Monday, August 6, 2012
Summer Forecast: Just wins, baby
By Chris Forsberg
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe summer doldrums are upon us. Even with all that sunshine outside, August can be the darkest month on the calendar for a hoops fan. With roster construction essentially complete, it's a slow crawl to the start of training camp in late September.
The Celtics hope to be doing a lot of postgame high-fiving next season.
Don't fret, we're here to help you get through this.
Each weekday for the next three weeks, our summer panel of prognosticators -- a motley crew featuring ESPN Boston contributors and our friends in the Celtics blogging community, including our True Hoop friends at CelticsHub -- will join forces to tell you exactly how the 2012-13 season will play out for the Boston Celtics. We'll gaze into our crystal balls and attempt to answers all your questions before this year's team even hits the floor together for the first time.
This is a spinoff of ESPN.com's national summer forecast. We did something similar two summers ago, but the lockout sent us into a one-year hiatus. Now we're back and ready to keep the hoop talk flowing during the offseason.
Up first this summer: Predicting the final regular-season record for the 2012-13 Celtics.
Yes, we write this will full understanding that the actual answer won't be determined for 255 days (the Celtics' regular-season finale is April 17, 2013) and we still have to wait another three months before the new season even tips off (as you've undoubtedly heard, the Celtics open up in Miami on Oct. 30).
Despite entering the offseason with only four players under contract, the Celtics worked quick to compile a 16-man roster (at least once Jeff Green's deal is finalized) that will promote plenty of competition at camp. Last week, Paul Pierce expressed optimism that -- if the Celtics can (finally) stay healthy -- this is the sort of roster that can help Boston better handle the obstacles of the regular season.
Let's face it, in recent years, Boston has not only suffered from a bit of a mental roadblock trying to navigate the road to the playoffs, but physical injuries last season made it even more challenging to simply win the Atlantic Division and secure the No. 4 seed (and Boston still opening the postseason on the road).
We'll discuss the Boston bench in greater depth later in this series, but the additions of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, along with expected healthy returns from Green and Chris Wilcox, and a potential rotation-ready rookie like Jared Sullinger, could not only limit the minutes for Boston's starters, but also help this team win a lot of those games that would often slip away last season.
Let's pencil in a record of 53-29. This team inevitably endures stretches of inconsistent play and, particularly with the return to an 82-game slate, it's going to be tough to navigate those regular-season waters when the goal is clearly to get back to the NBA Finals. Boston, particularly with much of the same core back, can't go wayward during the process.
But on paper this a team that can compete for a top spot in the Eastern Conference standings, particularly with a chief rival like Chicago forced to endure at least the start of the year without MVP guard Derrick Rose. The only question is whether the Atlantic has truly beefed up and whether that will make things slightly more difficult for Boston in its quest.
The Celtics will finish the season with their finest record since the 2008-09 campaign for two important reasons: Depth, and a weakened Eastern Conference. While Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are still absolutely vital to this team, there won't be as much of a burden on them to produce stellar numbers every night, as the likes of Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass, Jason Terry, and Avery Bradley (when he returns from injury) will all help to evenly distribute the weight and keep the Celtics winning consistently for the duration of the season. Additionally, while the Atlantic Division will be a bit more competitive this season, the Eastern Conference as a whole, shouldn't be. Sure, Miami's still at the top, but Philadelphia, Orlando, and Atlanta won't be at the same level as last season, Chicago could start slow while Derrick Rose is on the shelf, and even Indiana might not be as formidable after their roster moves this offseason.
An improved Eastern Conference may make this win-mark challenging to hit, but I’m convinced that, with Danny Ainge’s moves to improve the depth and talent level of this roster, it is attainable. Unlike past seasons, there will be a measurable amount of carryover outside the starting 5 returning to Boston, which should prove to be extremely valuable. Combine that with some talented free agents in the backcourt, with Courtney Lee and Jason Terry, and you have yourself what could be the best regular season team Doc Rivers has had since 2008. As always, there is an injury caveat for the aging pieces of Boston’s core, but Ainge has positioned this squad to be able to withstand injuries better than ever this year. A return to a regular training camp and schedule should help as well. The X-factor here remains Rajon Rondo who continued to show improved consistency last season. If he can move forward with that progression, I expect Boston to be the favorite to land the two-seed in the East next year.
With a team of aging veterans, the Celtics' regular seasons have been a lot like the TV show 24. They're kind of entertaining, we know their general premise before they even begin, and hopefully every character survives the season. Call us when Breaking Bad (the playoffs) start. With the additions of Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger and (presumably) Jeff Green, and with Avery Bradley returning, the Celtics, though still elderly at their core, are becoming younger elsewhere. Last year the Celtics' winning percentage was .590 during the regular season. A winning percentage of .590 over 82 games adds up to slightly more than 48 wins. However, after the All-Star break the Celtics were 24-10, a winning percentage of .705, which is a testament to how much better they were with Bradley starting in Allen's place. A winning percentage of .705 adds up to roughly 58 wins for an 82-game season. Bradley should be starting for most of the year when he returns, and the bench has seen extremely significant improvements, even without Ray Allen.
Your turn: How do you see the Celtics' 2012-13 regular season playing out? Sound off with your record prediction and overall thoughts in the comments section.