious of one? And if they were, could they spend in such a way as to improve prospects for a ring in 2012-13 while remaining relatively flexible and finding a young asset or two?