Enemy Lines: A rival scout sizes up the Celtics
2012-13 Record: 41-40; lost to Knicks in Eastern Conference first round
Coach: Brad Stevens (first season with Celtics)
They have very few players who fit together because the roster wasn't planned out. It was all about getting rid of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn for the draft picks. The players acquired in the deal were almost incidental. The Celtics say they don't want to tank, but it might happen just by putting this roster out there.
How many more changes will they have throughout the year? As much as they're saying they're not interested right now, I've got to believe that if you want to make a good offer for Rajon Rondo in December [when he is expected back from ACL surgery], you're going to be able to get him. The same is true for Kris Humphries with his expiring contract. If Jan. 1 comes and they're out of it, where is the motivation coming from? I've been with a team that's lost close to 60 games and it's a struggle in January and February before the trade deadline.
When Rondo comes back, rookie coach Brad Stevens has to play to his style for him to be effective. That means getting out in the open floor and letting him have a lot of decision-making power. Rondo is going to make a lot of good decisions, but you're also going to have to put up with his poor decisions. His shooting is going to be iffy, but he can deliver the ball.
Rondo is a top-seven point guard. I don't put him at the top with Chris Paul because Rondo is not a shooter. His ability to rebound, get steals and create offense from the defense are all pluses. But he doesn't really work a ball handler and pressure him.
Avery Bradley can be a point guard if all you're looking for is someone to initiate the offense and then run off cuts and off screens. It just means having the point guard getting rid of the ball earlier with fewer reads and simple movement. Beyond his limitations as a point guard, Bradley has a lot going for him. He can get to the rim. He's more of a driver than a shooter, but his shooting is improving, and he has speed end to end.
Defensively, Bradley is a one-man double team. He's one of the toughest on-ball defenders in the league. Bradley has extremely quick feet, he gets low and he keeps his hands out. He flicks at the ball and gets deflections. He beats people to the spot with his anticipation. He's a nightmare for ball handlers, especially the ones who depend on bringing the ball up and initiating the offense. He'll make you bring it up with your back to the basket.
Jeff Green is a point-forward type. He has skills across the board. At times he is passive, and that's probably because he's more a perimeter player than a post-up player. I don't envision him becoming a star. At his best, he's going to be a high-end complementary player. He's a terrific third wheel, like he was last year, when he had some incredible games. It will be interesting to see what's expected of him on a nightly basis this year as opposed to last year, when he could pick and choose his spots on a team with Pierce and Garnett.
Every year it feels like I'm writing Gerald Wallace off. He's hit the floor so many times, you don't think he's going to get up, but he always does. He's declined a little bit, but he's still good in the open floor. He can grab a defensive rebound and bust out with the ball and lead the break. Energy has always been his calling card. He's probably a better defender at the 3 than the 4, but teams have gotten away with playing him some at the 4 because of his quickness and ability in the running game.
Humphries would have been a good fit for the Celtics last year alongside Garnett as a tough rebounder. Humphries runs the floor, and he can catch and shoot from 12 to 15 feet. He's not a post-up player; he's like a more athletic version of Charles Oakley.
Brandon Bass has proved that he can make jump shots and contribute to a good team. He's so undersized at power forward, though. The issue for another big man, Jared Sullinger, is always going to be keeping his weight down. He's a decent player, but it's going to be hard for him to be in a running game. They'll also be trying to find minutes up front for rookie Kelly Olynyk.
MarShon Brooks and Jordan Crawford are in the same category as volume shooters. Brooks doesn't know how to play without the ball. Crawford has been playing some backup point guard during the preseason -- good luck with that. Keith Bogans could have a role as the 11th or 12th man on a good team. He can defend and make corner threes.
The thing that will surprise Stevens is how fast the games come and how fast they go. Let's say you have four games in five nights: The same amount of work has to be done for each game as far as preparation, and then you have to get over one game and get focused on the next one. It's just a different set of circumstances than in college.
I get the sense that Stevens is not trying to make a big splash, that he's accepting that it's going to be a learning process, and he's watching and learning. Guys like John Calipari and Rick Pitino came into the NBA from college trying to make splash with a lot of bravado, and they thought their way was the way. I don't think Stevens is going to fall into that trap.
But this is going to be a hard year for everybody. The most they can hope for is 30 wins, considering the questions about Rondo coming off his injury.