We’re back with part two of our season preview. That means more of the words you love. Opening tip draws near so read them quickly!
Michael Pina: Honestly, nothing new. Whenever Rondo returns to the court I expect him to be the same player he’s always been. He’s very good. He has flaws. A third straight season leading the league in assists shouldn’t be out of the question, but don’t expect him to make 80% of his free-throws.
Brian Robb: I expect a new kind of maturity from Rajon Rondo, once he returns to the floor. Gaining a different kind of perspective has been important for the point guard, learning as he watched the team struggle down the stretch last year. The old guard is now gone and the microscope will be on Rondo as the unquestioned leader of this team. With a potential trade and/or free agency looming in the C’s rebuilding project, he has to prove he’s one of the building blocks Ainge needs both on and off the floor. I think he’ll embrace that challenge.
Ryan DeGama: Extended pine time in curiously fashionable street clothes. A commanding return to form early in the new year. Interstellar passes. Ugly jumpers. Great leadership interspersed with moments of myopia. A dead-eyed stare when he finds out the Celtics have moved him for an unprotected 2014 first rounder and, possibly, other things. Basically, a few new wrinkles in an impressive, confusing career.
Pina: I love Jared Sullinger to pieces, and Avery Bradley is the puppy you can’t stay mad at, Italian loafers be damned. But Kelly Olynyk is the youngest, so therefore he deserves the most attention. Twenty-two-year-old true seven-footers with range are a rarity. He could be Dirk Nowitzki or Byron Mullens, or somewhere in-between. Nobody knows, so when someone that precious falls in your lap, don’t let him go.
Robb: That’s an exceptionally tough question to answer without having seen Kelly Olynyk play an NBA game yet. For the defense he provides though, the answer has to be Avery Bradley. He’s elite on one end of the floor, and there’s plenty of potential on the offensive end as well. We’ve seen flashes of it over the courses of the past seasons, in between injuries and ugly slumps. Given the injury question marks Sullinger has with his back, Bradley is the choice for now.
DeGama: I wrote this question but I find my own answer depressing because it’s not clear cut. Not one of these guys is, at this moment, a sure starter in this league. They all have question marks, be it health (Sully), offensive upside (Bradley) or defense and rebounding (Olynyk). I’ll take Sullinger because if his health holds up, I think he’ll contribute on both sides of the ball in ways the other guys can’t. But I hope one of them proves me wrong.
Pina: Who knows? I sure as hell don’t. What I hope he does is find some semblance of value for Brandon Bass and/or Courtney Lee on the trade market. (I won’t be hoping for an injury, but if High-Expectation Team X’s power forward goes down, Bass might fetch a low-end first round pick. Probably not, but still.) Other than that, don’t expect to see Rajon Rondo in anything but Celtics green unless Ainge is completely blown away by an insane offer, but few teams with anything worth giving to Boston need a starting point guard, especially a mercurial one like Rondo who’s about to enter a contract year. The days of Ainge making deals just to make them are over with, and he won’t do anything to endanger the team’s long-term outlook.
Robb: Trade the night away. I don’t expect any blockbusters during the season. Danny is in no rush to make his next major move, as he continues to build up his assets. With plenty of semi-useful players on semi-reasonable contracts though, Ainge will have to watch, wait, and hope a couple guys play over their heads for the next couple months. The names at the top of that list? Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace. If Ainge is able to get anything of marginal value for a couple of those guys (or in the case of Wallace, just dump the deal), he’ll have done well.
DeGama: I think Rondo gets moved by the deadline because 1) the Celtics need to be horrible this year, not just bad and 2) I don’t think Ainge is going to max out a 29-year-old Rondo in 2015 if there’s any decline in his athleticism. Which seems likely given the knee injury and the accumulation of years and miles. Ainge will likely shuttle a few other pieces around too. Probably Bass. And one of the excess shooting guards. But it’ll be Rondo’s departure that leaves the biggest mark.