The most successful franchise in NBA history came agonisingly close to earning yet another NBA Finals berth last season.
The Boston Celtics pushed the eventual champions, the Miami Heat, all the way to a deciding game seven in the Eastern Conference finals, but fell just short of upsetting LeBron James and his teammates.
With a revamped bench, and veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce leading the way, the storied franchise will once again start the season as one of the teams to beat in the East.
Three biggest questions for the Celtics in 2012/13:
Has the Celtics’ championship window shut?
As Boston walked off their bitter rival’s home court after game seven of the Eastern Conference finals, there was a sense that we had seen the last of the latest incarnation of great Celtic teams. There were whispers that Kevin Garnett was going to retire, that free agent Ray Allen would sign with another team, and that General Manager Danny Ainge would blow the team up and rebuild.
It seemed this current team’s run, which included a championship in 2008, had come to an end.
While Ray Allen did the unthinkable and signed with the enemy Heat, Garnett, Ainge and coach Doc Rivers decided there was plenty of life left in this Celtics outfit.
Garnett re-signed, while Ainge and Rivers went to work addressing the team’s weaknesses. Specifically, bolstering the bench, adding some scoring, getting more athletic, and providing Garnett with some help down low.
And by doing exactly that, the Celtics may have just extended their championship window by at least another season.
The Celtics have gotten deeper, but have they gotten better?
When the all-time NBA three point shooter packs his bags and heads to the arch-rival, perimeter shooting becomes a priority area to address. The Celtics have done a good job of replacing Ray Allen, bringing in Dallas Mavericks sixth man, Jason Terry, and the athletic Courtney Lee, along with re-signing Jeff Green, who missed all of last season with a heart ailment.
Between them, these three should help to make up for the loss of Allen’s outside shooting, while also dramatically improving the wing defence, and providing more athleticism.
The Celtics also addressed their other issue: size. Chris Wilcox, Darko Milicic and Jason Collins are never going to be confused for Shaquille O’Neal in his prime, but they do provide some much needed depth down low, an area that Garnett had to handle all by himself last year.
The Celtics also lucked out in the Draft, when Jared Sullinger fell all the way to the 21st pick. He may end up being the steal of the Draft. At worst, he’ll certainly contribute meaningful minutes for Boston.
Overall, the Celtics did get deeper, but more importantly, they got better.
Is Rajon Rondo the most underrated superstar in the NBA?
Very few players in the NBA can do what Rondo does. He’s an elite-level passer and defender, has an uncanny knack for the ball, plays better when the stakes are the highest, has a tremendous feel for the game and makes his teammates better.
Those are outstanding qualities.
So why then, does Rondo struggle to get the credit he deserves?
For two reasons.
Firstly, the most obvious skill in basketball is shooting, yet it’s the one skill that Rondo has the most trouble with. He’s simply not a consistent shooter from the field or the free throw line. It doesn’t appear to affect him or his team too much though, if you look at the success both the team, and he individually, have had since he came into the league. Yet it remains an area for his detractors to dwell on, fairly or not.
Secondly, and there is really no other way of putting this, but Rondo is a strange egg. From the revelations that he and Allen didn’t talk, to the weird ritual of doing strange things with the ball from tip offs, to the sometimes distant demeanour he has on the court, Rondo is different to many NBA stars.
That slight quirkiness puts some people off, and they perceive him to be too aloof.
But who cares if he’s weird? He’s a legitimate superstar in this league, and he should get more credit for it.
Boston Celtics Snapshot:
– 39 wins, 27 losses
– Finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, and first in the Atlantic Division
– Lost 4-3 to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals
Statistical leaders in 2011/12:
Points: Paul l Pierce (19.4 ppg)
Rebounds: Kevin Garnett (8.2 rpg)
Assists: Rajon Rondo (11.7 apg)
Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger, Darko Milicic, Jason Collins, Chris Wilcox
Ray Allen, Marquis Daniels, Ryan Hollins, Mickael Pietrus
Career Record: 546 wins, 433 losses
Predicted finish in 2012/13:
– 2nd in the Eastern Conference
– 1st in Atlantic Division
– Lose in the Eastern Conference finals
Images from nba.com/celtics