The simple fact of the matter is that not all teams can compete for the NBA championship in any given season. In fact, beyond the few legitimate championship contenders, teams and their fans must look for other goals or positives to take out of the season as they build towards the future. The Boston Celtics enter the 2013-14 season for the first time in six seasons without any real possibility of contending for the title and instead with a new coach and a young roster, fans will look at the development of their players and the direction of the team as the most important factor this season. As we ready ourselves for the start of the regular season, here’s a look at some of the positives that Celtics fans can look for this season as they look away from the standings and hope for a quick return to the success that the franchise has built itself on.
Rajon Rondo as a leader
Even though he will miss the start of the season due to injury, there is one clear, unquestioned leader on the Celtics’ roster and that is All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo has spent nearly his entire career on teams competing for championships and will now be looked upon as the veteran leader and star of a young rebuilding team. While some have always questioned Rondo’s attitude, he has been saying all the right things in the preseason and has been heavily involved with team activities despite not being able to fully participate. Rondo had a well-established, close relationship with recently departed big man Kevin Garnett, whose lead-by-example leadership is legendary, and his work ethic has rubbed off on Rondo, who now looks to establish himself as an individual star much like his mentor did many years ago.
Now 27, Rondo is entering his prime years and will be on a mission to prove he can be a successful star on his own and not just a benefactor of the legendary players he has played alongside recently. He already boasts an impressive resume including an NBA championship, four All-Star selections, four All-Defensive Team selections, an All-NBA second team appearance and has led the league in assists per game over the past two seasons. All of that, however, came on successful playoff teams where the primary focus of the defense rested with the likes of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and the aforementioned Garnett. Now that Rondo is the unquestioned leader on the team, his role changes drastically as will the attention he receives from opposition teams. We do not yet know how long it will be until Rondo returns to game action or how the Celtics will fare without him, but when he returns, the evolution into the lead man will be one of the most interesting and encouraging things to watch for Celtics’ fans.
Development of the young bigs
For the first time in what seems like an age, the Celtics actually boast impressive depth in the frontcourt and much of that is made up of young big men who the team hopes to build around in coming seasons. The likes of second-year forward Jared Sullinger and rookies Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk represent the future for the Celtics and all three should get the opportunity to contribute in the 2013-14 season. While there are veterans in the frontcourt that will battle for minutes, coach Brad Stevens has shown that he will play whoever is contributing regardless of their experience and the young big men may earn themselves substantial playing time sooner rather than later.
All three have shown positive signs in the offseason thus far and from day one it will be interesting to see who Stevens puts on the floor. Sullinger, who spent last season with the Celtics, is still by his own admission well out of shape after recovering from a back injury that cut short his rookie season, but even still has looked impressive in preseason games thus far. Sullinger is a high IQ player, a tremendous rebounder and is capable of scoring in the post and from mid-range. He is a favorite among coaches and fans in Boston and it would be a shock to not see him in the starting lineup by the end of the season.
Olynyk was dominant in summer league, showing the full offensive repertoire that forced general manager Danny Ainge to trade up for him on draft night. While there is still a long way to go defensively for the rookie from Gonzaga, it will be hard to keep him off the floor with his scoring ability and his passing which is already well advanced for a young big man. He can already provide floor spacing, ball movement and has an array of moves in the post; as the season wears on and he grows accustom to the athletes of the NBA, Olynyk should be able to produce a productive rookie campaign.
The early signs are also looking good for Brazilian big man Vitor Faverani, who has looked comfortable playing against NBA players in preseason. Faverani has great size and is the only real center on the Celtics roster at this point. He is already possibly the best interior defender on the team with his sheer strength and size alone. He has shown a range of skills thus far, finishing strong in the paint, displaying great hands and surprisingly showing no hesitation to pull up from 3-point range. The adjustment to the NBA will be an ongoing one for Faverani but it appears at this stage he is cut out for the league and will be a contributor much sooner than many may have expected.
Brad Stevens establishing his identity in the NBA
There were few coaches more respected than Brad Stevens in the NCAA, or basketball in general for that matter, over the past few years. The 36-year-old coach of the Butler Bulldogs managed to lead the school to two NCAA championship games and was consistently able to compete with the elite schools in college basketball despite not attracting the top flight prospects. His Butler teams focused on defense, effort and teamwork, proving that the individual talent on a squad is not necessarily the most important factor in their success. When Danny Ainge gave Stevens a six-year deal to coach the Celtics, many were shocked, but the move was also met with near unanimous praise from the media and members of the NBA community.
Now, it is up to Stevens to adjust to the life of the NBA and establish an identity for his young team. The Boston Celtics are steeped in tradition and success, but this is clearly a new era for the team as the staff and players look more towards the future as opposed to being immediate championship contenders. With a long-term deal, Stevens obviously has the trust of the Celtics’ management and now has the freedom to experiment with offensive sets, defensive schemes and rotations. After the long tenure of former coach Doc Rivers, Celtics fans should look forward to a new look, a new style of play and completely new schemes of both ends of the court this season.
Danny Ainge wheelin’ and dealin’
If there is one general manager in the league that has shown a willingness to move his entire roster to improve his team, it is Danny Ainge. The architect of the 2007 formation of the “Big Three” and a ruthless trade merchant, Ainge showed his true colors again this offseason when he traded away franchise cornerstone Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets. Ainge will do whatever it takes to rebuild the Celtics into a championship contender once again and with the roster he has, expect to see Boston mentioned in countless trade rumors from now until the trade deadline.
The Celtics currently have a number of solid veterans who Ainge is likely to try and offload to contenders as the season rolls on. The team is obviously focused on rebuilding around youth and moving the veterans may improve the Celtics’ chances at a top pick in the 2014 draft. However, if Ainge has proven anything in his tenure as Celtics GM, it is that anything is possible. With a near endless supply of picks and young players at his disposal, if a star player suddenly appears on the trade market, it should surprise no one to see the Celtics make a move and try to speed up their rebuilding process. If nothing else, it will be entertaining to watch.
The 2014 NBA Draft
Here is the good news for Celtics’ fans; regardless of how bad the 2013-14 NBA season gets, the NCAA season is set to be one of the best in recent times and the early signs are that the top prospects in the 2014 draft could be legitimate franchise changing stars. There is serious talent at the top end of the draft with a number of incoming freshmen who would be contenders for the No.1 pick in any recent draft class. A large amount of the hype is around Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, but the likes of Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Duke’s Jabari Parker and even Australian guard Dante Exum will ensure that Wiggins has to earn that No.1 pick in a loaded draft class.
The Celtics are likely to end up with a pick in the top 10 as their young roster is likely to struggle through the 82-game regular season, but factors like Rondo’s health and potential trades will all factor in to just how high that selection is. Ainge and the Celtics showed in 2006 a willingness to throw away a single season for a chance at a franchise changing star, but even after they failed to land Greg Oden or Kevin Durant in 2007, the fifth overall pick was a catalyst to the trades that followed and led to the 2007-08 title.
True fans will watch the Celtics all season regardless and there will still be plenty of positives to take from this season even without championship aspirations. They should also keep one eye on the NCAA and the top prospects, as one of them could soon become the next franchise cornerstone for one of the most storied teams in all of sports.
Tags: 2013-14 2014 Nba Draft Andrew Wiggins Boston Brad Stevens Butler Celtics Danny Ainge Dante Exum Doc Rivers Draft Draft Picks Fans Jabari Parker Jared Sullinger Julius Randle Kelly Olynyk NBA Ncaa Preview Rajon Rondo Rebuilding Trades Vitor Faverani