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Is Jeff Green the key for position-less Celtics? 10.24.12 at 4:49 pm ET
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Jeff Green will be an important part of the Celtics' rotation this season. (AP)

WALTHAM — On Wednesday, the NBA finally acknowledged reality and dropped the center position from the All-Star ballot. Now fans will vote on two guards and three “frontcourt” players. Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who is a member of the league’s competition committee, said that he pushed for more changes to the process.

“I just think it should be 12 guys,” Rivers said, meaning regardless of position. (He also hinted that All-Star roster may be expanded to include 13 players.)

The All-Star switch is a modest reflection that the NBA is in the midst of a slow and steady evolution away from traditional positions and the Celtics are right in the middle of it. Consider their starting lineup, which has remained a mystery throughout camp and will likely continue to remain one throughout the season.

Rajon Rondo is the point guard. Paul Pierce is a forward who plays on the wing and Kevin Garnett is the big man. After that, Rivers could start Jason Terry or Courtney Lee in the backcourt. When Avery Bradley comes back from shoulder surgery he’ll be in the mix, as well. Bradley guarded the other team’s point guard on defense, but played off the ball when he was on offense. Rivers has already said that he doesn’t have a backup point guard, he has four of them.

Up front, Jared Sullinger or Brandon Bass could start. Even a true big man like Darko Milicic could get a turn with Garnett getting a breather against some of the true remaining centers in the league.

“I think it’s pretty simple to figure out your starting lineup although this is going to be an unusual team in that I don’t think we’ll have a starting lineup for most of the year,” Rivers said. “We may move that one guy around quite a lot.”

Then there’s Jeff Green, who is not being considered for a starting job. He will do something more valuable. Green is expected to come off the bench and if the preseason is any indication, he’ll get about 25-30 minutes a night playing both forward positions. He’ll even work with Pierce in lineups where the whole concept of positions is completely meaningless. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Jeff Green, LeBron James,
Introducing the Celtics’ backup point guards, all of them 10.22.12 at 2:16 pm ET
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Jason Terry

Over the past five seasons the following players have attempted to fill the role of Rajon Rondo‘s backup: Eddie House, Sam Cassell, Stephon Marbury, Tony Allen, Nate Robinson, Delonte West, Keyon Dooling and Avery Bradley.

Also appearing in minor roles: E’Twaun Moore, Carlos Arroyo, Gabe Pruitt and the immortal Lester Hudson. (Oliver Lafayette never played in an actual game, but go ahead and throw his name in there as well along with Jamar Smith.)

“We’ve never really had, like, a true backup point,” said Doc Rivers. Of the dozen or so players listed above only two players — Marbury and Cassell — were anything like true point guards, but they sure have tried almost everybody else on the combo guard platter.

This year figures to be different. No, they still don’t have a true backup point guard, but what Rivers does have are four guards who can all handle the ball.

“I like it,” the coach said. “I like that there are multiple guys. Instead of trying to force and find a guy who’s a point guard, just find two guys who can dribble.”

An example happened in Saturday’s exhibition game against the Knicks. With Rondo off the floor, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee were on the court together. In Rivers words, the two were “interchangeable.” If one of them was pressured in the backcourt, the other one brought the ball up the floor and initiated the offense. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa
Fast Break: Celtics find their groove in rout over Nets 10.18.12 at 10:41 pm ET
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After the Celtics lost another preseason game on Tuesday, Rajon Rondo didn’t sugarcoat his thoughts. “We’re nowhere near where we want to be,” he said. “We’ve got to be a better pick and roll team [defensively], a better help-side team and obviously a better rebounding team.”

The preseason wins and losses don’t matter, but at some point the C’s wanted to start playing like the team they expect to see on opening night in Miami. Finally, in the first quarter of their exhibition rematch with the Nets in Brooklyn, the Celtics looked like the Celtics.

With Jared Sullinger and Courtney Lee in the starting lineup, the Celtics held Brooklyn to 3-for-16 shooting and just 15 points in the first quarter. They forced seven turnovers and came up with six steals — three by Lee — and generally made life miserable for Brooklyn’s regular starting five.

When the starters went out, the reserves — led by Jeff Green, Jason Terry and Brandon Bass — were efficient and productive. The Celtics shot 56 percent in the first half and had a 59-44 at the break. After a sluggish start to the second half, they picked it up again and cruised to a 115-85 win.

Here are some takeaways:

Paul Pierce is in regular-season form: After dropping 29 points on 17 shots against the Nets on Tuesday, Pierce said that it was time to get going. “I was really disappointed with the way I played the last couple of games, he said. “So, I wanted to start picking it up right now.” Consider his game picked up. Pierce followed up Tuesday night’s effort with 18 points on just 9 shots, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range.

Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass played together: Like a lot of teams, the Nets don’t really have a backup center so when they went with Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans, Doc Rivers countered with Sullinger and Bass. It was the first time the two have been in the lineup together and while it’s not fair to call either one of them a “center,” they held their own inside. It’s yet another interesting look, especially with Darko Milicic (wrist) and Chris Wilcox (back) out of the lineup.

At one point Rivers had Sullinger, Bass and Green on the floor along with Rondo and Lee, making for a far more athletic and dynamic look than anything he’s been able to put together in years.

Jason Terry and Courtney Lee on the break: After years of watching the Celtics not run with Rondo, it’s a little strange to see backcourt partners who can’t wait to get up and down the floor with him. Lee’s young legs and athleticism were an obvious draw when he was acquired him from Houston, but Terry has been a bit of a revelation in transition. His favorite move is to hang back as the trailer and wait for Rondo to find him for wide-open 3′s on the secondary break, while Lee is straight speed to the rim.

Lee finished with 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting, while Terry made all 5 of his 3-pointers for 15 points. The roles will sort themselves out, but it seems clear that Rondo will have plenty of options next to him this season.

Kevin Garnett had a solid night: In four preseason games, Garnett has averaged less than 5 points and 4 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action. It’s not as if anyone was worried about KG’s lack of production. Still it was still time for him to kick it up a notch, and he did with 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting in 22 minutes.

Kris Joseph made an impression: It sure looks like the second-round draft pick from Syracuse will make the final 15-man roster, but nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA until it is contractually. Given some time with the regulars and all of the fourth quarter to make an impressions, Joseph dropped in 11 points to go with 5 rebounds and showed the kind of versatile offensive game the Celtics liked when they drafted him.

Celtics add Leandro Barbosa to backcourt mix 10.17.12 at 5:04 pm ET
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It was only a matter of time before the Celtics made a move for a veteran guard and in Leandro Barbosa they landed the best of a thin lot. To be sure, Barbosa has fallen off from his peak seasons with the Suns when he averaged around 20 points per 36 minutes and registered a PER of 19.4 in 2009 with a True Shooting percentage of .588.

The last two years have not been as kind, however. He was limited by a wrist injury in 2009-10 and then traded to Toronto, where he had more injury problems that affected his shooting, as well as his overall game. Barbosa was then traded again, this time at the deadline to the Pacers, where he saw action in 22 games and struggled in the playoffs, particularly against the Heat.

Barbosa did open some eyes with a strong performance during the Olympics when he averaged 16 points and shot 40 percent from 3-point range for Brazil, and while his days as a change-of-pace sixth man may very well be behind him, he’ll be joining a Celtics team that simply needs backcourt depth.

Barbosa isn’t a true point, but he can handle the backup job behind Rajon Rondo. He’s not the scorer that Jason Terry is, but he can create his own shot. He’s not nearly the defender that Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley are, but unlike Bradley, he’s ready to start the season.

As a fourth or fifth guard he’s more ready than Jamar Smith, who was waived on Tuesday to make room along with Dionte Christmas, and in keeping with the other offseason moves engineered by team president Danny Ainge he offers versatility and some scoring punch.

With Barbosa on board for the veteran minimum, the Celtics have 14 players on guaranteed contracts. Second-round pick Kris Joseph is the likely candidate for the final spot and they will just barely fit under the hard tax line imposed by luxury tax apron. In other words, this is likely Ainge’s final piece to the 2012-13 puzzle.

Barbosa’s not a game-changer, but the Celtics are a little better than they were at the start of the week and a lot deeper in the backcourt.

Read More: Leandro Barbosa,
Celtics eye outside help after waiving Dionte Christmas and Jamar Smith 10.16.12 at 8:31 pm ET
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It was a tough decision the Celtics made when they waived Jamar Smith and Dionte Christmas prior to Tuesday night’s home exhibition opener against the Nets. It wasn’t so much that the pair did anything wrong, but that the Celtics are looking to add another veteran player and they needed the extra roster spot. It’s possible they could add another player by the end of the week, sources said.

It’s unclear the direction they’ll go in yet, but coach Doc Rivers said that it didn’t necessarily have to be in the backcourt where the C’s are dealing with the unexpected retirement of Keyon Dooling and the injury absence of Avery Bradley.

“We’re always looking. It would be great to get another guy, at any position,” Rivers said. “We can’t forget that Avery is coming back so we don’t want to overdo that point guard thing. When you count Courtney Lee and [Jason Terry] and Avery, all three are ballhandlers. None of the three are pure point guards, but they certainly can play together.”

The moves would also seem to open a path for second-round pick Kris Joseph to make the team. The Celtics have 13 players under guaranteed contract and Rivers said he thought they would have the full 15-play compliment heading into the season. For a team that’s up against the tax-line, Joseph’s $473K rookie contract is a good fit.

Still, the rookie from Syracuse has work to do.

“You can see the ability there,” Rivers said. “He really hasn’t done anything yet. We look at a lot of tings when we decide to keep a guy or not keep a guy. We like what he can potentially do, but he has done nothing yet.”

If nothing else it’s a reminder that nothing in this league is guaranteed until it is and that competition isn’t just internal.

Read More: Dionte Christmas, Jamar Smith, Kris Joseph,
Fast Break: Celtics continue experiments in loss to Knicks 10.13.12 at 10:27 pm ET
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Brandon Bass was back in the starting lineup for the Celtics’ third exhibition game against the Knicks on Saturday night and C’s fans should probably get used to some uncertainty with the starters. Whether it’s Bass or Jared Sullinger at the 4 or Jason Terry or Courtney Lee at off-guard, or even Darko Milicic at center, the days of the set starting lineup may be a thing of the past.

It’s not just matchups, although that will play a significant part. If Doc Rivers wants to have his team in peak condition for the playoffs in the spring, he’ll need them to be healthy and somewhat less exhausted then they have been in the past. In order to do that, Rivers will need as many as 10 different players to perform significant roles and play major minutes.

Bass didn’t do much with his opportunity, however, scoring just 5 points on 2 shots in 18 minutes, while Sullinger scored a team-high 14 points to go with 7 rebounds in a 98-95 overtime loss. None of that changes the dynamic, which will continue to evolve throughout preseason.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The big lineup has potential: Rivers turned to Jeff Green midway through the first quarter and had him on the floor with Paul Pierce, Bass and Milicic. It’s an intriguing look because it will get more minutes for Green, help a thin backcourt rotation — until Avery Bradley returns, Rivers have only three veteran guards on his roster — and also add some scoring punch when Kevin Garnett is off the court. What’s still to be determined is whether the lineup can play successfully.

They did some good things in their time together and helped the C’s get back in the game after a rough start. It helped that Green was able to guard James White instead of J.R. Smith, who didn’t play. There’s more on the look in this post.

Speaking of Green: Another solid outing for the forward as he poured in 12 points to go with 4 rebounds and had another highlight-reel dunk. Some in Celtics land have been comparing him with James Worthy, but let’s pump the brakes on that kind of talk. If Green can average 20 and 6 for the next 4 years then fine, but Worthy is a Hall of Famer. Green is a decent player trying to find his way. Maybe he should be allowed to do that first.

Rajon Rondo, preseason MVP: It’s not just that Rondo continues to make his free throws: he hit three more and is now 13-for-13 in their three games. Or that he’s making jump shots and looking smooth and unhurried while doing so. Rondo is also in complete command of the offense and is playing at a controlled pace. He finished with 9 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and zero turnovers.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding: It might be the single biggest issue for the Celtics this season and it’s all on the defensive glass. The C’s were crushed on the boards in the first quarter and fell into an early hole on the scoreboard. They rebounded, so to speak, in the second and built an 8-point lead at the half. Still, the Knicks had 11 offensive rebounds and the Celtics had exactly zero at the break. That can’t continue.

Offensively, it was a drag: All the usual caveats about preseason apply, but the C’s had almost no rhythm throughout the game. The Celtics have five more preseason games in the next 8 days so there is ample time to work out the kinks.

Jason Kidd, Steve Novak and Pablo Prigioni played crunch-time minutes: Playing without several key players including Amar’e Stoudemire, JR Smith and old friend Rasheed Wallace, the Knicks turned to a handful of veterans in the fourth quarter against a Celtics’ lineup that featured rookies and undrafted free agents. Not surprisingly, that allowed New York to get back in the game.

Fun with lineups: Jeff Green and Paul Pierce together? 10.12.12 at 2:55 pm ET
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Jeff Green will be a key figure in the Celtics' small-ball lineups. (AP)

WALTHAM — With all the attention on who’s starting and who’s going to be on the court when the game ends, it’s important to remember than an NBA game is filled with multiple lineups and each has its own purpose. It’s the starters job to get a lead. It’s the bench’s job to provide support or change the flow of the game if it gets off on the wrong foot.

Some lineups have shooters. Some have defenders. Some strive for balance across the board.

More than most teams, the Celtics have relied on their starters to carry the weight. The potentially wonderful thing about this year’s squad is that Doc Rivers has options, and he’s excited about trying them all out. The reality is that Rivers has eight or nine players who could conceivably start or finish games and he seems far more worried about the middle part of the games than the beginning or the end.

Here’s Rivers on a big lineup with Kevin Garnett at power forward:

“You’re still going to play the same guys. Kevin’s going to play his 30 minutes and then you move around, but it does allow you to be big all the time if you want to be. It allows you to move Kevin to the r at times, which is good. So it gives you more options.”

And on whether Jason Terry or Courtney Lee could start:

“[Terry] could start. Whatever I prefer is whatever I think will be the best fit for our team. We may start Jason Terry and use him like Kevin for the first five minutes, just to get him some minutes and then bring him back in. We may start Courtney, so there’s a lot of ways we can go with it.”

If Rivers is being coy about his starters, he was much more open to talking about an intriguing pairing on the wing where he plans to play Paul Pierce and Jeff Green together.

“You can do it with the same lineup, just one’s a 2 and one’s a 3,” Rivers said. “You wouldn’t want to do it against a Miami with [Dwyane] Wade because one of those guys would have to guard Wade or a Ray Allen, a Reggie Miller type. You wouldn’t want them chasing guys off of screens. They don’t do that very well. It will be definitely a lineup we use, it will probably be a lineup we use every night at some point in games just to create our own matchup.

“There’s teams with big guards. That works offensively and defensively. There’s teams with a small guard, but not a great shooting guard and we can definitely do that because now that gives us an offensive advantage. It can go both ways.”

While Miami might not be the best look for this kind of lineup there are teams in the East who might make this interesting. Take Indiana with 6-foot-8 Paul George and Danny Granger on the wing. Or Brooklyn with Joe Johnson. Green would have played a huge role against Philadelphia in last year’s playoffs with all their funky combinations.

One of Rivers’ tasks this season is finding lineup where Green can be utilized to the best of his abilities. He can soak up minutes when Pierce is on the bench, but that’s at most 16 minutes or so and probably less on a given night. Getting the two of them together on the court would help increase Green’s time.

It’s easy to say now before the season has even started, but the rest of the Celtics seem on board with whatever combinations Rivers decided to use.

“Doc has a lot of options,” Garnett said. “He’s been playing with a lot of them during practice. Jeff Green in the lineup, the lineups that he’s playing with remind me of the 07-08 year when we had four smalls and one big and we had shooters and different dynamics to score the ball.”

If there’s one underlying hint to the coach’s direction, it seems that he’s trying to find ways to maximize their offensive potential and save some of the burden from his veterans. Terry and Jared Sullinger, for example, are more offensively-inclined than Lee and Brandon Bass, which may be why Rivers is thinking about starting them at times.

That seems smart considering the Celtics were once again a top defensive outfit last season, but a woeful offensive one. Along those lines, playing Pierce and Green together may take something away on the defensive end, but could potentially bolster that anemic attack.

Read More: Jeff Green, Paul Pierce,
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