Good Draft Picks Mean Better Chances for Celtics this SeasonBy Tim Ferris
While the NFL season hits full stride, the NBA will quietly begin its 58th year of existence. The bad news for Boston basketball fans is that the Celtics have little chance of winning their 17th championship; the good news is that the guys in green are on the rise and are poised to have a great season in the shallow Eastern Conference.
The Celtics lost only a few insignificant players over the offseason, so we’ll skip ahead to the new additions to the team.
In a shocking move, Boston General Manager Danny Ainge pulled the trigger this summer and obtained future Hall-of-Famer Gary Payton from the Lakers. Though Payton is no longer the all-star caliber player that he used to be, Boston still gets the best point guard it has had since Dennis Johnson ran the show in the late 80s. Payton was confined to the triangle offense in LA, which proved to be a system that did not match his skills, but in Beantown he will get more of a chance to play his style of ball.
Additionally, Payton is peeved at the Lakers for trading him and will try to prove them wrong by putting up great numbers this year. Look for “The Glove” to average somewhere around 14 points and 7 assists per game while playing adequate defense.
Ainge had a busy NBA draft with three first round picks, and he made the best of it by picking high school forward Al Jefferson, St. Joseph’s guard David West, and Oklahoma St. guard/forward Tony Allen. The general consensus around the league is that Boston absolutely nailed all three picks and that Al Jefferson is a future franchise player.
Anyone who saw the summer league games could see the potential Al Jefferson has. This kid has a knack for scoring around the basket with an arsenal of hook shots, soft turn-around jumpers, and power moves.
According to ESPN writer Bill Simmons, aka The Sports Guy, Tony Allen played in the famous Michael Jordan summer pickup games in Chicago last summer along with the likes of Michael Finley, Quentin Richardson, and Antoine Walker, and drew rave reviews. His defense was so stifling that the players started calling him “Ron Artest Jr.” and no one wanted to be guarded by him. Furthermore, he was dunking on everyone; Walker has already labeled him the Rookie of the Year.
Also in the mix for Boston are veteran forward Tom Gugliotta and second rounder Justin Reed. Expect the former to chip in a productive 10-15 minutes per game and the latter to be a bench warmer.
Re-signing center Mark Blount was possibly the best move of the Celtics’ summer. In the size-challenged East, Blount could easily be the third best center behind Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal.
The backup center appears to be Kendrick Perkins, who has practically been the equivalent of Jared from Subway the way he’s lost weight and toned his body. It’s been established by several sources that the Celtics coaching staff expects big things out of Perkins this year.
Paul Pierce is the marquee name that strikes fear into the hearts of the opposing team. Nicknamed “The Truth,” Pierce had a sub-par season last year due to the fact that he had to carry the offense on his back, which led to a low shooting percentage and a spot among the league leaders in turnovers. Expect those blemishes to disappear as The Truth gets support from Payton in running the team.
The biggest battle for playing time on the team should come between guards Jiri Welsch and Ricky Davis, who offer two completely different styles of basketball. Welsch, a native of the Czech Republic, has one of the higher basketball IQs in the league and plays a fundamentally sound game. Davis, on the other hand, is a pure athlete who uses his leaping ability and quickness to torture his defender. I expect Welsch to earn the starting position because of his team attitude and superior passing skills.
Keep on eye on forward Raef LaFrentz. His bum knee is always a cause for concern, but a healthy season from the Kansas alum could be the jolt that the Celtics need to succeed.
With the new divisional alignments in place for this year, Boston will only have to contend with Philly, New York, New Jersey, and Toronto for the Atlantic title. Given the strengths of the other two Eastern divisions, this probably means that the 3rd seed will come out of the Atlantic.
New Jersey has been decimated, with only Kidd and Jefferson left, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them miss the playoffs. Philly has a one-man show, Allen Iverson, but no supporting cast. Coach Obie makes them a bit dangerous; even so, don’t expect them to be better than the Celtics. Toronto is a joke, end of discussion.
That leaves the Knicks and the C’s to duke it out for the crown, and I see the trio of Payton/Pierce/ Blount being better than Knicks’ trio of Marbury/Houston/Thomas. Heck, the only guy the Knicks have who’s over 7 feet is Bruno Sundov. I’ll repeat that: the only 7 footer the Knicks have is a big stiff who likes to shoot threes. The guys in green have the depth advantage and the upside of their three stud rookies.
How far can this Celtics team go? This team has a lot of “ifs” on it. If Raef stays healthy, if Big Al can develop quickly enough to make a difference, if The Glove still has some fuel left in the tank and if Doc Rivers can once again regain his coach of the year status, then they have the potential to win the Atlantic Division. In that case, their upper limit is probably reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. If any or all of those ifs fail, however, then it could be another season of sneaking into the playoffs followed by a first-round exit.