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Boston’s Roster: This Can’t Be It, Can It?

Avery Bradley returns today and, shoulders willing, he should have a significant impact on the Boston defense, which is currently a mediocre 13th in the league at 102.1 points allowed per 100 possessions. Allow for some incremental improvement from some of Boston’s chronic underperformers (a list that includes Jason Terry, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green and Courtney Lee) and it’s easy to imagine the Celtics climbing back into the top-5 defensive teams in the league.

However, I don’t think Bradley  — even if he picks up where he left off last year — is enough to make this team a threat in the Eastern Conference. As constituted, there are too many barriers in the way of another deep Boston playoff run.

Doc Rivers has taken some heat for his rotations but I’d argue the problems are ultimately tied to the quality of the players, not how they’re used. Hit the jump for some thoughts on where the Celtics stand as we head into 2013 and possible directions for the roster:

The Old Guys

Since 2007 Boston’s Big Three have done the heavy lifting, their efforts supplemented by role players who provide one or two NBA-level skills in short bursts. That’s the right move as long as your stars remain stars but over the last five years Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have slipped.

Garnett is now a 30-minutes-a-night player and cannot be consistently effective against elite competition when pushed beyond that number. He’s a limited star in the context of a series against Miami or OKC or any other title contender the Celtics could imagine themselves battling in the spring. Pierce has a more specific problem: LeBron James. Pierce’s offense vanishes when forced to expend the energy necessary to contain James — not that it’s even possible to do that. Still, the mere act of trying limits Pierce’s impact, a deadly flaw for a team that struggles to score.

As a result of the issues with Garnett and Pierce, the C’s need better than average production from their bench or the opposite of what they’ve received so far.

The Wrong Guys

Depending on how you look at it, the Celtics made either a strategic or tactical error in their approach to countering Miami’s small lineups. Buoyed by the success of the small lineup last spring, the C’s loaded up on wings and re-signed the undersized Bass. After 30 games of ineffective play out of the lot of them, Danny Ainge appears to have concluded that Boston’s small lineup success was a mirage and Doc Rivers apparently agrees. Rivers recently installed Jason Collins (0.08 PER) as starting center despite the fact that he’s one of the worst players in the league.

Did Ainge err by loading up on smalls or did he err by loading up on the wrong smalls? The answer appears to be both which leaves the Celtics with an imbalanced roster for the task ahead of them. This group of players can’t get through Miami and they’re too small to effectively handle bigger teams like the Lakers or Grizzlies over a long series. Unless you’re counting on incredible turnarounds from:

The Disappointing Guys

Bass (11.23 PER), Terry (12.29), Green (11.44) and Lee (9.08) have all underwhelmed. It’s hard to imagine that all four will continue to play as poorly as they have but it’s equally unlikely they can make the necessary leaps to support Boston’s fading stars through the playoffs. Even at their upside potential, none can go toe-to-toe with stars on other teams and that’s what they’ll have to do in order for Boston to make any noise.

Of the four, I’m most comfortable with the  battle-tested Terry as a scoring option off the bench and the other three on one-way flights out of town. This holds particularly true for Green, who looks like the Celtics’ version of Carl Crawford, except without the history of dominating performance before he arrived in Boston.

The Other Guys

With the Celtics’ choice to go small in roster construction, Miami is insulated against the kind of physical pounding the C’s threatened when they went big with Shaquille O’Neal two years ago. The C’s have the potential to create havoc at the guard spots with Bradley harassing Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo doing multi-category damage but they do little more than break even at the center spot and if James plays a lot of PF, they give away acres of ground there too.

The Knicks share some of Boston’s age-related problems but Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler are both young enough to produce for long minutes in the postseason. Even the path through the first round could be messy should the Celtics draw Milwaukee, Chicago or Atlanta. If the East isn’t deep, it’s still deeply problematic for the C’s.

The Smart Guys

Despite all this, I think Ainge did the right thing inking the guys he did and building up moderately priced depth. He had almost no flexibility last summer and still managed to add rotation players who are legitimate assets, even if they’ve depreciated through the first two months of the season.

As we’ve seen in recent years with Ainge’s actual and almost moves, every option is on the table until the trade deadline on Feb 21. Having secured a roster full of useful pieces, the Celtics now have to make decisions about whether to:

–Pursue a dark horse shot at a title with the addition of a (more than likely) league average big;

–Seriously reshape the roster in pursuit of a title by moving Bradley and/or Jared Sullinger for a second-tier star; or

–Reset for the future, which could involve shipping out someone like Pierce for younger talent (although that might be a non-starter with Pierce/Garnett something close to a package deal at this point).

Personally, I would prefer the Celtics didn’t send warriors like Pierce, Rondo and Garnett into the playoffs with the current supporting cast. That will almost certainly lead to another down ending, with KG dodging post-game questions and an exhausted Rondo sitting at the podium explaining how the C’s again fell short.

If you’re of the very reasonable mindset that it’s too early to cash in chips on the 2012-13 title hunt, I’d submit that the goal must be finding another star. Not a good player, not a very good one. A star. The C’s need Pierce, Rondo, Garnett and someone else. Jeff Green is never going to be that guy, no matter how much they pay him. Avery Bradley will deliver star performance on only one side of the ball. Jared Sullinger’s considerable talent is trapped in a bus driver’s body.

Two of the key variables that will inform Ainge’s decisions are:

–The availability of talent around the league.

–The perceived value of Boston’s roster pieces.

We’ll be looking at both of these areas in the coming days.

  • Joey Morrison

    I’ve been a Celtic fan for along time already and it sucks to see them playing like this but a move is very much needed. DA did a good job on getting players this off season with the little bit of money we (had even thou he give Jeff too much) he got players who are not getting the job done, sad part is if we’re gonna make a run for a ring we need 1 more big time player and to get him were gonna have to move AB and Sully smh…..DA is a smart GM and will pull something off I say get who you can without getting rid off Paul,KG,Rondo,AB…..If we can get Al Jefferson or Josh Smith Without getting rid of them 4 GO FOR IT !!!

    • Deanor46

      Fan since 1962, take a look at Andre Baltche he is a good shooter and rebounder . He hustles, doesn't take plays off and KG could teach him defense a 6'11" Center .I 've liked him, watching Brooklyn,take a look. For a shooter I think Jimmer Ferdette out in Sacramento .He can still shoot, he did lead the nation in scoring once ,he is lost at point guard in the NBA.He could flourish in run and shoot with Rondo at shooting guard Both young enough for creative contracts and able to run into the playoffs. This way whay keep the 4 starters.

  • hydrofluoric

    As my friend said, we're ignoring the underlying cause of the Jeff Green contract for the symptoms: Danny is just in love with the guy for whatever reason. The trade was ridiculous the moment it was consummated and the contract was ridiculous the moment it was inked. None of that has changed.

    I've seen some sentiment alluding to the idea that last year's post-season success was fool's gold. The post-season itself might have been a little lucky, but with our injuries (Avery's shoulders, Stiemsma's foot, Ray's ankles, Pietrus's concussion/quad, Pierce's MCL), our opponents might have been just as lucky to be facing a less-than-100% Celtic team. (Though that said – is it possible for the C's to be 100% with their age? Maybe not.)

    But the regular season stretch that we ripped off with Avery starting was for real. 24-10 finish to the regular season includes a few games we blatantly threw away, plus one-possession losses to the Bulls and Spurs. That was legit sustained great play, and if we can capture that lightning-in-the-bottle for the right stretch – the one that begins in April – we can still get #18.


  • DaDiVill

    FIRE Doc Rivers!! FIRE Doc Rivers!! this is the only solution we need a new voice in the sidelines, it's not working anymore for Doc. I don't care if Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger of courtney Lee is not producing that much extend their playing time let's see their true value after all we have a disastrous season already, put some trust on the young guys which is what Doc failed to do. And stop putting the ball on Rondo in every last second shot! the guy can't shoot! give the ball to Terry or Pierce.

    • Vincent

      Doc signed a 5 yr contract. They're not firing him.

    • CelticsBIG3

      What I do agree with here is that the last second shots at the ends of quarters are usually a joke. No play is run hardly ever and everyone gets out of the way and lets Rondo dribble around and take a jumpshot. Pretty lame.

  • janos

    Ryan you know is new year and times new outlook nba celtics. brady is back and as long we have big three you are seen YOURSELF what they do Heat last playoff ok? there couple good thinks here but when teams come garden on playoff ; throw out numbers and consider heart? i am trust you make right decision for heart ok

  • The Cardinal

    Good article, good conclusions. As I've said earlier, I'd be willing to package anyone other than RR, PP, and KG to get Al Jefferson and after further observation, a defensive-minded small forward for the bench.

    Many fans forget that to get better, you actually have to give up some players of value and if that means Avery Bradley, Sully, Lee, or whomever, then you do it provide you're getting a big man who is a real horse for some years to come.

    • CelticsBIG3

      Should have held on to Pietrus; still scratching my head over that decision.

    • janos

      rondos untradeable is heartsoul team

  • High Rollers

    Avery Bradley is Neo in this Matrix. End of discussion.

    The C’s will be back to small ball when it comes down to it. Doc’s giving #5 a breather and a chance to see how important that transition to the five was and will be again.

    Hope Neo has an inspiring first game of the season tonight. And I hope his partner in crime can play too.

    • Josh_5

      That Neo comparison was kick-ass. Love it!

  • High Rollers

    One little thing that was all too quickly forgotten: Neo came out of high school the top-ranked player in the country. Probably considered then (all of four years ago???) to have more potential in his pinky finger than most of the other ballers in the country, it’s amusing not that he’s being urged on as the savior this year but that that idea is being scoffed at and dismissed so easily. Just sayin’. The fact that he doesn’t put any stock in it and yet isn’t timid in the slightest is best part of all. Perfect for the part.

    • Phil

      Younger than Damian Lillard! Everyone used to jokingly go back to the whole 'he was ranked ahead of John Wall coming out of high school' thing, well, only one's been improving lately…

      I did scoff at the whole; "Avery Bradley will deliver star performance on only one side of the ball." line a little. I get the point (15 points a game isn't star level, even if his April numbers are real,) but I do think it underscores the low expectations of his impact on the offense. That 109(?) O-rating in April last year is no joke, even if it might be a fluke. Flukes don't often go too far off standard deviation from the real story. He 'will' improve this offense.

      I'm really curious to see where his percentages fall this year. >50% from the field and 3 in April was some luck, but he was also kind of the Tyson Chandler of guards with shot selection; he only takes good shots.

      • janos

        Hi Phil is Janos
        I watch lot of sport hilght on break holiday and these guys are talk on Damian Lillard! Everyone alot. how good he? am not seen blazers play is he guard or forwards can we trade him for?

        • Phil

          Hi Janos. Lillard is probably going to win rookie of the year, and it will definitely be deserved. He's had a great year offensively and has carried a bad Blazers team to a winning record, though their schedule gets tougher now. I haven't watched as much of him as I would like because he plays in Portland, but he looks a lot like Derrick Rose to me. I have questions about his potential to improve to that level (as I mentioned, he's older than players who have been in the league 3 years,) and about his defense, which has been terrible, but he's already a good player.

          There's not much of a fit with the Celtics though. The Blazers would never trade him, and definitely not while he's on a cheap rookie deal. And his score first play and bad defense would make him a big downgrade from Rondo here.

          • janos

            hi Phil
            Thank you reply me, you are very good on NBA. I was not know he play Rondos job. I am not interest him no more. Is nice see Blazer have a good guy rookie, you know they are loose twice on draft 1 jordan 2 odom

  • Pauper

    Very good and honest article. Even the most die hard Celtics fans would find it difficult to imagine this team raising another banner unless AB has shockingly improved offensively. I don't place the odds as low as others because he was the most talented player coming out of high school, is very young, and young players make their biggest jumps in the first 3 years but I wouldn't place the odds any higher than 25%. If AB has improved his ball handling, he could shock since he's fast and strong but the ball handling has limited his 1×1 ability.

    I don't think you can get a good player back for Sully, Lee, Bass, Green or any combination of them. Sully is undersized and hasn't shown an ability to finish anywhere near the basket. The man can shoot, I just wish they would give him the green light since he's a much better rebounder than Bass and hitting open shots would open things up and get him more minutes.

    • Phil

      I missed this post earlier, but am replying now because I think Bradley's offense is 'the' story of the next month or so. Everyone knows that him and KG can combine to create an elite defense, but this team needs to get at least close to top 10 offensively to have a chance.

      I disagree that he needs to improve ball handling/one on one ability. That's the kind of game that Terry offers that clashes with the starters now. Between Rondo, Pierce and KG in the high post, how much ball handling/creating do you need? Avery's best way to contribute offensively is how he did last year; spot up 3s and scoring off cuts to the basket. He needs to prove his 3pt % last year wasn't a fluke, and that he can continue to get easy (assisted) baskets in the halfcourt. If he can do this, the offense could reach a much improved level, especially if Terry helps the bench.

      On bench units, he'll be playing along Terry in all likelihood. Jet and (ugh) Jeff Green will dominate the ball most of the time, so that's not a concern either.

      It's about fit more than general offensive ability for AB, and his game fits in well with this ball dominant/jump shot happy team. He still needs to prove that last year was real, but there's no reason he can't be a better version of Matt Barnes (minus the tats and domestic abuse.)

  • elroz

    Al Jefferson is not a good defensive player. Yes he is good on offense and boards, but his defense is not. Perhaps they could absorb that when KG and Bradley and PP are on the floor with him.

    If you can package Wilcox, Bass, Barbosa, 2013 pick (and maybe Melo if they're demanding) – you can get a good big man: Gortat, Hickson, Jefferson, Nene, Okafor, Gasol (yes, I said it – they guy is not having fun there in the LA system now), Varejao. In fact, it is better to have fewer guys to coach and just have one quality guy – they don't need a 5th guard or a small PF (Bass) and a small center (Wilcox)… you bring in one guy to coach.

    I would not get rid of Jeff Green simply because then they're without a small forward backup to PP. If they can get a Pietrus or Ariza, then maybe…but that would be a defensive upgrade, not an offensive one.

    Don't trade Bradley, Sully, or PP, KG, RR…. C. Lee is playing better – he shot 38.5% from 3-pt line in December – not bad. You will need Terry's offense – when he has it, he has it good.

    • The Cardinal

      Ya gotta remember a few things:
      1) to get something, you will have to give up something that the other team wants (not just who you don't want!);
      2) the list of "who's potentially available" dictates who you should take a shot at; and
      3) every potential player not named LeBron has strengths and weaknesses – even those that are perceived to be the very best at their position – so a reality check is in order when it comes to critiquing those players that can help this team where it's weakest.

  • elroz

    Oh, and forgot to mention Cousins of course. Danny has pieces to trade this year like no other year.

  • Phil

    The section of this piece that sticks out most is the 'disappointing guys' section. (Well, aside from 'The Savior' section that I can only assume was mistakenly lost in a copy/paste incident.) I don't think that highly of Bass as a player, and I questioned signing him to a long term deal, but I also don't think he's 'this' bad. I'm reasonably confident that he can get back to his mediocre level from last year. Maybe getting torched on defense because neither Rondo or Terry can keep anyone in front of him screwed him up on both sides of the ball? His level of play last year wasn't high enough that we should right him off from reaching it again.

    Terry is the other guy who's better than he's shown. This site was on his struggles as a spot up shooter from the beginning, and that's shown up big time. He's a completely different player than Ray Allen, and he's used like Ray in the starting lineup. He may not be a 6th man candidate once he moves to the bench, but he also won't be helping the other team.

    Green is a waste of money that I've already stopped caring about until the offseason, and Lee is only as big of a factor as who they trade him for. They're only playing three guards now, and that's with two of them playing terribly. Once Bradley's back, Lee will sit next to Barbosa all game. If you can get anyone for him (and there are plenty of marginal bigs out there,) they'll do it.

  • Phil

    To answer the general question of the article though; yes, I think this is it. I think other teams can have some package of Lee/Sullinger/Fab/1st round pick if they offer something, but I don't think that entices anyone enough to offer up the Varejao/Gortat quality player the Cs would be looking for. (I'm pretty sure we can end Cousins talk given the Kings recent comments.)

    What's more likely is that they trade Lee for a big better than Collins who will offer regular season minutes and won't see the court in the postseason.

    –Of course, that leaves out the biggest move of all; trading the sins of mankind for Avery Bradley.

  • IBleedGreen

    To get a star player you need to give up a star player or half of the team. So the only way it will work is some deals involving Rondo or a package of Green, Sullinger, Lee, Bass, Bradley. I wouldn't trade Terry because he's our best role player and he has a leprechaun tattoo.

    • janos

      not always just need stupid owner or league help – examples Paul Gasol Lakers

  • Josh_5

    I seriously want to know why everyone is so quick to throw Bradley and Sully into any trade possible. You guys sound like desperate drug addicts. To me, what's wrong with keeping those guys and giving them a chance to develop (along with Rondo) into a nice core in a few years?!

  • Josh_5

    I want a chip as bad as the next guy, but giving up Bradley and Sully for a dark horse run seems to risky too me.

    • Phil

      The Bradley/Sully package hinges on the idea that the team that's played so far this year (so sans Bradley,) is much better than it has shown. If you add a Gortat or Cousins to the team that's played so far this year, are they a true contender?

      Given the data we have of the team without Bradley the last two years, I'm with you in saying it would be a terrible idea to trade those two. This isn't a good team without Bradley, there's nothing inconsistent about the team's play so far this year, it's been consistently bad. Adding Gortat or Cousins wouldn't change that.

      You also have to factor in that scoring a major piece without giving up Bradley would be an upset though. There's an equally sound line of thinking that says that this team + Bradley probably isn't good enough to get out of the East.

      • Pauper

        I think the case can be made that last year's team with Bradley was good enough to get out of the East but I agree that this year's with Bradley isn't enough.

  • Glenford

    trading bass, lee, and green for cousins is perfect!~!!!

    • Steven

      for varajo or josh smith!!

  • Pauper

    I don't think people want to throw Bradley or Sully into a trade but realistic fans understand you're not getting quality for crap. I wish people would stop throwing out Lee, Bass, Green and even Barbosa into some ridiculous trade. Teams don't take a large quantity of your unwanted players for someone contenders would want. We either keep what we have and hope Bradley or Green strike lightning or the team has everything go right for it after picking up a serviceable big man off the scrap heap. Other than those two scenarios or you trade the future for now, I think this season will end in before the finals.

  • Steven

    come on dude, bass (decent 4 with a shot) and green (young wiht potential) is a decent trade for for a moody big man. you're just a defeatist.

  • sightline

    The "disappointing guys" were not meant to be able to compete with the league's stars. They were meant to be a stronger than normal second unit that could help us beat better teams(read Miami) while the stars rested. They have been underwhelming so far. Good idea, but something has gone wrong. We need to sign 2 good players, a C and a PF to back up KG. The players we can afford to lose are a SG and a PF, or/and two of either of those positions. Time to chose, and try to make a trade. So far JG has been inconsistent, i think he can contribute if given the right opportunities. Doc should look into Plan B, and his comments about not knowing this team yet are an admission that he is not on top of how the C's should be playing. So all around improvements are required. And a question for all of you, has Ray Allen leaving caused more issues than we thought?
    RR is playing surlier than ever, i think that if the right trading partner came along, then he could/should go.

  • Stk

    It is way too early to make such dire assessments. Bradley’s presence will change things more than you seem to realize. Had Bradley been with the C’s in the ECF last year, they would have won in 6 games or less. Subtracting Ray from the C’s and adding him to the Heat definitely swings in Miami’s favor, but making pronouncements about Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger at this early stage in the season is premature. All last season I read and listened to similar negative “analysis” and maintained that the Celtics would show their worth come playoff time. Even I never imagined they could go so deep w/o Bradley, on Ray’s bone spurs and on Pierce’s bad knee. In that damaged state, they pushed Lebron to greatness and a Game 7. Their roster this year is deeper and the potential has yet to catalyze. Could they use a quality big? Yes. Clearly that would help, but I’ll take this team’s chances to gut out a championship over most teams in the league as-is, and it will mean so much more if Pierce and Garnett manage to pull it off this late in their careers. Just because Doc manages their minutes in the regular season, doesn’t mean they can’t give 40 minute MVP performances in the playoffs. Last seasons wasn’t that long ago. Try not to forget it when you analyze this year. Or just go ahead and make yourself look like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Most analysts–including Stephen A. Smith and the guys at WEEI–did that when they wrote them off last year. Apparently, like weathermen, spo

  • Stk

    (Hit publish early; to continue….) most sports analysts don’t need to be right to keep their jobs. I agree with the previous poster who labeled the article as ‘defeatist.’ Give this roster a chance and give Doc and the core of this team the credit they earned last season.

  • Anthony

    We should PUSH for another championship run this year.

    NO way we trade KG or Pierce, so why even bring that up? You guys should be smarter than that.

    DO whatever possible to either get Amare OR Varejao (preferred).

    Amare / KG / Pierce / Bradley / Rondo is a championship contending lineup.
    Varejo / KG / Pierce / Bradley / Rondo is a championship contending lineup.

    Also WHERES BARBOSA?? Forget LEE and never play him again. Trading him would be the BEST THING for us.

    All I know is Rondo is a different animal during the playoffs and the fact that we still have KG, Pierce and Rondo gives us a chance. We better take it rather than gamble on a new squad.

  • BRING BACK PERKINS! Perk was our heart and soul, and we have been NOTHING without him.Tell Rondo to STOP bumping officials. Get DeMarcus Cousins and a first-round pick for Sullinger, Jeff Green AND Garnett.

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