|Celtics experiment with small ball||10.01.12 at 1:22 pm ET|
WALTHAM — The buzzword around the Celtics these days is “versatility.” In Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and especially Jeff Green, coach Doc Rivers has a number of different lineup combinations he can use, and he plans to test them all. Rivers pointed to Rajon Rondo, who was getting stretched out behind the media scrum. “He’ll be very happy.”
Their last practice before departing for Istanbul was devoted entirely to using small lineups, although small is a relative term. The C’s believe that the 6-foot-9 Green can force matchups whether he’s at the three or the four and there’s even a thought of playing him and Paul Pierce together with two traditional bigs.
“We put it in [Sunday] but we didn’t work on it,” Rivers said. “Today we’re going to have almost exclusively have small lineups on the floor so that will be fun. This is the first year we’ve ever really worked on it and we’re going to work on it so we can do it every game.”
Green is the key because of his length and athleticism. Last season, Rivers used Mickael Pietrus as a smaller small forward with Pierce playing the four. That lineup was almost born out of desperation as a counter to Miami using LeBron James as the second big around a lineup of perimeter shooters.Rivers doesn’t just want to matchup, he wants to attack and he sees Green as a force in the open court.
“He’s the main guy when you talk about small lineups,” Rondo said. “He played the four at Oklahoma City, he stretched the floor with his shooting. We can get a lot of bigs on the floor as well. He can go from the four to the three. Defensively, he can check one through four, I believe. We expect a lot out of Jeff but he’s fine with that pressure.”
A key to making the smaller lineups work is also coming up with an offense that won’t stall when Rondo is off the court — a frequent occurrence last season. With no traditional backup point guard on the roster and Avery Bradley out for a few months, that task may fall to Terry.
“He’s a better ballhandler,” Rivers said. “I knew he could score of the dribble but he’s really a natural at the point. That surprised me. We have no choice right now with Avery out. We’re trying to create an offense where it’s not a point guard dominated offense, unless Rondo’s on the floor.”
|Doc Rivers’ coaching challenge||09.26.12 at 5:16 pm ET|
While the NBA continues to undergo what the writer Bethlehem Shoals once termed “the positional revolution,” the Celtics largely have stayed true to traditional lineups. There was good reason for this.
In Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett they had four players who not only fit the archetypes of their positions, they could have served as the model for how we think about point guards, off guards, small forwards and power forwards.
All that was missing was a center, and over the years they have used Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace and the O’Neal brothers to varying degrees of effectiveness. Coach Doc Rivers also used Glen Davis as an undersized 5, but the one time he was truly able to display a unique look was during the championship season of 2007-08 when James Posey took the court with the other four starters.
That all began to change last season when Rivers moved Garnett to the 5 and inserted Brandon Bass into the starting lineup. The change was enormously successful, but the C’s ran into trouble during the postseason against teams like Philadelphia and Miami that could throw multiple combinations at them and create matchup advantages at various positions.
The Celtics lacked depth, which was a major problem, but they also lacked the personnel to counter some of these moves. That may have changed this offseason when they added Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green to the mix. All three players can play multiple positions. And in loading up on 7-footers (Jason Collins, Darko Milicic and Fab Melo) to go along with Chris Wilcox and Jared Sullinger, the Celtics should be deeper, bigger and more versatile.
At some point this winter they also will welcome back Avery Bradley, who found a home playing off the ball on offense while applying tenacious ball pressure on the defensive end of the court.
“When he comes back, I don’t know if anyone has a better guard core than us, but we’re going to have to wait for that,” Rivers said. “In the meantime we have three guys who can all play multiple positions. That’s the way I would always want to coach, and I have an opportunity to do that.”
|Celtics camp questions: Is there enough size?||09.20.12 at 11:15 am ET|
When Kevin Garnett was on the court during the playoffs last season, the Celtics were a team that was good enough to take the NBA champions to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference finals. When he was not, they were something worse than awful.
The difference between a team with KG and one without him was more than 35 points per 100 possessions. That staggering statistic not only proved just how valuable the ageless big man was, but also how truly dependent the C’s were to his presence.
The mid-season move of Garnett to the center position — which he professes to hate — was the key to their turnaround. The move also opened up a starting job for Brandon Bass, and while the duo yielded one of the more undersized frontcourts in the league, the Celtics went 24-10 after the All-Star break.
Garnett is too fast for most centers and possesses a lethal 20-foot jump shot, which allowed the C’s to spread teams out offensively and give Rajon Rondo room to operate in a congested halfcourt. Bass’ steady diet of 15-foot jumpers added a nice complement to their new-look offense. Defensively, Garnett remains a monster. Arguably the best pick-and-roll defender in the league, he was the linchpin of a defense that once again ranked among the best in the NBA.
Both players are back this season and expected to continue in their roles, but old issues still remain up front, namely rebounding and depth. Never a good offensive rebounding team, the C’s became the worst offensive rebounding team, maybe ever. Generally a strong defensive rebounding team, their percentage slipped to below average during the regular season.
That changed significantly in the postseason with Garnett playing more minutes and channeling his 2004 self on a nightly basis, but there’s no way he can keep up that pace for 82 games. Read the rest of this entry »
|Celtics camp questions: How will the new backcourt look?||09.19.12 at 1:47 pm ET|
For the first time since the Big Three were originally conceived, the Celtics will have a new shooting guard lining up alongside Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Not since Kendrick Perkins was traded to Oklahoma City have the Celtics undergone such an important change.
Ray Allen‘s departure for Miami was really the culmination of a transformation that was beginning to take shape last season. With Avery Bradley in the starting lineup, the Celtics suddenly became a dynamic defensive team that could also score points at a better-than expected rate. The C’s outscored their opponents by almost 20 points per 100 possessions with Bradley in the starting lineup.
Small sample size or no, Bradley’s emergence help point them in a direction that was less dependent on Allen’s shooting and off-the-ball movement, and increasingly reliant on Rondo’s gift for creating offense for others. In an interesting twist, the Celtics tried desperately to re-sign Allen, but when those efforts failed they turned their attention toward completing the transition toward a more versatile and potentially dynamic backcourt.
|Bill Russell isn’t chasing ghosts||09.14.12 at 4:06 pm ET|
The news that the great Bill Russell had recently undergone two heart procedures as reported by Peter Vecsey came as a bit of a shock, but Russell is recovering and he talked to NBA.com about that and more in a wide-ranging Q+A.
- “I had a valve in my heart that had to be replaced and the way you replace it is by open-heart surgery. Well, open-heart surgery sounds difficult but this was not an emergency. It was something I had to do. The same operation in an emergency is life threatening. This was not life threatening
They took the valve out and replaced it. It only took a couple of hours to do that. I talked to the doctors after and they said they were pleased with the procedure. They said I would be sore after a while and after that, they said I would feel better than I ever did at this point.”
Russell said that he wasn’t able to play golf or drive, depriving him of two of his favorite activities, but he added helpfully that with all that free time around the house he got to be a grouch.
He also offered his thoughts on LeBron James, the new-look Celtics and even Jeremy Lin for some reason, but there was one other part of the interview that caught my eye. When asked about the debate between the 1992 and 2012 Olympic teams he responded:
I have this theory that it’s impossible to play against ghosts — past, present or future. That kind of discussion is for non-participants. It’s like video games. Whenever someone would ask me how I would play against this guy or that guy, I always thought that it was like playing against ghosts. Past, present and future and I never get into that discussion. You can only play against your contemporaries.
Basketball — out of all of the sports — is the most evolving. Whoever the best player is, that’s how the game is played for a generation.
This is the best rebuttal to that particular pseudo debate that I’ve seen this summer. Not only is it self-explanatory, it also reveals a keen insight: The best player at any given time dictates the terms of the game. Whether it was Russell, Wilt, Bird, Magic or Jordan the sport belongs to them for a certain amount of time, however long or fleeting it may be. Comparing players from different eras may be an amusing diversion, but it ultimately accomplishes nothing and Russell — as we know — is all about accomplishments.
|Roster breakdown: C’s offer new twist on old formula||09.05.12 at 2:04 am ET|
When the season ended, Celtics team president Danny Ainge was looking at a roster with four players under contract and $32 million in guaranteed salaries. Over the next few months, Ainge acquired, drafted or re-signed 13 players. He handed out contracts worth more than $40 million for next season that not only rebuilt the roster but also carried implications into the next two years beyond this one.
The prevailing opinion is that Ainge is continuing the current run and in many ways he is. After all, Kevin Garnett‘s return essentially ensured that direction. But while Ainge was bringing (most of) the band back together, three of his free agents signed with other teams. One of those, obviously, was Ray Allen, whose defection to Miami caused Ainge and his staff to summon a long-shot Plan B that may in the long run prove to have been a better course of action.
Without Allen, Ainge traded four players and a draft choice and let the clock run out on two other veteran free agents. The move landed Courtney Lee, a versatile defensive-minded wing player who doesn’t need the ball to be successful offensively and who also happens to be a decade younger than Allen.
Ainge signed the equivalent of two mid-level caliber free agents in Jason Terry and Lee, and added a third veteran in Jason Collins, who agreed to play for the minimum. He also brought back Chris Wilcox and Jeff Green and added five rookies who have a legitimate shot at making the team, including first-round pick Jared Sullinger, who could play legitimate minutes.
Someone will be the odd man out from a group that includes second-round pick Kris Joseph and summer league finds Dionte Christmas and Jamar Smith, but in all the Celtics will have nine different players than the team that took Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals. Even with the Terry on board, they will also be younger thanks to Lee, Green and the rookies.
While Ainge kept the Rajon Rondo-Paul Pierce-Garnett trio in place as the core of the team, he completely remade the rotation and turned over roster spots that had been held by middling ‘ at best — veterans in favor of younger prospects. It’s a continuation combined with an acknowledgement that grit and balls only can take you so far.
Here are five takeaways from the summer moves: Read the rest of this entry »
|The Celtics’ Andrew Bynum problem||08.10.12 at 4:17 pm ET|
If there’s one thing Kevin Garnett hates about playing center, it’s playing against an actual center. Thankfully, there are fewer and fewer of those in the NBA. Unfortunately, most of them now live in the Atlantic Division.
While Dwight Howard commands all the attention, the Celtics are certain to be keeping an eye on developments much closer to home. Namely, Philadelphia, where the 76ers took a massive step in their overhaul by acquiring Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson in exchange for Andre Iguodala and two recent first round picks as part of a four-team blockbuster.
Bynum’s arrival in the C’s division coincides with the NBA debut of the well-regarded Jonas Valanciunas in Toronto as well as the presumably healthy return of Brook Lopez to the Nets. Those three plus Tyson Chandler — the reigning Defensive Player of the Year — gives Garnett more than 28 feet of headaches, 16 times a year.
The Celtics have always kept a close eye on Howard — they built their 2010 team with the idea of beating the Magic in the playoffs — but that has always been from a comfortable distance. With Howard in Los Angeles that’s a problem only if they both happen to make the Finals and Bynum stands as a much bigger issue now.
Bynum scored 36 points and grabbed 31 rebounds against the Celtics last season, both with Garnett at center, an experience that left him drained. Bynum is coming off his best season and will be just 25 years old when the season starts, so if the Sixers can convince the Jersey-native to stay, he could be a problem for a long time for the Celtics. Read the rest of this entry »