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Irish Coffee: C’s chemistry at a 9 or 10 but not ’08 level

10.23.12 at 6:57 pm ET
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After the Celtics started an unofficial training camp almost a month early, Rajon Rondo organized a players-only trip to Los Angeles and everyone drew parallels between the C’s Euro trip prior to the 2008 NBA championship run and their exhibition expedition to Turkey and Milan this preseason, we’re quick to assume this unit can form a bond on the court as quickly as that one did. After all, both groups returned only six players from the previous year.

On a scale from 1 to 10, Jeff Green called this team’s current chemistry a nine. In typical Rondo fashion, he placed it at a 10. And Kevin Garnett said, “Chemistry is very, very high, man.” But Paul Pierce disagrees.

“We’re still building chemistry,” he said. “Chemistry sometimes doesn’t happen overnight like in ’08, so we’re still trying to build that. When you look at the number of new players we’ve got, we’re still trying to implement them.”

Let’s get one thing straight: This group isn’t anything like the one five years ago. That 2007-08 team started 29-3. Twenty nine and freaking three. For a variety of reasons, don’t expect this team to replicate that feat.

“As far as being ready, we’re going to continue to get better as the year goes on,” added Pierce. “We’re not where we want to be, but that’s going to come as we play more games, as the year goes along, until we reach our peak.”

Can these Celtics pass Doc Rivers' chemistry lesson? (AP)

That title team possessed three superstars in the waning years of their prime, starving for a championship cherry to top their Hall of Fame careers. This team features one superstar entering his prime, two more whose superstardom has begun to fade and a host of other players who qualify from good to very good. Not worse, just different.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who can put up a lot of points on the board, and we’re very unselfish,” said Jeff Green. “That shows that we have trust in our teammates that they can make plays.”

That may v be true, but it raises another point: Other than Rondo, nobody really has a defined role. Five years ago, Rondo, Ray Allen, Pierce, Garnett and Kendrick Perkins practically defined the point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center positions. In fact, the only real matchup decisions C’s coach Doc Rivers ever had to make involved Eddie House and Tony Allen or Glen Davis and Leon Powe.

Now? Not even Pierce (guard/forward) and Garnett (forward/center) have fully defined roles. Sure, they’ll be on the court 30-plus minutes a game, starting and finishing games, but what positions they’ll be playing could change from night to night. Same goes for Jason Terry (1/2), Avery Bradley (1/2), Leandro Barbosa (1/2), Courtney Lee (1/2/3), Green (2/3/4), Brandon Bass (4/5), Jared Sullinger (4/5) and Chris Wilcox (4/5). Did we miss anybody? At least Darko Milicic and Jason Collins know they’ll just be playing backup center for a few minutes a night.

Not only must the nine fresh Celtics faces learn a new system — defensive schemes, pick-and-roll coverage, offensive sets (all specifically mentioned by Rondo as necessary areas of improvement) — they have to learn it at multiple positions. And that won’t magically happen in this week of practice before traveling to Miami on Oct. 30.

This isn’t to say they can’t beat the Heat, roles won’t become more defined or chemistry won’t develop. In fact, the depth and versatility available to Rivers should eventually be his most lethal weapon. But it will take time.

“The process of getting better is still just that — a process,” said Garnett. “But I thought we did some good things in preseason. Now, as we say, the real stuff starts, and it starts in practice. So, it’s back to work.”

Once the real stuff starts, egos get involved, and that could prove an even more difficult task this season than it did in 2007, when Rivers convinced Pierce, Garnett and Allen to accept fewer touches — not fewer minutes — at the perfect point in their careers. What happens when Bass loses his starting job to Sullinger? Or when those two eat into Wilcox’s minutes? Or when Bradley limits Terry and/or Lee’s playing time? Or when those three render Barbosa a DNP on the end of the bench? Those questions and more will surface throughout the year.

Answering them requires an honorary PhD in chemistry. It’s a good thing they have a Doc. The Celtics passed the final exam with flying colors when Rivers taught the class five years ago, and this season will require an entirely different syllabus, but the graduation ceremony could very well be the same: Another banner raised to the rafters.

(Have a question, concern or conception for the next Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Jeff Green, Kevin Garnett
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