It’s still too early to make a clear judgment on Danny Ainge’s offseason acquisitions. Delonte West has barely given us a glimpse of what he might bring to this team and Jermaine O’Neal has missed most of the year. More importantly, this team was built for the playoffs and its mettle will only truly be tested after the spring thaw.
But coming into tonight’s matchup with the Sixers, the Celtics are 22-4 and they wouldn’t be nearly that strong had the Celtics’ brass not spent the offseason retaining its own free agents (both starters and reserves) while loading up on bigs. Boston has benefited from Glen Davis’ strong start, surprisingly effective minutes from Shaquille O’Neal and Rajon Rondo’s assist-party, but if last year’s Celtics team had suffered the kind of injuries that have felled this year’s team, it’s distinctly possible they’d have been .500 at Christmas and blown-up at the all-star break.
But in 2010-11, despite no Kendrick Perkins, a batch of missed games by Shaq, near season-long absences from West and J.O., and an increasingly worrying number of DNPs for Rondo – the Celtics are the class of the league.
The success so far this season stands in stark contrast to last year’s Celtics squad, which featured the infamously lazy Rasheed Wallace phoning in the first 82 games as a core rotation piece, and an overall lack of depth behind the starters (to be fair, re-upping Rondo at the beginning of last season was a masterstroke).
Despite all this depth across the C’s roster, Ainge has retained Boston’s cap flexibility, keeping them in the running for key 2012 trades and free agents, and positioning them well for any harsh vagaries in the coming CBA.
Just look south to Orlando to see an alternative approach. Otis Smith has locked the Magic into a not-so-frightening core of Dwight Howard, Gilbert Arenas (over $22M in 2013-14) and Hedo Turkoglu (almost $12M in 2012-13, an unguaranteed $12M the year after). Not only that, Smith has multi-year money committed to a number of role players, further limiting his flexibility.
We’ll revisit this more comprehensively as the season progresses but save for lingering concerns about J.O. proving a waste of the mid-level exception, the overall assessment on Ainge’s offseason has to be overwhelmingly positive right now.