Do Grave Danger and Dire Consequences Face the Celtics?

by Kevin on October 16, 2008

By Kevin Henkin

Remember all that anxiety at the beginning of last season? All those questions floating about, still left unanswered? For example: Could The Big Three set their egos aside and mesh as a unit? Could Rajon Rondo step up his game and command the new offense of star veterans? Could the team of mostly new players find the right chemistry? Could they actually play high-level team defense? Could Doc Rivers be capable of bringing them to the Promised Land? Could crotchety Bob Ryan be more wrong?

Hah. It all seems so silly now in the wake of that epic playoff run during which the Celtics rid themselves of the pesky upstart Atlanta Hawks, survived LeBron James and his merry band of generally lousy surrounding players, out-toughed the Bad Boys from Detroit and then steamrolled Kobe Bryant and the hated Los Angeles Lakers on their way to Banner 17. Boom. Paid in Full. Storybook ending complete.

Today, a mere year later, we’re left with an entirely different attitude toward all things Celtics as well as a far smaller and less anxious set of questions. For example, can the duo of Tony Allen and Darius Miles fill the large empty shoes of James Posey? Can the core of veterans remain generally healthy for another year? Is the team still hungry enough to fend off all the teams gunning for them and repeat?

It’s almost as if we’ve come full circle. A year ago, in my season preview column I took the approach of posing an irrationally exuberant point of view of wild-eyed optimists against the more tempered “realistic” perspective. This year, since everyone is feeling so damned calm and happy about the upcoming season, I’ll instead present the alternative doom and gloom outlook so favored by our central bankers Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke (otherwise known as “The Sunshine Boys”). Anyway, without further fuss or bother, I present you with the Full Court Press Celtics season preview as broken down by position:

Point Guard

The Paulson/Bernanke Outlook

It is acknowledged that Rajon Rondo progressed nicely last year and demonstrated some poise throughout the playoffs. However, his inability (until proven otherwise) to hit an open jumper may still pose a grave danger to the half-court offense if opposing defenses are allowed to effectively play in a 5-on-4 scheme. In addition, although Eddie House provides offensive spark off the bench, he must overcome aggressive on-ball pressure while advancing the ball up-court or there will be dire consequences while Rondo is on the bench. In addition, the uneven play of Sam Cassell at the end of last season and in the playoffs may also pose a direct threat to the team’s chances of recovery in the event of a point deficit.

Reality Check

Even when he’s shying off open jumpers or missing them with some frequency, Rondo still brings far more to the table than he takes away from it. His offense is also enhanced by his ability to sneak it to the hole whenever daylight appears. And although Eddie House will never be a true point guard, it’s well known that the coaching staff has been focused on improving House’s ball handling in the face of defensive pressure. As for Sam Cassell, let’s put it this way: if the fates of the team actually become directly tied to the play of gabby old Sam, then something else somewhere along the way has gone very, very wrong.

Shooting Guard

The Paulson/Bernanke Outlook

We’ll acknowledge that Ray Allen had a strong year last season, with the exception of his series against Cleveland, which was akin to stagflation in terms of his negative impact on the team. Regardless, it should be noted that the Celtics’ offense continues to rely heavily on the shooting of Ray Allen, who according to studies is now officially one year older than he was a year ago today. Therefore, if Allen’s historically risky ankles falter, the team offense will likely fall into abject chaos unless a massive scale bailout is provided by either Danny Ainge via trade or by replacement starter Tony Allen. In the event of injury to either Ray or Tony Allen, the Celtics appear ill-prepared for disaster recovery.

Reality Check

Thus far in the preseason, Ray Allen appears as healthy as ever and his stroke is a sweet as milk and honey. As for Tony Allen, although it’s perhaps still too early to officially proclaim it, TA appears fully recovered for the first time since his ACL injury, both physically and mentally. After the Allen boys, the depth issue does get interesting. Unless something changes, due to roster limitations, it seems clear that J.R. Giddens is headed for some seasoning in the D-League. If either of the Allens falls to extended injury, it seems likely that Eddie House would slide over to the 2 while Sam Cassell and Gabe Pruitt would move up one slot on the depth chart at PG. Obviously, cross your fingers that this all stays hypothetical.

Small Forward

The Paulson/Bernanke Outlook

Paul Pierce is an established and valued commodity. Otherwise, the position is weakened by a severe lack of depth and uncertainty. The off-season loss of James Posey in particular has left the small forward position fraught with peril and there is now a widespread panic based on the perceived diluted quality and value of other players at the 3 spot. The quality of defense at the swing position remains susceptible to disaster.

Reality Check

Paul Pierce averaged 35.9 minutes per game during the 2007-08 regular season and 38.1 minutes throughout the playoffs (about identical to Ray Allen on both counts). Therefore, unless he falls to injury, the role of his backup will remain a relatively minor concern. Nonetheless, here Tony Allen’s name pops up again, as he is likely to split his time backing up both Pierce and Ray Allen. And as is noted above, far bigger things are expected from Tony Allen this season than last. Either TA becomes what is expected of him now or it will never happen and he’ll probably end up eventually playing for Kevin McHale. Of note, this expected step-up also includes TA’s defense. Although Tony Allen isn’t likely to replace what James Posey brought to the table, he has the physical tools to at least come close on defense.

Otherwise, we’re left to examine the other possibilities of Bill Walker and Darius Miles. If he sticks with the active roster, Bill Walker appears to bring some real energy and offensive spark to the bench. Picture a smaller, friskier, more athletic Leon Powe from his first season a couple years back. In other words, some surprisingly good stretches mixed in with a near equal sprinkling of bad rookie moments. As for Darius Miles, at this point, I won’t even bother with the crystal ball analysis. Anything meaningful the Celtics get from him is upside. Even so, I remain fixated on whether he’ll recover during the season to his former lithe athleticism or somehow adapt into a power forward role more befitting of his new bulkier frame and injury-limited hops.

Power Forward

The Paulson/Bernanke Outlook

Kevin Garnett remains the guiding light both at this position and of the team in general. Therefore, his absence from the lineup for any extended period of time represents a colossal threat to the safety and soundness of the Boston Celtics. The concept of replacing Garnett with Brian Scalabrine or Glen Davis would send a ripple effect of nightmarish proportions through the rest of the team, especially in the second quarter of 2009 when collapse would be imminent and unavoidable.

Reality Check

Actually, I don’t disagree with the central bankers all that much in this case. As Garnett goes, so too go the Celtics’ chances at repeating. It’s not that simple, obviously, but it’s true enough to depend on. More than anyone else on the team, Garnett is simply irreplaceable. After him, Leon Powe provides a quality presence. That is, unless he’s alternating with Glen Davis in the official Doc Rivers Doghouse due to mishaps on defense (although Big Baby appears to have unpacked all his boxes and taken up permanent residence in the Doc Doghouse thus far this off-season). As for Brian Scalabrine, although he continues to be the consummate glue-guy and a good example for the younger players with his hard work and excellent attitude, it’s really just the size of his remaining contract that continues keeps him in a Celtics uniform.

Center

The Paulson/Bernanke Outlook

Injury-prone shoulders are to big men what weak capital and inadequate liquidity are to Wall Street investment banks. In other words, they represent almost certain disaster with a difficult and extended recovery period. Therefore, although Kendrick Perkins is considered a positive asset to the Celtics’ frontcourt, his ongoing shoulder condition represents a clear and present danger to the team’s interior defense and chances of success on the glass. Also, the lingering uncertainty of newcomer Patrick O’Bryant has not succeeded in calming the anxiety of the Celtics’ fan base.

Reality Check

As we all know, Perkins has been down this road before. Therefore, it’s reasonable to expect that he’ll be back in no time, glowering at opponents and restraining himself from killing them with his bare hands. As for O’Bryant, he thus far appears to represent sort of a Perkins-Lite: A big man of legitimate size and a physical player with a tendency to pick up too many quick silly fouls. But with a bit more time spent with big man magician Clifford Ray, the expectation is that those bad habits will diminish as the season progresses. Otherwise, the Leon Powe/Glen Davis frontcourt tandem appears to remain in favor with Doc Rivers in the event that O’Bryant falls into foul trouble or doesn’t continue to earn his minutes on the court.

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