The key to enjoying the 2013-14 Celtics – a team that is going to lose with authority – is to focus on all the subplots running through the season. In the past, it was about finding the right role players to support an elite core. This year, it’s about trying to find a core in a herd of oft-interchangeable role players. In the past, it was about playoff positioning. This year it’s about lottery positioning. In the past it was worrying about whether Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could stay healthy. This year it’s worrying about whether Rajon Rondo can stay sick.
It’s probably heresy to admit it but I’m incredibly excited for this season. More than I’d be for another early-round playoff exit with Pierce and Garnett. At least right now, the grisly prospect of long losing streaks and Gerald Wallace post-game tirades and Avery Bradley creating against a dying shot clock isn’t as miserable as change is exciting. In that spirit, here are the areas where I think we can all get jazzed for the coming season.
Not since the ill-fated-then-happy-fated 2007 draft year have we had a situation where we need to fixate on the NCAA. I’m usually college ball-agnostic (that may be a charitable assessment of my interest) but this year I’m going to gorge on Wiggins, Parker, Randle, Smart, Exum and the rest because Danny Ainge will be guiding the ship towards 60 losses and a top-5 pick. Plus, unlike 2007, when there were only two clear home run talents, this year the draft is reportedly littered with a number of potential all-stars through the first 10 picks. That’s my understanding of it right now. But I’m going to be watching carefully to see if that seems true.
The Race to the Bottom
There are some sophisticated tank jobs going on around the league with teams like Utah, Philadelphia, Orlando, Phoenix (with the Boston pedigreed Ryan McDonough as GM) and a couple other franchises actively looking to lose their way into a game-changing talent next spring. As the games are played, it’s going to be fascinating to see the tactical moves teams make to stay behind the curve. The Celtics are going to be a crappy offensive team at least through Rondo’s return and even then, defenses are going to have far fewer surrounding Celtics weapons to contend with as they decide how to defend him. So there’s a chance for a good start, as losing goes. However, there’s currently too much talent on this team to lose the number of games that will be necessary to lock down one of those top-5 picks. So Ainge will have to get creative. Not just with his roster moves. But with his lies about those moves. I can’t wait.
The Celtics have one legitimate core-quality player in Rondo and a few alleged core guys who are really just role players in disguise (this is no slight on, say, Bradley or Jeff Green. These guys have value. But you don’t build around those guys. You build with stars. The supporting cast is variable and both of those guys, and even “boutique” prospects like Jared Sullinger are probably replaceable). Even Rondo is no sure thing for the next Celtics playoff team given this year’s need to lose and the hesitation Boston may have in maxing him out when his contract expires. That means every single player on the team is in play. Get used to reading stuff here sourced from sources who have unnamed sources. It’s going to be that kind of year. Which is great!
We loved Doc. But we knew Doc. There weren’t a lot of unanswered questions by last spring. We only suspect things about Stevens’ approach to NBA coaching, how he’ll work with his team, what he’ll run, whether he’ll make moves purely for experiment’s sake or because he has a limited roster or because the Celtics are showcasing someone or because Stevens is working with Danny to rack up losses, if only by omission rather than commission. We think Stevens doesn’t abhor offensive rebounds. We know he talks about regular, incremental improvement and the process of getting better day-by-day. Since he’s going to be here awhile, it’s going to be fun to get to know him.
Admit it. Watching Al Jefferson have a mini-breakout in 2006-07 was fun. Seeing Rondo coming into his own was exciting. Being tricked by Gerald Green’s occasional flashes made the losing palatable. This year, we’ve got a hopefully healthy Sullinger looking to prove himself a legit NBA starter. A verdict due on who Bradley will be in this league. The Rampaging Vitor. And the impressive skills and gait of Kelly Olynyk, who is at least as good as Larry Bird, or at least that’s what I expect Tommy Heinsohn to tell me sometime in the first two weeks of the season. And then factor in the inevitable arguments over Green (star/dud/both). And even Rondo as franchise cornerstone. We have lots to talk about, even with our flawed roster. I can’t wait for opening night.