The Boston Celtics: Contenders or Not?
The Celtics have started to gain prestige around the league even though Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce haven't yet stepped on the court together. The odds in Vegas of them winning the NBA Finals are 5-1, 4th only to Phoenix, Dallas and San Antonio. After being the second-worst team in the league? This is of course a direct effect of aquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Are they actually contenders or pretenders?
In the NBA it is a common belief that you need 2 star players, even a good third player to win titles. The Celtics have that. But what happens when they need to play an overtime game or a 7-game series in the playoffs? No player can go 50+ minutes at their most competitive level. That's when it becomes "your bench against my bench" to handle the time when your best players need a rest. The Celtics at this point have one of the worst benches in the league and clearly need some help. There are two players on the bench with more then three years of experience, Brian Scalabrine and Eddie House. Neither are exactly the most gifted players either. The best player off of our bench, Tony Allen, is coming off of a torn ACL for the second time in his career. And the rest of our bench is rookies and second-year players. I think our starting five is set but besides Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins we don't have a player 6'10'' or taller. That's a problem when Kendrick Perkins, our center has foul trouble and fatigue issues sometimes. It also doesn't help that we don't even have much money left to sign the good two or three role players that we need. But with the current roster we have where does that leave us compared to the "elite" teams in the NBA?
The San Antonio Spurs are currently the reigning NBA champions and they have a big three of their own. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have won three titles together and may not be done yet. In terms of production and accomplishments they have been the best three player combination in the league. They also have international players and good role players like Robert Horry off of the bench that come in, do their job for a good 10-15 minutes and help them scrap out wins. Not to mention that in general their entire team is experienced and battle tested. Every year they're a contender and never have any serious problems on or off the court.
So what does it take to be as good as the reigning NBA champs? You need talent, good chemistry, a deep bench and good coaching. The Celtics really don't have any of that at this point except for talent in the starting unit. We don't know how KG, Pierce and Allen are going to gel. If they do that's great but the team still lacks some real talent off the bench and a good coach. That leads me to our other major problem Glenn "Doc" Rivers is that problem. He has never accomplished anything relevent as a coach and has proven his in-game coaching is extremely weak. With the core of young players leaving, Doc now loses his best assett, being a player's coach and being patient in developing young talent. We have no time to wait Doc, there is a short window of time to win a championship and your "ability to charm the press" isn't going to help you when you continue to have bad substitution patterns and below average out-of-bounds plays. To win you have to have all five players on the court working together at the end of the game. You can't just give the ball to your superstar and hope that he hits a contested shot. Another issue, ever heard of playing against the zone? Or the pick-and-roll? How about screens and cuts? Doc can't continue to do what he's done because it's not going to work for this team and has shown it hasn't worked in the past. Either Doc needs to make some changes to his coaching style this year or step down as head coach and let somebody else do it because a Doc Rivers coached team will never win a championship.
There are a lot of positives and things going right for this team though. Is it even neccesary to mention the amount of talent that we have? There really isn't a team in the entire league with the talent of the combination of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. If there was one team it would be the Phoenix Suns but as far as I'm concerned the Suns are on the same level as us. They only have a 7 or 8 man rotation and can't grind it out until the playoffs because their coach is incompetent and the style the play they use is tiring to the players. Even though he's a rookie, I'm very confident going into the season with Rajon Rondo as our point guard. He has the skills of a poor man's Jason Kidd and his defense is definitely a plus. Rondo has great playmaking ability, rebounds well, penetrates well and has unmatched awareness on offense and defense at his age. He won't even need to score, that isn't going to be a major issue. There is also a good chance Kendrick Perkins has a breakout year. He has supposedly lost around 20 pounds and will now be the main focus of the big man coach that helped in the development of Al Jefferson (16-11) and Dwight Howard (17-12). He is going to get so many easy baskets because all the focus is going to be on Garnett, Allen and Pierce. And because players won't be willing to challenge KG, they're going to challenge Perkins forgetting he's a pretty good shot blocker and he'll get more blocks as well. I think Perkins is going to be the player that benefits most from the Kevin Garnett trade.
The Celtics may not be title contenders yet but because of how weak the East is there's a legitimate chance that we may be able to make a run to the Finals. The bar shouldn't be set too high though, so a realistic goal is the Eastern Conference Finals. If our bench can perform and/or we can sign some relevent free agents left on the market (Dikembe Mutombo, PJ Brown, Brevin Knight are some) we should be set to go. So in the end, I think this team is a contender but there are no guarantees.