To cap our Celtics Summer Forecast series, we wanted to gauge our panel's outlook on the 2010-11 season by having them identify Boston's biggest strength and weakness as the new season approaches.
With such a broad topic, it's interesting to see exactly where the 18 writers from eight of our favorite Celtics blogs honed in on. It will be even more interesting to look back at season's end and see just how accurate they were with their feelings towards this year's squad and whether preseason perception matches how the actual season unfolds.
Our panel was pretty much unanimous on the strength: Boston kept intact a veteran core with two NBA Finals appearances (and one title) on their resume over the past three seasons. Add to that a beefed up frontcourt (one of the most glaring weaknesses last season) and there's unbridled optimism about the team's ability to get back to the championship round this season.
The weaknesses were a bit more varied. One prevalent theme was the fact that, while Boston's biggest strength is its experience, that advanced age could once again be a detriment for a team that labored through an injury-riddled 2009-10 campaign, then seemed to run out of gas at the worst possible moment in the NBA Finals.
Most also worried about regular-season motivation. After all, this a team that played .500 basketball over the final four months of the regular season after a blistering 23-5 start. Some of that surely stemmed from injuries, but players openly acknowledged that, when your goal is a world title, the regular season can be an 82-game grind to get to the games that, fair or not, truly matter more.
Before we get to our observers' responses, a sincere thank you to everyone that both participated and followed this series. The Celtics bloggers do a fantastic job with their sites and a large reason they succeed in what they do is because of the passion with which they embrace Boston's professional basketball squad and the communities they've built amongst Celtics fans. I hope you enjoyed reading their expectations and predictions on the 2010-11 season as much as I did putting the series together. We hope you continue to check out their work throughout the season and hopefully we can spotlight more of their keen analysis on ESPN Boston during the year.
For one final time this summer, highlights from our panel's responses are below:
STRENGTH: The biggest strength and weakness for the Boston Celtics is their depth. On paper, the Celtics have 12 players that could play a significant role this season. This paper assessment does not include any of the Celtics' three rookies, two of which have the potential to crack the rotation in one way or another. Usually, having depth translates into one less thing that an older, injury prone team has to worry about. The problem with this Celtics team is the amount of specialists it employs: Nate Robinson is a scorer, Shaquille O'Neal is a bruiser, Von Wafer is a shooter, and Glen Davis is a hustle player.
If Kendrick Perkins has a set back on his road to recovery and Jermaine O'Neal inevitably gets injured, the Celtics frontcourt becomes reliant on Shaquille O'Neal. If Rajon Rondo gets hurt, Nate Robinson is the Celtics starting point guard. A stable Delonte West and a bounce-back year from Marquis Daniels would push the Celtics depth on the side of "strength". Both have been versatile and reliable players in this league.
WEAKNESS: West, however, is battling his own demons and Daniels has to prove that last year's performance was a product of injury and missed time. It's always dangerous to play the "what if" game, but these concerns are very real for this older Celtics team. There will be a time when the starting 5 no longer cuts it and young players will have to assume the reins. Celtics fans should just hope that happens after 2012.
STRENGTH: The Celtics are deep. And they're deep with experienced guys. I'm looking at the playoff roster, not the opening-night roster. With Kendrick Perkins back in as a starter (hopefully), then you've got Jermaine O'Neal, Shaq, Big Baby, Marquis Daniels (hopefully), Nate Robinson, Von Wafer, and Delonte West on the pine. That is a lot of experience, albeit to some varying degrees. But all of those guys have played key roles on playoff teams, and some on championship teams. That's a nice thing to have.
WEAKNESS: Let's all say it together now ... They need a wing. It's all rehash by now. Paul Pierce is a little older, and while still durable, he's more susceptible to injury now. Marquis Daniels, unfortunately, is always susceptible to injury. So while I love what 'Quis can potentially bring to this team, there's no doubt you have to plan for him not being available. There are too many questions at that position.
STRENGTH: The defense; the team aspect; the swagger; the no B.S. approach. Those are all the strengths. The Celtics proved to everyone that they can still get it done when they're all on the same page, playing their trademark defense and running their plays. Coach Doc Rivers is a huge key to this whole thing working because honestly, I'm not sure any other coach in the league could pull it off. And the players will be the first to tell you that.
WEAKNESS: The age; the health; the regular-season motivation; the viable backups for Ray Allen and Paul Pierce; playing in a very top-heavy Eastern Conference. Those are their biggest weaknesses. If you essentially replace Cleveland with Miami, the Celtics will once again have a huge mountain to climb just to make it back to the Finals. While the West might be the better conference overall (even that is debatable) the gap between the Lakers and the second-best Western Conference team is huge compared to the nonexistent one in the East. L.A. should once again cruise through the regular season earning the top spot and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. However, Boston will be in a three-team dogfight again (with Miami and Orlando) for homecourt advantage.
STRENGTH: In my eyes, the Celtics' biggest strength is clearly their balance and quality talent at every position. I've said over and over that the Celtics are the best team in basketball, and I maintain my stance on that. You look at Boston's starting 5 and realize they have one of the league's top point guards in Rajon Rondo, one of the league's premiere shooters (still) in Ray Allen, an elite scorer in Paul Pierce, a defensive-minded, All-Star forward in Kevin Garnett, and a quality center (and former All-Star) in Jermaine O'Neal. That's a pretty potent group, and the fact that their respective games all blend together makes it even more difficult for opponents to beat them. Defense will once again, of course, be a priority for this team as well, but the road might not be as easy with Tom Thibodeau now in Chicago. Nevertheless, the situation merely calls for the Celtics to re-focus in this area.
WEAKNESS: I always worry about lazy turnovers with this club. This issue has seemed to plague them the last few seasons, and it has yet to be cleaned up. It's an issue that won't be entirely remedied, because turnovers are clearly a part of the game, but the ones that result from sloppy and lazy passes can be eliminated. The Celtics only hurt themselves when they throw away possessions and give their opponents extra chances with the ball.
STRENGTH: The Celtics biggest strength is their team chemistry. The team's core has been through the wars and has survived the traps that can snag a team without warning. The returning Celtics know they can rely on the man standing next to them. That's the kind of strength it takes to win a ring.
WEAKNESS: The biggest weakness is age and health concerns. I'm sure you've heard it all: Kendrick Perkins will be out until February while recovering from a torn ACL; Kevin Garnett has played more than 1,100 games in his career, and his knee did not look right for much of last season; Shaquille O'Neal has also played more than 1,100 games and is rapidly deteriorating as a player; Jermaine O'Neal has played for 14 seasons, more than 800 games, and has battled knee problems for the past few seasons; Paul Pierce and Ray Allen aren't over the hill yet, but they're standing at the peak, looking down at the valley. Every team has to deal with the injury bug, but the aged Celtics may be running low on bug spray.
STRENGTH: Not to sound cliche or anything, but I'm about to sound really cliche: The heart of a champion is this team's greatest strength. The Celtics don't care who gets the stats, they don't care who gets the glory. Everyone's all about winning.
WEAKNESS: The greatest concern? I'm going to have to say "the regular season."
It's kinda weird to think that one thing could be both a strength and a weakness, but it is. The Celtics showed during the 2010 post season that veteran experience is a much-needed asset. They also showed during the regular season that old legs could keep a team down. Hopefully this season they can once again get to the point where they can prove to the world that anything's possible (pun intended) even with a bunch of old men out there on the court.
STRENGTH: Three things ...
1) Experience -- The obvious answer is "battle tested" experience. Shaq just added four more titles to their already strong, championship bloodline. More important than the core's 2008 championship and 2010 Finals appearance is their experience in learning how to win (and grow) as a unit. This team has been tested. They have fought the battles together. Like the late Bird era teams and the recent Tim Duncan-lead Spurs, it's hard to discount a team that's been there together.
2) Depth -- In 2009-10, I said that this roster may be the deepest in team history. Though the regular season was a disappointment, the team's depth nearly won Boston a title. Without 'Sheed, we would not have been in the same arena with the Lakers in Game 7. I feel with the addition of Shaq, Jermaine, Wafer and the re-signing of Daniels and Robinson, this team is deeper than last year's squad. We will see.
3) Pride -- The Celtics will play the 2010-11 season like it's their last. The return of their lost swagger in '10 will give them a chip on their shoulder. This being their final farewell tour will motivate that. Nothing, however, will motivate a veteran squad and former champion like the over-hyped circus act down south. Thanks Miami!
WEAKNESS: Injury and Age. Can the C's stay healthy? That's the big question, isn't it? I believe it is. Add to that, a shockingly fragile locker room in 2009-10. Though I believe their chemistry issues are now over, we are adding some big egos to an already ego-filled locker room. If the C's stay healthy and united (Ubuntu?), they can beat anyone.
STRENGTH: The Celtics don't lack for talent. Potentially, the Celtics' top 6 players could be Hall of Famers. I agree it's far too early to say Rajon Rondo is anywhere near consideration, but there aren't many point guards who lead their teams to championships in their second years. He can go toe-to-toe with any other top PG in the NBA.
WEAKNESS: Unfortunately, all but Rondo are on the back end of their careers, so injuries and fatigue are a huge concern. Weighing those two factors is Doc Rivers, who must balance the team's greatest strength and greatest weakness.
The biggest strength and weakness are one in the same: Frontcourt depth is their new biggest strength and it was also their biggest weakness last year. Hard to imagine the entire crew of aging bigs staying healthy, though. Glen Davis is a good bet, he learned his lessons last season and his youth combined with a reduction in minutes keeps him safe.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.