Summer Forecast: The end is in sight?

August, 7, 2012
8/07/12
9:35
AM ET
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesWill the 2012-13 season have a happy ending for Paul Pierce and the Celtics?
Asked last week about Boston's reloaded roster and the team's expectations for next season, Celtics captain Paul Pierce noted, "Here in Boston, we don't want anything but championships."

Considering how close Boston came to knocking off the eventual champion Miami Heat last season, it's hard to imagine the Celtics -- having reassembled much of their core and added some additional firepower -- setting their expectations for next season at anything less than a trip back to the NBA's title round. Alas, no matter how good you look on paper in August, it's no guarantee you'll be playing the following June.

Not to temper expectations, but two years ago, with Boston coming off a Game 7 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, we asked our panel of blogging experts to predict how the following season would play out. With Shaquille O'Neal among the big-name offseason additions to a reassembled core, not a single responder (yes, this championship-proclaiming scribe included) picked the Celtics' run to end any sooner than the conference finals. Instead, Boston never quite overcame the injury bug -- O'Neal the most notable among that dinged-up group -- and the Celtics were unceremoniously bounced from the early rounds of the playoffs, falling to the Heat during the conference semifinals.

That hasn't detoured our predictors this time around. Yet again, hope summers eternal. Our blogging pals all predict big things for Boston. Will they be right this time around?

It's hard for this writer to go against the grain. A lot can happen between now and May, but anything less than a Celtics-Heat rematch in the conference finals is somewhat unfathomable. Yes, the Atlantic Division has potential to be tougher, but the East as a whole just doesn't look quite as daunting (maybe that's just the fact that Chicago is staring at a Derrick Rose-less start to season, making it a little more daunting for one of the East's top dogs).

It all comes down to health. If Boston can keep all of its bodies upright, and if the likes of Kevin Garnett can continue to thrive as he did in the second half of last season, there is the potential here for special things. Even with the loss of Ray Allen to Miami, you still have to think the Celtics are more than capable of giving the defending champs a series with the depth they've assembled.

Could we see a Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals rubber match? We still think Oklahoma City has the edge coming out of the West and we wonder if -- like the Heat this past season -- they can possibly be denied next time around in the title round. But if Boston can get past Miami, you simply can't rule out the chance for them to finally snare that coveted Banner 18.

Again, it all depends on health. And without it, Boston can easily fall victim to an early exit.

Read on for our panel's predictions:


 

Greg Payne, ESPN Boston (Celtics win NBA title)


The Celtics will win the 2013 NBA championship, with Rajon Rondo claiming the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award. Sure, two very, very important pieces of this Boston squad didn't get any younger this offseason (Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett), but Rondo finally has a young nucleus to work with in Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green (when he's officially signed), Jared Sullinger, and Avery Bradley (heck, Chris Wilcox runs like a young guy, so throw him in there, too). This is the core group of guys -- Jason Terry, Pierce, and Garnett will all play crucial roles, too, don't get me wrong --- that will really propel this team all season, and Rondo will be the one spearheading the attack. The Celtics nearly knocked off the Heat with a ridiculously beat-up squad last season, and even though Ray Allen is a significant addition for Miami, Boston's coming back so much deeper and so much more versatile than it was last season. As long as this team stays healthy, it's going to have enough weapons (along with the textbook defense) to survive a playoff series against Heat and eventually take down whoever emerges from the Western Conference -- all with Rondo leading the way.


 

Ryan DeGama, CelticsHub (Celtics lose in NBA Finals)


Danny Ainge has done a remarkable job refashioning his roster to hang with Miami, Boston’s probable repeat opponent in next year’s Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics can now reliably single-cover Dwayne Wade with multiple defenders; field any number of younger, quicker lineups; and, with the return of Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox and potential first-year contributions from Jared Sullinger, they’ve got actual NBA-quality bigs coming off the bench instead of the D-League talent littering last year’s roster. I’d lean towards the Heat toppling Boston again because their weapons-grade small lineups are so difficult to neutralize and LeBron James found a new level of terrifying last season, but two of their best four players are injury risks. I’m uneasy about Ray Allen’s ankles and downright cynical about Dwayne Wade’s prospective health 100 games into next season. Boston has similar concerns with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett but Wade, in particular, carries a heavier burden because Miami isn’t blessed with Boston’s depth. So, I’ll take the Celtics to advance to the Finals in seven thrilling games. That’s where their luck runs out against either a wisened Oklahoma City squad or the newly (and annoyingly) potent Lakers.


 

Jay King, Celtics Town (Celtics lose in Eastern Conference finals)


The Boston Celtics' season will end with midseason acquisition Brian Scalabrine drilling a title-winning 3-pointer, Kevin Garnett screaming "Anyttthinngg iss posssiblleee" and Rajon Rondo calling Ray Allen (whose Miami Heat fell in the Eastern Conference Finals) just to say, "You like apples? How 'bout dem apples?" Or at least, it will in my dreams. Though the thought makes me want to consider becoming a soccer fan, and I loathe soccer, the real-life Celtics are likely to end next season the same way they have the past two -- losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Celtics fans should still maintain a modicum of hope because Danny Ainge spent the offseason building a powerful, partially youthful bench that should help address Boston's two biggest weaknesses. Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green (assuming his long-imminent signing ever occurs) should allow Boston to field a more explosive offense, and Jared Sullinger should step into the NBA as one of its finest rookie rebounders. The Celtics' second unit scored just two points during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. During the past two seasons, Terry himself scored at least eight points in each of his 25 playoff games, reaching double figures in 23 of those contests. The Celtics still have a powerful, experienced starting five. They're still proud, fierce and Rondoriffic, and they've reloaded on the periphery to keep their stubborn window (which is probably broken at this point) open. If Garnett can return as a reasonable facsimile of his superhuman playoff self, Paul Pierce fights off aging and Rondo takes another step toward the superstardom some might argue he's already achieved, the Celtics could reach their ceiling and become NBA champions. But to do so they will have to stiff-arm an army of ifs -- even after managing to survive that, LeBron James will most certainly await.


 

Jared Weiss, CLNS Radio (Celtics lose in Eastern Conference finals)


The Celtics will find themselves in another thrilling Eastern Conference finals next spring against the Heat, but a dramatically improved bench will not be enough to get them back to the NBA Finals. The biggest issue for the Celtics last season was keeping a healthy and consistent rotation. This year their eight-man rotation will be anchored by Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green. None of these players have missed significant time due to a basketball-related injury in their careers and have spent most of their NBA lives playing in May. Last year’s Celtics faced Miami with essentially a six-man rotation (given that Mickael Pietrus was unable to score). But as much as Boston has fixed its depth problem, the Heat have strengthened their core identity. Miami finally figured out the proper dichotomy for its Big Three and, with Mario Chalmers taking the next step, the Celtics need a notable improvement from Green and Brandon Bass to put them over the top.



Your turn: How do you see the Celtics' 2012-13 season ending? Sound off with your predictions in the comments section.

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