We’re in that dead zone for Celtics news: no longer reviewing the season past, not anticipating any free agent activity and still six weeks or so from getting into training camp previews. So, what’s really left to do but idly dream about possibilities? In that spirit, here are five hopes for the coming season, a little best-case ledger we’d like to see come to fruition.
1. Garnett’s Continuing Renaissance. In part due to his rumors-of-my-death start, Kevin Garnett’s rebounding numbers actually fell off last season. His DRR slipped to 25.8, down from 28.7 the year before. But his overall impact, particularly on the defensive end, was as great as at any time since he became a member of the Celtics. Garnett should have been considered one of the dozen best players in the league last season and after the all-star break there were even fewer who had greater impacts on their team’s success. This was partly attributed to his legs feeling better than in years previous but we heard the same stories of renewal in 2010-11. So, maybe the move to center was the real difference maker. Of course, his playoff resume included a few games where he looked spent from the burden Boston asked him to carry. So, more than anything, I hope that Garnett finds a way to bring more consistent performances in next year’s playoffs. That’s going to be a function of his usage and his minutes, but perhaps mostly importantly, Doc Rivers’ ability to find lineups that can succeed without KG on the floor.
2. Avery’s Offensive Game. Bradley is still years away from his defensive peak although there will be few of us that complain between now and then. We know what we’re getting from him on that front. But I’m focused on his offensive game as there have been hints he could excel in at least three different areas if he maximizes his talents: 1) shooting from the arc 2) slashing off-the-ball for layups and 3) becoming an off-the-dribble scorer who can create his own shot. That last one has gotten the least play but it’s the most valuable skill of the three and something Boston could desperately use. Bradley didn’t have good isolation numbers last year, finishing 146th in the league in points-per-possession and shooting only 31% from the field. He was only marginally better as a pick and roll ball handler (34.6% from the field but with an ugly 19.7% turnover rate). But you can see the potential. He’s got a good first step and incredible speed once he gets going and his timing, array of fakes and handle are things that will improve with repeated reps. If Bradley can keep defenders honest with his improving mid-range shot (it was up to 40% last season), he could give the Celtics the kind of shot-creation that could juice the offense.
3. A Keeper Rookie. Every year we hope (usually against hope) that a late first or second rounder will blossom into a rotation player. Then, inevitably, that draft pick gets E’Twauned into the ether and we forget all about him. The 2012 draft carried a reputation of being deep with rotation-level talent, so perhaps our hopes are less pie-eyed than usual this year. The odds-on favorite to actually make an impact this year is Sullinger, who was so impressive at Summer League. Would you guys be happy if he turned into a more mature Big Baby? An undersized rotation big? Expectations seem higher but that’s not a bad haul for a guy picked in the 20s. Beyond Sullinger, who’s your best bet to stick longer term? Fab Melo? Kris Joseph? Brian Robb favorite Dionte Christmas? Personally, I just hope one of these guys becomes a top-8 rotation guy. That would be success enough.
4. Prime Rondo. The playoffs were a leap forward for Rondo, the best sustained basketball he’s yet played in his career. It wasn’t just the 17 points and 12 assists or the 70% free throw shooting or the 4 triple-doubles. It was the way Rondo took the games on his shoulders and with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen hobbled, carried the same weight that Garnett did. The Celtics lived and died with Rondo’s efforts and even when the failed, like in that historic performance against Miami, he refused to give in. His impact finally matched his ego. I’ve been really tough on Rondo the last couple of years, greeting each new wave of trade rumors without any emotion: he never seemed the kind of player around who you could build a championship team. I’m no longer as worried about that, particularly in light of the fact that all the new weapons at Boston’s disposal will help Rondo as much as they will KG and Pierce.
5. Bold Danny, Smart Danny. I’ve already speculated about the possibility of spinning some of Boston’s pieces for a bigger star to create a new big four, but even if that doesn’t happen, with the BAE still in reserve, I hope Ainge is assertive in adding pieces to this core as it proves necessary. Last year it made no sense to deal long term assets for short-term deadline upgrades, but this year, the Celtics are all-in at another level. They’re hardly the championship favorite but Miami is a surmountable obstacle, at least from the view we have of things on August 8th.