XMas countdown: Season predictions

December, 22, 2011
12/22/11
4:24
PM ET
Boston Celtics benchGary A. Vasquez/US PresswireThe prediction across the board is that the Big Three era will end without a second title this season.
Editor’s note: From Dec. 12-23, we’ll count down to the Celtics’ Christmas matchup with the Knicks (Dec. 25 at 12 p.m. ET) by hitting on 12 big topics facing the Green this season.

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Are you a Celtics fan planning a summer vacation for late June? It's probably safe to go ahead and book that airfare. Worried that a summer wedding might fall on a key date in the NBA Finals? Don't fret too much.

The Boston Celtics, as currently constituted, appear unlikely to be playing basketball in late June. There's no shame in that. Only two teams each season are afforded that luxury. As we brace for tip-off of the 2011-12 season on Sunday in New York, the Celtics simply don't appear to have made the moves necessary to vault much beyond the second-round playoff exit they endured last season.

It's not for a lack of trying. The Celtics explored deals that could have netted Chris Paul, then nearly snagged David West, all in an effort to help push this team over the hump in a beefed-up Eastern Conference. Instead, Boston simply settled for what was likely the fallback plan: Overhaul the bench with veteran additions and cross your fingers.

We're just not certain that's enough. The fact that no free agents are knocking down Danny Ainge's door to be a part of this roster seems to confirm our suspicions. Shane Battier thinks Miami has a pretty good shot; Rip Hamilton likes what he sees in Chicago. Boston keeps waiting for someone that will take a minimum contract deal to help them keep up with the young guns in the East.

As Doc Rivers noted Wednesday night, "First come, first serve. Can we make an announcement to all the free agents?"

Is there any hope? Of course. Boston's Big Three, advanced in age as it may be, remains an elite unit capable of a strong playoff push. Rajon Rondo will almost assuredly be the most important factor in just how far this team goes, and he's got the talent to take them far. Bench additions of Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, and Keyon Dooling have potential to give this team exactly what they were missing from the reserve unit last season.

But there's the trouble. It seems like everything has to go perfect for Boston. And the season simply hasn't started off on the right foot. First came the awful news that Jeff Green will miss the season due to a heart ailment, erasing Boston's top bench option and a player the Celtics were hoping would make a leap of his own this season. And now Boston is unsure if Paul Pierce will be ready for the start of the season due to a right heel bruise that sidelined him for nearly all of an abbreviated training camp.

It's a lot to overcome. Impossible? Well, Kevin Garnett would kindly remind us that, "Anything is possible!!!!"

It will be interesting to see how the Celtics approach the season. Will they sacrifice wins (and a higher seed) to preserve energy until the playoffs? Will some of the East's other top dogs endure injuries of their own that will even the playing field a bit? The Celtics need some help -- and maybe a little bit of that Leprechaun luck -- if they want to be playing basketball in late June this year.

Predicted record: 40-26 (3rd in Eastern Conference)
Season outcome: Loss in conference semifinals

Follow the jump to read the predictions from others in our ESPN family:

ESPNBoston.com columnist Jackie MacMullan
Predicted record: 40-26
Season outcome: Lose in Eastern Conference semifinals
Summary: Nothing has gone right for the 2011-12 Celtics: first no games, then no Chris Paul, no David West - or, for that matter, Delonte West - then no Jeff Green and (temporarily)no Paul Pierce. This is not an encouraging trend.

ESPNBoston.com Celtics contributor Peter May
Predicted record: 43-23
Season outcome: Lose in Eastern Conference finals
Summary: They are rolling the dice in Boston that the Big Three has one more championship run left. The loss of Jeff Green hurts, as he was their most versatile reserve. The new guys will help and the team has a chance to make things interesting in the spring. But it's hard right now to see them advancing past both Miami and Chicago to make it out of the East. They might beat one of them, but not both.

ESPNBoston.com Celtics contributor Greg Payne
Predicted record: 46-20
Season outcome: Lose in Eastern Conference semifinals
Summary: Despite their ever-increasing age, the Celtics will still be one of the NBA's top defensive teams this year, but it'll be their anemic offense and lack of quality bench production that will end their season early. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen will still likely put forth All-Star-worthy seasons, but eventually, the Celtics’ lack of quality depth will come back to bite them. The unfortunate loss of Jeff Green will be felt especially hard come playoff time, when Boston will likely run into a younger, more athletic team in the second round, such as the New York Knicks, Miami Heat, or Chicago Bulls. Any hopes the Celtics have of a deep playoff run will hinge on the play of Rajon Rondo.

ESPNBoston.com Celtics contributor Tom Lakin
Predicted record: 44-22
Season outcome: Lose in Eastern Conference semifinals
Summary: I see this thing playing out a lot like last year: a solid regular season good for first in the Atlantic, a first round playoff win, and then a second round exit at the hands of LeBron James’ Miami Heat -- only in seven games this year, instead of 5. Still, if head coach Doc Rivers can get consistent and efficient minutes early on from backups Keyon Dooling, Chris Wilcox, Marquis Daniels and Brandon Bass -- players who, as a bench core, are more accepting of their role than last year’s guys -- it would go a long way toward ensuring a healthy and rested Big Three for the playoffs. And that, ultimately, represents the Celtics’ only postseason shot at toppling Miami or Chicago.

ESPN Boston Radio’s Adam Jones
Predicted record: 38-28
Season outcome: Lose in Eastern Conference semifinals
Summary: Even if the Celtics were healthy, there was a good chance they would struggle with the shortened NBA season. However, the Celtics are anything but healthy. Jeff Green is lost for the season and Paul Pierce could miss the season opener. Add that to the fact that Kevin Garnett has missed at least 11 games in each of his four seasons in Boston and things don't bode well for the Celtics. They should finish as the four or five seed in the East and exit after the first round.

ESPN Boston Radio’s Andrew Brooks
Predicted record: 43-23
Season outcome: Lose in first round of the playoffs
Summary: The question isn't thether the Celtics can play, it's for how long. The Big Three are another year older and the bench lacks the depth that made it so great in the past and due to some pretty unfortunate circumstances (Jeff Green). The Celtics come into this season worse than they were last year. But there is still plenty of talent on this team and the Eastern Conference is still top heavy. The C's will win the division, but barely, and will be a first-round exit in the playoffs.

CelticsHub’s Brian Robb (ESPN.com TrueHoop Network)
Predicted record: 41-25
Season outcome: Lose in Eastern Conference finals
Summary: The loss of Jeff Green is a major blow, but I still land on the optimistic side of the fence for this squad. After last year's disappointment, the sense of urgency is greater than ever for the senior members of the C's, and I see one final deep playoff run for this core. The new-look bench should help take some of the onus off the starters and with the addition of another veteran scorer (via buyout), Boston could sneak up on people. The X factors? Health and the ability for Rajon Rondo to excel consistently.

CelticsHub’s Ryan DeGama (ESPN.com TrueHoop Network)
Predicted record: 38-28
Season outcome: Lose in Eastern Conference semifinals
Summary: The compressed regular season will not only weather the aged Celtics but hang a lantern on their offensive decline. Danny Ainge wisely tried to upgrade the talent at the top of the roster but failing a Hail Mary at the trade deadline, this proud bunch will again run out of gas in the early rounds.

CelticsHub’s Brendan Jackson (ESPN.com TrueHoop Network)
Predicted record: 40-26
Season outcome: Lose in Eastern Conference finals
Summary: It's not going to be easy, but I think the Celtics will be the third best team in the East behind Miami and Chicago. This makes them poised to play a tough Eastern Conference team in the first round that could easily bounce the older, injury prone Cs. Think Boston v. Indiana. The Celtics get bounced by the young, deep Pacers and storylines abound. David West gets to say "told ya so!" to Ray Allen and the once-Champion Celtics go down in much the same way the 2003-2008 Detroit Pistons era did. On the flip-side, say the Celtics manage to stay healthy and fresh going into the playoffs. Not only that but they also hit their stride going in and win their last 7 regular season games. They steamroll through the first round, and manage to get through the next two rounds against really tough opponents. The last hurrah is a trip to the finals where no matter the outcome, the C’s can still hold their heads high. I think ultimately it will be somewhere in between but I'll err on the side of the positive. The Celtics will lose in the Eastern Conference finals and the Big Three era will go down in an ESPN Instant Classic dog fight. The series will be so intense the LeBron James and Dwyane Wade's over-celebration will be appropriate.

CelticsHub’s Hayes Davenport (ESPN.com TrueHoop Network)
Predicted record: 40-26
Season outcome: Lose in Eastern Conference semifinals
Summary: Even with the improvements made around the East, I think the Celtics are good for a playoff seed in the 3-4 range. But though they won't be an easy matchup for anybody, I don't see them beating Miami or Chicago in the playoffs.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jeff Green
PTS AST STL MIN
16.9 1.7 0.7 34.2
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 8.1
AssistsR. Rondo 9.8
StealsR. Rondo 1.3
BlocksB. Bass 0.9