This is part of the Blog Previews series run by Jeff Clark over at CelticsBlog.
Team Name: Boston Celtics
Last Year’s Record: 56-26
Key Free Agents: Jeff Green (restricted; qualifying offer extended), Glen Davis (unrestricted), Delonte West (unrestricted)
Team Needs: Centers, health and rest
1. What are your team's biggest needs this offseason?
In what might be the easiest question to answer in the history of questions to answer, the glaring need for the Celtics is a big man. Actually, make that numerous big men. Allow me to make a list of the centers that are currently on Boston’s roster:
That’s the list. O’Neal, a 33-year-old with 15 years of NBA experience and a history of having legs made of glass and fine china, is the lone center on a team whose championship window is rapidly closing. Going into last season, the Celtics had four centers (J. O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, Kendrick Perkins, Semih Erden) that they hoped would see moderate to significant playing time. However, the combination of Shaq’s retirement, the mid-season trades of Perkins to Oklahoma City and Erden to Cleveland and the departure of Nenad Krstic, who was acquired in the Perk trade, to Russia leaves Boston with the list of centers (or center) that you see above.
The Celtics tried to remedy the situation via the draft, selecting JaJuan Johnson of Purdue in the first round. The only issue with that is that Johnson is more of a power forward than anything else. Sure, he’s long and tall, but he has the same type of build as Kevin Garnett and the likelihood of Johnson’s body being able to take the kind of beating that your everyday NBA center would take over a season is questionable.
Danny Ainge will need to bring another center into the mix before the season starts. Of course, that’s easier said than done. The Celtics have absolutely no cap space and their best friends might be the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions, assuming both exceptions still exist in the new CBA. If those options fail, then their only choice would be trying to convince some veterans to sign for the league minimum in exchange for a shot at a title. Regardless, Ainge and the Celtics’ brass will have their hands full attempting to fill this big (no pun intended) hole.
The biggest strength for the Celtics this year is the same strength that they had last year and the year before that: Experience and chemistry. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo all return for their fifth season together and Doc Rivers signed a new five-year contract prior to the lockout. The core of this team has been through battle after battle together and has fought through just about any and every kind of adversity that you could think of. They all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and they know exactly where to be and when to be there. Their experience and chemistry has allowed them to continue to be one of the premier defensive teams in the league and that should continue this year.
However, what might be their biggest blessing could also be their biggest curse. They’re old. I’m sure you’ve heard about this before. Allen is 36, Garnett is 35 and Pierce is 34, not to mention the previously-mentioned Jermaine O’Neal. We saw their age issues rise to the surface last season every time they played the second game of a back-to-back. The entire team looked sluggish, tired and in serious need of a night of R&R. Each member of the Big Three have lost a step or two (or three) and the threat of injuries becomes more and more serious with every passing day. The three of them stay in great shape, but there’s no stopping Father Time when he decides that you’re too old to play at a high level. That time will come. Hopefully it isn’t this season.
3. If there is no season in 2011-12, how is your team set up for 2012?
It depends on if you like to look at the glass half-empty or half-full. If you’re the half-empty type, then your attention immediately goes to the fact that Allen and Garnett will almost certainly be gone and the Celtics might be near rebuilding mode. If you enjoy the half-full mentality, then you look at the money coming off the books at that point, look at some large human being down in Orlando whose contract will be up by then and his happiness down in the Magic Kingdom has been questioned and begin licking your chops.
Regardless of how you look at it, there’s no argument that the Celtics will have a ton of money to play with next offseason. Again, a lot depends on what the salary cap and the new CBA looks like, but Wyc and Danny may have an opportunity to reload instead of rebuild for 2012.
4. If you could make one change the NBA's new CBA, what would it be?
I’ll be honest, I hate the whole CBA thing. I hate talking business when it comes to basketball. I’d rather talk basketball when it comes to basketball. With that said, I hate the fact of a hard cap. Instead, go with a luxury tax system that they use in baseball. Leave the amount of spending up to the owners. The NBA is profitable, no matter what David Stern and the owners say. If they go to a luxury tax system, then an owner can spend what they feel is right in accordance to their bank accounts and if they don’t spend a ton of money and their team stinks, then it’s on them.
5. Can the Celtics truly be considered title contenders in 2011-12?
Contenders? Yes. Serious contenders? Probably not as much. The fact that they have three Hall of Famers, one of the best young point guards in the game and a head coach who is widely regarded as one of the tops in the league makes this team a threat. Like I said before, their experience, chemistry and camaraderie are second to none in the Eastern Conference.
But they’re no longer the most talented team in the conference. Chicago and Miami are more athletic and both teams are trying to finish off the Celtics once and for all. Miami proved last year that they have the ability to do just that and the Bulls won a couple of regular season games against the Celtics by large margins.
If I had one argument for the Celtics it would be this. This is it. There is no next year for them. This group as we know it will be gone next summer. They know this. They aren’t stupid. This is their last chance to make their mark in NBA history. For some reason, this is still a team that you just cannot count out until the final buzzer sounds. They have heart, determination and a certain “je ne sais quoi” that resonates from the leaders of the club. They won’t go down without a fight, even if they have nothing left in the tank. That makes then very dangerous and very scary, especially in a seven-game playoff series.
They aren’t the contenders that they were three years ago, but don’t look past them. That’s when they can become the most threatening.