We’re headed for an interesting experiment after the 2011-2012 season.
As we all know, the Celtics will be making major roster changes, even if veterans like Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen return at reduced rates. It’s conceivable that Avery Bradley will the third-longest serving Celtic come training camp 2012.
Even if Garnett does return, he’ll be 36, Allen 37 and Paul Pierce 35, all before the first regular season game. But for the purposes of this experiment, let’s suppose at least one of Garnett or Allen leaves the Celtics. And because he’s so central to the Boston defense, tangibly and intangibly, let’s further suppose it’s Garnett.
Would that make any difference to Boston’s defensive efficiency or can the C’s remain a top-5 defense with a less imposing group of players surrounding an aging Pierce, a young Bradley and Rajon Rondo (who admittedly projects to remain one of the best defenders in the league at the point guard position for years to come)?
The intuitive and easy answer is no. Too many parts will be turned over, with no holdovers at the 4 and 5 spots. And Pierce’s impressive defense at the SF will surely trail off 16 months hence, won’t it?
But what’s interesting about the defense in this Celtics era (07-08 to present) is that regardless of the players on the roster at any given time, Boston has proven an elite team. The trade of Kendrick Perkins barely affected Boston’s overall defensive efficiency. The defensive rating the C’s racked up post-trade (regular season) would have ranked them in the top-4 of the league if projected over a full season. They also finished 4th overall in defensive efficiency in this year’s playoffs (3rd if you discount the small sample size that landed Orlando in 1st).
Look back to game 7 of the 2010 Finals and you’ll find — again without Perk — the Celtics fell in Los Angeles for a number of reasons, none of which included defense. The C’s put up a dominant 96.5 defensive rating for that final game. Any coach in the league would be thrilled about that number in a clinching game 7 situation.
Go back to the similarly ill-fated 2008-09 season and you’ll find another elite regular season defense (even with KG missing 25 games) where the C’s finished 2nd in the league. Then, come the playoffs, with Leon Powe also going down in the Orlando series, Boston still managed to finish 5th in overall defensive efficiency.
The pertinent question here centers around how many pieces you can pull from Boston’s Jenga stack before the whole thing comes crashing down. Put another way, how much of Boston’s defensive excellence can be attributed to:
1) the system and schemes Tom Thibodeau, Doc Rivers and Lawrence Frank installed;
2) the effort and commitment of the players; and
3) the specific personnel on the roster rather than just specific types of personnel?
The first two could carryover to the 2012-13 lineup.
That third one is the really important question.
I don’t think any of us believe you can replace KG with just any run-of-the-mill, ultra-athletic, stretch-4 (as if even those grow on trees). But is it possible his impact on the C’s defensive culture can be transmitted to the next era via Rivers, Rondo and Pierce?
Or if it can’t, could Boston lure Garnett back for a final season or two by reducing his offensive workload and making him a defensive anchor?
Failing even that, if his presence is deemed irreplaceable by anyone shy of Dwight Howard, and if he’s dead set on retiring, could KG find himself in a suit, coaching as one of Doc’s assistants?
A few thoughts to consider as the lockout drags on…