On June 5th of this year, spirits were high in Boston. The Celtics had just secured a three games to two lead in the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat and they were on their way back up north with a chance to close it out two days later. The general feeling was, “we could actually pull this off.”
Fast forward two days and LeBron James is etching his name in the parquet floor by putting on a truly transcendent performance. And when he was finished, the Celtics were decimated and that excitement that had enveloped Boston quickly dissipated.
The Celtics nearly achieved a success that no analyst, no fan, no person who’s even heard of the NBA would have thought possible. You could point to many reasons for both the success and it’s lack of precedent. Who knew Kevin Garnett, a power forward who had just celebrated his 36th birthday a month earlier, would undergo some sort of basketball renaissance? Who knew Brandon Bass could flourish as a starter? Who knew Avery Bradley would make a skyscraper-sized jump in development? Who knew Chris Wilcox, Jeff Green,
Jermaine O’Neal, and others would have season ending injuries?
The answer: no one.
This, of course, is part of the reason we love this game so much. Nothing is given. Players develop, regress, get injured, get healthy for 82+ games every season.
If the Celtics are going to get back to where they were on June 5th, it won’t because of health anymore. This year it is all about development. The Celtics need Rajon Rondo to become one of the two best point guards in the league. He needs to be on the same superstar level as a LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. He needs to consistently take over games in the appropriate way, whether that be through scoring, finding teammates, or forcing turnovers. He needs to be able to reliably threaten other teams with his jumper.
It’s not just Rondo though. Jeff Green and Avery Bradley need to elevate their games to somewhere between NBA starter and superstar. This is undoubtedly a lot to ask. However, I don’t see any other way the Celtics compete this year without these players progressing immensely. We have been waiting for years for the rug to be pulled out from under the old legs of Garnett and Paul Pierce and the Celtics have been able to stave that off for the most part. Even if the wheels stay on, who’s to say they don’t lose their tread? It’s not enough to predominantly rely on Garnett and Pierce anymore, and that is scary.