Offseason Musings on the World Champion Boston Celtics
It’s hard to believe that just 6 short weeks ago the Boston Celtics completed one of the most remarkable year-to-year turnarounds in team sport’s history. The NBA Draft, a flurry of player movement, and gearing up for the Olympics have pushed the 2008 World Champions into the background so far this offseason. Even when they have made headlines, it has been for unfortunate reason – namely, the loss of James Posey to the New Orleans Hornets. Well forget about the Clippers, Sixers, and Team USA for a moment, because it’s time for a closer look at the implications of the Celtics’ offseason thus far.
First, a look at the James Posey move. Big Game James was undeniably huge for the Celtics this past season. He was much more than just 7.4 points and 4.4 rebound per game. His defensive versatility and knack for hitting the 3 in big moments was remarkable. There were some games where he made little impact during the regular season, but when the pressure was on, he stepped up. The Celtics will miss his camaraderie and those pre-game hugs almost as much as his play on the court, but they seem to be a close enough group to not let his absence affect them too seriously.
Posey simply wanted more years at the full MLE than the Celtics could rightly offer. After each of the next three seasons, the Celtics will be shedding a major contract (possible extensions/discounts not withstanding) – Ray Allen after 2010, Paul Pierce after 2011, and Kevin Garnett after 2012. It’s hard to imagine the C’s giving 35 year old Ray Allen a big extension, Boston fans are hoping for a Pierce extension at a nice discount, and KG has shown that he is more than willing to take a paycut to help the team mold a winner. With this kind of money possibly becoming available, the Celtics will have the room to resign Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins (as well as Leon Powe, et al) while also having some cap space to add an impact player or two. If they were paying James Posey $6-7 million three years from now, this flexibility would be gone, and it’s widely assumed he will not be the same player by then. Danny Ainge knows that, even coming off a title, it is already time to at least ponder the future and consider it in any long term contract negotiations.
The New Orleans Hornets are in a quite different position. Their two franchise players are both young, their defensive big man is young, and they have some very young reserves with decent potential. But despite all the youth, they are one of the top teams in the league. Their main concern? An aging swingman in Mo Peterson, and an aging and health & defensive liability in Peja Stojakovic. Some ‘experts’ don’t think Posey will help this team (John Hollinger), but I cannot think of a better role player to add to the Hornets. Posey can fill in for Peja if more defense is needed, without the team suffering a drop off in perimeter shooting. He gives Byron Scott options to go big and put Posey at the 2, or go small and put him at the 4. It adds a veteran leader to a young team that can benefit from having a multiple title, “glue” guy in the locker room, on the bench, and on the court. The Hornets might not show a ton of improvement over last year’s regular season (as there is not a lot of room to improve in the first place), but I guarantee that Posey’s presence will be invaluable come playoff time. So much so, in fact, that I actually think the Hornets are my early favorites for the 2009 NBA Title. There, I said it.
Now, where does this all leave the Celtics going into next season? Well, not in quite as much trouble as some people seem to think, but certainly not any better than they were last season. The Celtics resigned Eddie House (to shore up outside shooting) and Tony Allen (in hopes that he can fill the defensive stopper role). These were necessary moves, especially once Posey left, but I don’t think either is a legitimate 6th man in the NBA. At this time, the Celtics have several 7th-8th men, but no super-sub off the bench. There are still a number of free agents (remember, both House and Posey were signed in August last season), so on this one year anniversary of the trade that changed my life and the lives of so many other Celtic and KG fans, it is not yet time to panic. Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe, and Big Baby Davis are all players that could show tangible improvement going into next season. This should absorb some of Posey’s exit, as well as any additional depreciation in the abilities of the Three Amigos.
But there are two more additions that in my opinion have been somewhat overlooked amidst all the talk of Posey and other NBA moves – JR Giddens and Bill Walker. Both players had mid-first round talent, but fell due to character issues (Giddens) and injuries (Walker). They are also both athletic swingmen that could play either the 2 (maybe) or the 3 in the pros. Assuming Giddens keeps his head on straight (and what better situation for a young kid to be in) and Walker’s rehab goes well, odds are that one of them will at least be a solid role player. If that works out, it creates a perfect long term replacement for James Posey, without any further moves being needed.
But can the Celtics wait for one of them to pan out? Probably not long. The Big Green Machine is still the likely favorite in the East next year, and could still beat any Western Conference power in a 7 game series, but without Posey it will be just that much tougher to repeat. And in 2009-2010? Who knows? Ray Allen’s ankles might not hold up that long, KG will be in his 15th season, and Paul Pierce might no longer be the rim attacking forward that makes him so valuable. Even if Giddens or Walker becomes a star, it might not be enough.
So what are the keys if the Celtics are to remain at the top of the league next year and possibly beyond?
1. Will Rajon Rondo prove the believe that it takes 3 years to develop as an NBA point guard? He is already a top 10-12 point in my opinion, mainly because of his rare defensive abilities at the 1, but he still has a ways to go. His shot improved last offseason, but he is still hesitant to take it off the dribble and with a man on him. Can he improve still and make it impossible for him to be stopped one on one? Will he find the consistency necessary for him to stop playing like Tony Parker with D at home and Sebastian Telfair on shrooms on the road? Will he handle the transition to the leader on the court as the Big Three slowly fade into monster role players? I think so.
2. Will Ray Allen harness his finals performance into another Ray Allen-type season? He said his ankles were not fully healthy until more than halfway through last year, and he was almost invisible from about games 4-20 of the Celtic’s title run. But if he heals well over the offseason, it’s very possible for him to have another solid year or two.
3. Will KG and Pierce be top 10 players next season?
4. Does Perkins still have room for improvement? It’s been 5 years, so probably not a ton, so he could still get better.
5. Will the bruise brothers (Leon Powe and Big Baby Davis) become more consistent forces off the bench?
6. How much impact will the rookies have?
7. Will there be any veteran role player addition?
I’ve raised a lot more questions than I have given opinions, so here’s a high level prediction. 2009 NBA Finals: Celtics vs. Hornets… winner… stay tuned.
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