The Celtics are coming off of their worst season since 2006-07. Despite high expectations this offseason, the team is entering 2014-15 with a similar roster to last season, which comes with similar expectations. However, Brad Stevens will be in his second season as coach, Rajon Rondo will begin the season healthy and Danny Ainge has added some new, young talent. But it’s still clear that the Celtics are entering yet another rebuilding season, leaving us with some major questions. We’ll try to find some answers in this five-part series called Rebuild Spotlight.

Brad Stevens showed signs in his first season with the Celtics that he can be an elite NBA coach. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Brad Stevens showed signs in his first season with the Celtics that he can be an elite NBA coach. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Despite just 25 wins in Brad Stevens’ debut season in Boston, the verdict is in on the coach: He’s the real deal. That was the hope when Ainge lured Stevens away from Butler with a six-year contract, but now we have clarity. After dazzling in his first season on the NBA sidelines, Stevens has made it clear that he is going to be as much a cornerstone of the Celtics’ rebuild as anyone.

Of course, much like the young players he coaches, Stevens must reach his full potential if he is going to lead the Celtics back to contention. The C’s were a solid defensive team right away last season; they were 14th in defensive rating heading into the All-Star break, but finished 20th at season’s end. Stevens wants to establish a defensive identity, and with Avery Bradley (who sees Boston having a top-10 defense this season) returning and the addition of Marcus Smart (whom scouts believe is the league’s next great perimeter defender), improvement on that side of the ball is expected.

Defense will be Stevens’ focus when training camp begins, but the Celtics’ offense, untraditionally, is where the biggest improvements are needed. Frankly, last season was a mess offensively, regardless of whether Rajon Rondo was on the floor or not.

Boston finished the season 27thin offensive rating and 28th in turnover rating. Until those numbers change, the losses are going to continue to pile up. Last year’s plan was to make Jeff Green the featured piece on offense. Yet, he failed to prove himself as a consistent option when all signs pointed to Green compiling career numbers.

On the other hand, Bradley (23 years old) and Jared Sullinger (22) stepped in as strong offensive options when healthy. Stevens would be silly not to present his younger stars with larger roles in the offense this season. Obviously, beginning the season with a healthy Rondo to go along with the additions of Smart, fellow rookie James Young, Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton and Evan Turner have to prove to be of some help.

Stevens likely will be dealing with an offense by committee like he was last season, this time with Rondo at the helm from the get-go. Bottom line is that there must be more offensive fluidity if the Celtics expect to up their win total from a year ago, particularly in terms of attempting to find some sort of consistency that Green couldn’t provide.

When it comes down to it, Brad Stevens is a fantastic leader for the Celtics going forward. His job is certainly not in any kind of jeopardy at all, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect improvements this season. Stevens has had a year to settle in and learn the ropes of the NBA. This season, prepare to watch him take the next step toward becoming one of the elite coaches in the league.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

I think we can all agree the Celtics won’€™t be raising banner 18 in the immediate future, and more likely than not the 2014-15 NBA season will result in another lottery pick come June, regardless of how ardently Rajon RondoAvery Bradley & Co. argue the contrary. It’€™s been a year since Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, launching the process of stockpiling draft picks and cap-friendly contracts. Since the Celtics failed to cash in those commodities in exchange for fireworks this summer, this season’€™s preview will have a Wyc Grousbeck theme, focusing on the hodgepodge of C’€™s pieces in a series we’€™ll call Asset Management. Next up: Marcus Smart.

Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

We can’t blame Smart for the Celtics landing the sixth overall overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft. It would’ve be nice to score Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, as the 76ers did, or Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton, as the Magic did. But the Celtics had the sixth and 17th picks — not third and 12th or fourth and 10th — so they’re banking on Smart and James Young being the best available talents at those slots, and so far at least we have no reason to believe otherwise.

The more we hear about Smart, the better fit he seems in Boston. He’s a defensive bulldog on the court, a likable character off it and a leader in both arenas, all traits the Celtics have sorely lacked since Kevin Garnett‘s departure.

If nothing else, Smart completes quite the defensive triumvirate in the backcourt. With him and Avery Bradley each capable of hounding the ball-handler, Rajon Rondo is free to gamble while defending the NBA’s dearth of off-guards — or, better yet, Smart and Bradley annoy the hell out of everyone, and they all rub off on Marcus Thornton — providing the Celtics a puncher’s chance on that end of the floor, despite the absence of a paint-protecting frontcourt.

Offensively, Smart’s Summer League stats (29.4 FG%, 25.7 3P%) didn’t do much to quell concerns about his shooting, although Rondo and Bradley have illustrated the ability to improve in that area, even as criticism persists. Jump shots can improve. Defensive effort, generally, doesn’t, and that’s why Smart went sixth and Young 17th.

Thus begins Smart’s future on a franchise with a wild lottery history that includes Len Bias, Eric Montross, Ron Mercer, Chauncey Billups, Paul Pierce, Jerome Moiso and Joe Johnson. One tragic, one sublime, and all gone too soon in one way or another. That’s why they call it a lottery, I guess. It’s a crapshoot, sometimes it’s just crap, and we don’t know well Danny Ainge rolls the dice since he’s traded every other top-10 pick he’s ever had.

It’s also not Smart’s fault his career will forever be linked to Rondo’s. If we’re being honest with ourselves, using the sixth overall pick in a loaded draft on a player who mans the same position as their captain, only All-Star and soon-to-be free agent leaves the Celtics with two choices going forward: 1) Trade Rondo and keep Smart, or 2) Keep Rondo and trade Smart. Both could be a mistake, either could be brilliant, but one will happen, because Ainge’s two most valuable players are both point guards, and either could fetch a hefty sum in return.

Asset Rating: A

This has been another edition of Asset Management. Check out more Celtics player valuations below.

Asset Management: Jeff Green’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Tyler Zeller’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Kelly Olynyk’s Celtics future

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

I think we can all agree the Celtics won’€™t be raising banner 18 in the immediate future, and more likely than not the 2014-15 NBA season will result in another lottery pick come June, regardless of how ardently Rajon RondoAvery Bradley & Co. argue the contrary. It’€™s been a year since Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, launching the process of stockpiling draft picks and cap-friendly contracts. Since the Celtics failed to cash in those commodities in exchange for fireworks this summer, this season’€™s preview will have a Wyc Grousbeck theme, focusing on the hodgepodge of C’€™s pieces in a series we’€™ll call Asset Management. Next up: Kelly Olynyk.

Kelly Olynyk

Kelly Olynyk

Olynyk’s run-in with a billboard has been the lasting image of his summer, a hilariously perfect reminder of all the long-haired 23-year-old 7-footer’s flaws — the sign accentuating his limitations both athletically and defensively.

In reality, the past year hasn’t changed opinions much on Olynyk. This is a guy Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge dubbed upon drafting “just a really good complementary player. He’s not a go-to guy, not a star player. He’s like a really good teammate type of player and complements other guys.”

I wasn’t sure how to feel about that then, and I’m not sure how to feel about it now. The Celtics traded up three spots to draft Olynyk, declared him “not a go-to guy, not a star player,” and then watched the Bucks take the most promising player in the draft two spots later. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but to the best of my knowledge Ainge doesn’t own a DeLorean, so we look to the future.

We learned a bit about the Canadian’s exchange rate when Minnesota turned its nose on a Celtics package of Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and multiple first-round picks for Kevin Love, which is to say his value elsewhere in the NBA isn’t what it’s perceived to be in Boston — despite those 36-minute averages of 15.6 points, 9.4 boards and 2.8 dimes.

We saw two sides of Olynyk his rookie season. Prior to the All-Star break, we witnessed a guy who wasn’t a particularly good shooter, rebounder or defender, all fairly important things for 7-foot stretch forwards. In the 26 games after he started in the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge, Olynyk averaged 18.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per 36 minutes while recording a scintillating 59.6 true shooting percentage. Not too shabby.

But he also averaged 5.6 personal fouls per 36, so his defensive struggles never allowed for such playing time. Olynyk’s shooting and passing ability could still make him “a really good complementary player,” as evidenced by his contributions to an offense that ranked among the league’s best with him and among the worst without him, but the Celtics also allowed an atrocious 108.2 points per 100 possessions with Olynyk manning the middle.

A year later, Olynyk still has the potential to be “a really good teammate type of player,” whatever that means, and that kind of talent for $7.3 million over the next three seasons isn’t such a bad deal, even if fellow 2013 draftees Tim Hardaway Jr. at $4.8 million or Mason Plumlee at $5.1 million seems better. But somewhere along the line the Celtics have to start finding stars in their endless galaxy of lottery picks, and Olynyk isn’t one.

Asset Rating: B

This has been another edition of Asset Management. Check out more Celtics player valuations below.

Asset Management: Jeff Green’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Tyler Zeller’s Celtics future

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

As expected, the Celtics officially announced Prince Edward Island native Scott Morrison’s hiring as head coach of the Red Claws, their NBA Development League affiliate in Maine.

As expected, the Celtics officially announced Prince Edward Island native Scott Morrison’s hiring as head coach of the Red Claws, their NBA Development League affiliate in Maine.

In a press conference last month, Morrison stepped down from the same position at Ontario’s Lakehead University, where he compiled a 185-174 record over 10 seasons. He had been working as an assistant for the Red Claws under Mike Taylor during a leave of absence from Lakehead this past season.

“I am truly honored to have this opportunity,” said Morrison. “I want to thank both the Boston Celtics and the Maine Red Claws, two top-notch organizations, for believing that I am the right coach for this job. I was fortunate enough last year to spend the season with the Red Claws, and I am excited to be coming back to this great community with the best fans in the NBA D-League.”

Morrison has also coached the Canada National Junior Team for the past three years, mentoring 2014 first-round selections Andrew Wiggins and Tyler Ennis as well as projected 2015 lottery pick Trey Lyles. He served on the World Team staff at the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit, guiding future lottery picks Emmanuel Mudiay and Karl Towns Jr.

The Red Claws are one of 17 D-League teams solely affiliated with an NBA club, meaning Morrison will be tasked with developing anybody the Celtics designate for assignment this winter in Brad Stevens‘ system.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

I think we can all agree the Celtics won’€™t be raising banner 18 in the immediate future, and more likely than not the 2014-15 NBA season will result in another lottery pick come June, regardless of how ardently Rajon RondoAvery Bradley & Co. argue the contrary. It’€™s been a year since Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, launching the process of stockpiling draft picks and cap-friendly contracts. Since the Celtics failed to cash in those commodities in exchange for fireworks this summer, this season’€™s preview will have a Wyc Grousbeck theme, focusing on the hodgepodge of C’€™s pieces in a series we’€™ll call Asset Management. Next up: Tyler Zeller.

Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller

The list of Celtics centers this season includes Tyler Zeller, Vitor Faverani and Joel Anthony, which seems like a good place to start with Zeller, since Faverani is still recovering from surgery to repair a torn left lateral meniscus and crashed his BMW hatchback into a bus this summer and Joel Anthony won last year’s Brian Scalabrine Legacy Award on a team full of worthy contenders.

Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass all have experience playing center, but the Celtics have rolled the dice with forwards starting at the 5 for far too long — since trading Kendrick Perkins, really, save for the Nenad Krstic, Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal cameos — so Zeller at least offers hope, and hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, or so says Andy Dufresne.

Where were we? Oh, yeah, Tyler Zeller of the 21-foot Zeller brother trio. He’s 24 years old, 84 inches tall and runs the floor like a gaZelle(r), which is all promising, particularly if Rondo remains his point guard. Transition dunks are fun, after all.

Offensively, Zeller improved from literally everywhere last season. After shooting an average to below-average percentage everywhere on the court but the free throw line as a rookie, his long legs took tremendous strides in 2013-14, improving as a more selective mid-range marksman and making a more concerted effort to get to the rim, where he lived during his 2012 ACC Player of the Year campaign.

By all accounts, Zeller isn’t the bulky rim protector the Celtics coveted this summer, although he allowed the same opponents’ field goal percentage in the restricted area last season as reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. Named Academic All-America of the Year in his senior season at North Carolina, Zeller grasps defensive schemes, even if he’s been foul prone to the tune of 4.5 personal fouls per 36 minutes for his NBA career.

Overall, Zeller averaged 13.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes while submitting a respectable 58.1 true shooting percentage and 15.4 PER last season. Those numbers make Vitor Faverani and Joel Anthony seem like, well, Vitor Faverani and Joel Anthony, and that bodes well for Zeller’s odds of playing 30-plus minutes.

Zeller, along with Marcus Thornton, became eligible to be traded this week — two months after the Celtics acquired them for next to nothing — but it seems more likely Danny Ainge will wait to see what becomes of the young 7-footer in his first season learning from fellow Indiana product Brad Stevens. Zeller remains under his rookie contract for $4.3 million combined over the next two seasons before becoming a restricted free agent in 2016, so a successful run with the Celtics this winter would make him a valuable piece for this team or another.

Asset Rating: B

This has been another edition of Asset Management. Check out more Celtics player valuations below.

Asset Management: Jeff Green’s Celtics future

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

I think we can all agree the Celtics won’€™t be raising banner 18 in the immediate future, and more likely than not the 2014-15 NBA season will result in another lottery pick come June, regardless of how ardently Rajon RondoAvery Bradley & Co. argue the contrary. It’€™s been a year since Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, launching the process of stockpiling draft picks and cap-friendly contracts. Since the Celtics failed to cash in those commodities in exchange for fireworks this summer, this season’€™s preview will have a Wyc Grousbeck theme, focusing on the hodgepodge of C’€™s pieces in a series we’€™ll call Asset Management. First up: Jeff Green.

Technically, this is a contract year for Green, who owns a $9.2 million player option for 2015-16. Considering the amount of money thrown around by NBA general managers each summer, he may opt out and bank another big paycheck before his 30th birthday, although picking up the option would put him in line to hit free agency just as the league’s rumored new $2 billion TV deal bolsters the salary cap in 2016, and his agent David Falk is as shrewd as they come.

Regardless, Green should be motivated this winter, although we’ve heard that before — in the final 26 games of his rookie contract in 2011, upon returning to the league after heart surgery in 2012 and when Pierce’s departure freed the starting small forward spot for him in 2013. Yet, inconsistency continues to plague the versatile forward, and neither of his Celtics coaches — Doc Rivers nor Brad Stevens — have been shy about acknowledging Green’s erratic effort.

Last summer, Green seemed ready to seize the reins from Pierce, submitting the best performance of his career in the second half of the 2012-13 season and leading the Celtics in playoff scoring that spring, albeit in a first-round exit opposite the Knicks. His declaration last training camp — “The [expletive] mentality is coming” — seemed to support that theory. Instead, his numbers regressed as his playing time increased.

Despite starting all 82 games and playing almost seven more minutes per contest last season, Green’s rebound, assist, steal and block averages all slipped. Likewise, his shooting percentages suffered as his attempts escalated.

While it’s time to let the notion of Green emerging as a first or second option pass, there is still value in a 6-foot-9 athlete who once dropped 43 points on LeBron James. Given Green’s success as a third or even fourth option in both Oklahoma City and Boston, teams in need of offense for a playoff run may come calling again as February’s trade deadline approaches. Rumors involving Green included the Cavaliers, Hawks, Knicks and Rockets this past winter, and one less season on his four-year, $36 million deal should only serve to attract more suitors.

Obviously, the more consistently Green plays, the more options the Celtics will have. These are the two most likely results: 1) With Green’s current contract taking him through his 30th birthday and the outlook for the C’s rebuilding project rivaling the Big Dig, they shop Green for further picks and/or youth; or 2) Green opts out, leaving the Celtics with as little as $30 million committed to seven players in 2015, and his money is spent elsewhere.

The only scenario in which Ainge should keep him beyond this year is if he discovers consistency, the Celtics add a second star to pair with Rondo and they can shift Green back into a third or fourth option. But given the lack of available stars and Green’s failure to meet expectations since his arrival in Boston, that seems like a prayer.

Asset Rating: B+/C-

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

If Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge’s draft history has proven anything, it’s that he knows how to identify elite defensive guards.

If Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge’s draft history has proven anything, it’s that he knows how to identify elite defensive guards. Since 2009, only 11 guards have made the NBA’s two All-Defensive teams, and Ainge drafted three of them: Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley. According to anonymous scouts contacted by Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, Ainge may have added another one to the list.

For five straight years, a Celtic manned one of the league’s four top defensive backcourt spots — with Rondo sandwiching a pair of Second Team selections in 2009 and 2012 around two First Team nods and Bradley earning his first bid as a 2013 Second Teamer — but that streak ended last season, when Bradley’s defense took a backseat to his budding offense and Rondo’s already declining defense obviously didn’t recover faster than his knee.

Despite being teammates since 2010, Rondo and Bradley have rarely patrolled the backcourt together. Injuries robbed us of a chance to see Bradley’s on-ball defense mesh with Rondo’s gambling mentality, but the former has adapted his training regimen in hopes of preventing injury and the latter should be fully recovered from ACL surgery.

If indeed Marcus Smart emerges as a lockdown defender on the perimeter, the Celtics could field the league’s most ferocious backcourt on that end, assuming both Bradley and Rondo return to form. And that’s a pretty big deal in a league that’s recently seen the near extinction of traditional centers and a growing emphasis on point guard play.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

The Celtics are in the same old holding pattern, and Rajon Rondo doesn’t know where he’s going to land.

Over the weekend, video surfaced of a behind-the-scenes conversation between ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan and New York Daily News writer Frank Isola about the possibility of Rondo being traded.

“€œIt will happen, because he’€™s told them he wants out,”€ MacMullan said. “No one believes me, but that’€™s the truth. And I don’t see how you get 80 cents on the dollar for him. Tell me where. The Knicks? People keeping saying the Knicks; well, who are they going to give you? The Kings want him. … They’ll give up [Ben McLemore], but Rondo has already told [Sacramento] flat out, ‘I will never re-sign with you.’ That’s no good, so where do you go?”

The footage has since been deleted from the YouTube account for ESPN’s “Around the Horn,” but lives on over at Deadspin. Few media members know the inner workings of the Celtics front office better than MacMullan, so her claim that Rondo has essentially demanded a trade is significant — however off-the-cuff that statement may have been. But Jackie Mac has for years held the opinion Rondo isn’t long for Boston, and yet he remains on the roster.

Meanwhile, Rondo and his agent have denied the trade speculation first discovered by MassLive’s Jay King.

So, here we are again. To be or not to be traded? That is the question. Don’t dismiss MacMullan’s stance simply based on Rondo’s denial, since the four-time NBA All-Star point guard has little choice but to claim he wants to remain in Boston until the time comes to move on elsewhere. He and the Celtics would gain nothing by making his desire to be dealt a public matter. Yet, the rumors persist, and it’s not all that difficult to discover why.

The Celtics are expected to enter their second season of a rebuilding project with seven players aged 24 or less, whiffing on Kevin Love and the big-name free agents available this summer. Rondo will turn 29 in February and becomes a free agent in July 2015. He made his intentions of testing the market known – one reason a trade demand makes little sense unless he has certain teams in mind – and Cedric Maxwell has said Rondo wants somewhere in the neighborhood of a five-year, $100 million max contract from the Celtics.

It’s hard to imagine Rondo wanting to be part of a lengthy rebuild, and equally difficult to see Danny Ainge committing that much money to his lone star without the promise of another to pair with him.

So, where does that leave us? With a whole lot of rumors and no trade, apparently. If Ainge liked the Kings offer, he could have pulled the trigger at the deadline in February or on draft day in June. As MacMullan and Isola point out, few other teams would have the pieces to land Rondo, and even fewer are in need of his services.

The C’s seem willing to wait on their point guard’s future, hoping his play ups his trade value while Ainge continues to pursue other stars in an attempt to convince Rondo the rebuilding process won’t be as long as it appeared once Love went to Cleveland. In other words, everybody’s in the same holding pattern they were a week ago.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach