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How did Rookie Head Coach Brad Steven’s first year go in Bean Town?
While it’s becoming increasingly evident this is going to be Kevin Garnett’s final season (turns 38 this month & has looked like a dinosaur in series so far vs. Miami) and Paul Pierce (36) is also in his post-prime downward decline (averaged fewest points: 13.5 and minutes: 28 per game in his career this season), it was evident that the Boston Celtics were entering rebuilding mode after trading the two veteran Future Hall-of-Famers and Jason Terry for Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph (who was waived by Boston a few days later) Marshon Brooks (traded to Golden State in Jan. 2014), the expiring contracts of Kris Humphries and Keith Bogans, and 1st round picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018 (and the choice to swap 1st round-picks in 2017).
Final record (25-57):
8.8% chance of winning the NBA Draft Lottery—5th best odds
Rajon Rondo didn’t play his first game until Jan. 17, but that didn’t stop the Boston Celtics from jumping out to a 12-14 start through mid-December led by the emergence of Jordan Crawford as the team’s point guard, who the Celtics decided to ship to Golden State along with Brooks for a future draft pick and Joel Anthony a few weeks before Rondo’s return.
Rondo made his debut in the Celtics 40th game, and in those final 43 games of the year he appeared in only 30. Boston’s 25 wins were by design—nothing more, nothing less, and so I can’t really fault a team that dealt with plenty of injuries (missed games: Rondo-52, Wallace-24, Avery Bradley-22) and wasn’t built by management to succeed this season.
Expectations vs Reality
To say that losing wasn’t part of Danny Ainge and Chris Wallace’s master plan is to be naïve. From the beginning the Celtics were projected to be among the NBA’s worst teams; and while you can chalk up bringing Rondo back slowly as a wise, pre-cautionary move, the decision to trade Crawford to Golden State a couple weeks before Rondo’s return indicated that Boston management wanted no part in a potential below .500 playoff appearance this season. The fact that the Celtics finished the season on a 13-43 slide to earn the extra ping-pong balls is nothing short of sweet music to the ears of management.
Brad Steven’s coaching transition from college to the NBA was extremely smooth, and even in a 25-win season in a weak Eastern Conference, Stevens was sharp. He did an excellent job of balancing the tasks of playing to win and getting his younger guys sufficient opportunity to develop; Management likely never imagined this team would win 25 games this year; and while they’d prefer to have the best odds of winning the lottery, my money says they wouldn’t trade Stevens for better odds at picking number one overall. Stevens is one of the brightest young minds in basketball, and it certainly seems like the Celtics have found themselves a keeper in the coaching department for the foreseeable future.
Rajon Rondo – The 28-year-old magician made a successful albeit limited return from a torn ACL in his right knee. Rondo averaged 11.7 points (40.3% FG), 9.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 3.3 turnovers in 33.3 minutes per game, appearing in 30 games. He’s still the same abysmal shooter he’s always been, but he can still run the offense, and shake, bake & fake with the best of them. The Celtics flirted with the idea of trading Rondo during the season (and obviously received a lot of interest league-wide) but ultimately decided against moving him. However, given how casually he returned to form this year it seems more likely they’re ready to stick with Rondo and try to build a new title-contending team during the window of his prime.
Avery Bradley – The fourth-year guard from Texas raised his scoring average to 14.9 points (43.8% FG, 39.5% 3-pt FG) this year (9.2 last year was prior career-high) to go along with 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.6 turnovers in 30.9 minutes per game. He had some ankle troubles and missed 22 games, but overall it was a very impressive season for Bradley. The Celtics can extend him the Qualifying Offer of $3.6 million, but he’s probably unlikely to accept that given his worth on the market. According to Mike Murphy of The Boston Herald, the Celtics may decide to let Bradley sign elsewhere. Bradley has missed 54 regular season games in the last two years, and Boston may be unwilling to offer the oft-injured shooting guard the kind of contract he covets. How the draft works out is likely to play a huge factor in whether Bradley is still in Boston come summer’s end; i.e., if they end up selecting Andrew Wiggins or Dante Exum his days as a Celtic are likely over.
Jeff Green – The 2013/14 season was solid overall for Green, he averaged 16.9 points (41.2% FG, 34.1% 3-pt FG), 4.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 2 turnovers in 34.2 minutes. He started all 82 games for Boston, but his future with the team is uncertain to say the least. While there’s almost no doubt that Green’s available for trade, the $9.2 million he’s set to earn in 2014-15 and $9.2 million player option in 2015-16 make him less enticing to suitors, from which the Celtics will surely be looking for some combination of young talent and/or draft picks. With Green turning 28 this summer, it’s likely that he’ll be able to maintain his level of play through the end of his current contract, so he’s still very tradable. Trade rumors aside, it’s still possible he hasn’t played his last game in the Celtic green.
Brandon Bass– The 29-year-old veteran had a solid season, averaging 11.1 points (48.6% FG, 85.8% FT), 5.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 blocks and 1.2 turnovers in 27.6 minutes per game, appearing in 82 games (73 starts). He provided leadership and likely served as a key mentor for young blooming big men Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk. And as a serviceable veteran power forward with a $7 million expiring contract, he’s also a valuable trade chip that the Celtics will likely consider cashing in on. His professionalism and hard-nose play make him the kind of guy playoff teams would love to add, and if he is traded he’ll surely be welcomed back to Boston with cheers for all his years of sweat and service.
Gerald Wallace– He turns 32 this summer, and coming off a season in which he averaged 5.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.7 turnovers in 24.4 minutes in 58 games (16 starts), he’s reached untradeable status. With 2 years and $20 million left on his deal, it’s definitely possible the Celtics will look to buy him out before the beginning of next season; but I could also see him providing veteran leadership and defense for the Celtics for next year and his expiring contract becoming a trade chip the following year.
Jared Sullinger– The 22-year-old, second year big man from Ohio State raised his averages to 13.3 points (42.7% FG), 8.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.6 turnovers in 27.6 minutes per in 74 games (44 starts). He needs to work on his shot selection, defense, and rebounding, but his second season was a successful one. The fact Sullinger was able to play 74 games this year was a success in itself, the questions about Sullinger has never his talent, but his ability to stay healthy enough to contribute on a consistent basis, the Celtics will certainly be picking up his contract for the 2014-15 season.
Kelly Olynyk– In his rookie campaign he posted averages of 8.7 points (46.6% FG, 35.1% 3-pt FG), 5.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.5 turnovers in 20 minutes per game in 70 games (9 starts). After a strong Summer League Olynyk was an early Rookie Of The Year contender, however, his inability to defend without fouling meant he was relegated to the bench more than fans and his coaches would have liked. He has to improve defensively and get stronger down low, but Olynyk had an encouraging year; and the potential for a breakout sophomore season is undeniable.
Jerryd Bayless– The 25-year-old guard played 41 games with Celtics, averaging 10.1 points, 3.1 assists, and 1 steal in 25.3 minutes. His contract is up and he’ll enter unrestricted free agency. At this time in the Celtics re-building process it is highly unlikely Bayless will be back next year, the whole idea of trading Lee was to shred salary, re-signing a talent such as Bayless for a similar price would make little sense.
Vitor Faverani– The 26 year old rookie averaged 4.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, and 1.1 turnovers in 13.2 minutes per game in 37 games (8 starts). Before going down for the year with a serious injury, Faverani was one of the early season surprises he brought a tough interior presence with the ability to protect the rim. It is no coincidence that the Celtics begun to slide in the standings once he was injured, they simply had no real centre on the roster and lacked size in the front court. His contract is guaranteed for one more year, so they might try to trade him, or they could keep him around and see if the 6”11, 260 pound Brazilian big man has a future in Boston.
Phil Pressey -2.8 points (30.8% FG), 3.2 assists, 1.4 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 1.2 turnovers in 15.1 minutes per game in 75 games (11 starts). Pressey did okay for an undrafted rookie, he certainly improved his decision making and made strides looking after the ball compared to his college days. Pressey’s game is fairly unique, he has sublime court vision and reminds one of a poor man’s “White Chocolate”. However, Pressey struggled with his shot all year, if he can improve that area of his game over summer there is no reason the Celtics wouldn’t have him back for training camp.
Joel Anthony– The 31-year-old big averaged 1 point and 1.5 rebounds in 7.1 minutes per game in 21 games with Celtics. Anthony was simply a throw in from the Jordan Crawford trade, it is almost guaranteed he picks up his player option of $3.8 million for the 2014-15. It is highly likely Anthony will be on the move again next year near the trade deadline where his expiring $3.8 million contract could have added value.
Kris Humphries– The 29-year-old forward contributed 8.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1 assist, 0.9 blocks, and 0.9 turnovers in 19.9 minutes per game in 69 games (30 starts). Humphries was required to step up and play centre for much of the year due to the Celtics lack of size, overall he did a solid job, at this point in his career, he is what he is. Unless he takes a substantial pay cut, he’ll definitely be playing elsewhere next year
Keith Bogans– The 33-year-old wing scored 2 points in 9 minutes per game, appearing in only 6 games all year, Danny Ainge gave him permission to stay away from the team indefinitely in January after Bogans expressed frustration as his lack of playing time. His contract is not guaranteed this year and there’s no way Boston picks it up.
After bullying Nets GM Billy King last summer for three 1st round picks (2014, 2016, 2018) and the right to swap firsts in 2017 for their ageing Hall-of-Famers, the Celtics continued to stockpile assets in preparation for this crucial off-season.
With Humphries, Bayless, Bogans, Pressey, and Faverani set to come off the books, the Celtics will only have seven players whose contracts are guaranteed heading into the NBA Draft (assuming the Celtics plan on picking up Sullinger’s contract and Anthony does exercise his player option).
Teams are going to be calling and asking about Rondo—but whether anyone will be able to put together a package capable of convincing Boston to trade their All-Star point guard, only time will tell.
Whether Boston is going to be a championship-contending team again in the near future is certainly up for debate, and there is still a lot of work to be done; however, with as many assets as they have (multiple first round picks next several years, expiring contracts, veteran talent, young players w/potential), it’s undeniable that they’re on the right road to rebuilding so far.
Final season grade: B+
All things considered, the Celtics had about as good a year as they could have hoped for, and they’ve put themselves in a position where they’re going to have a lot of options on the route to rebuilding. In terms of this year’s basement teams, they very well might be in the most enviable position going forward.