Opening the Celtics Mailbag for the first time after Boston's second-round exit in the postseason, it was interesting to me to find that much of the focus was already on what's next. Sure, there were those frustrated by what could have been and many wanted to play the "what if?" game. But, with the Celtics almost immediately committing to bringing back their core, the majority of questions were about how this team can reload for another potential title run next season.
Now, the labor uncertainty this summer makes answering those questions even more daunting than in previous offseasons, but we'll do our best to offer educated guesses and throw out the usual disclaimer about how the entire NBA landscape could look different under a new collective bargaining agreement.
I'm sure we'll be answering your letters throughout the offseason, but for one final time in the 2010-11 campaign, let's dive into the bag:
Q: Paul "The Truth" Pierce. MVP of the Celtics' season? -- Jonny (Newton, Mass.)
A: Jonny, your question actually encouraged me to use Pierce as our player report card today. Breaking down Pierce's season, I think you can make an extremely strong case for him. What stood out to me was how efficient he was offensively and how the Boston offense thrived when he was on the court. For much of the season, Pierce's plus/minus numbers -- as flawed as a metric as that can be -- were otherworldly. Pierce remains Boston's only player who can truly create offense for himself, and the effects of bringing him off the court were obvious for this team. What's more, his defense was solid (heck, even against Miami you can contend that LeBron James simply made some ridiculous shots). For that reason, I do think Pierce deserves the nod as season MVP, maybe edging Kevin Garnett down the stretch for the honor.
Q: Is Doc Rivers actually considering bringing Pierce off the bench or is this just something Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge suggested? I understand that Jeff Green may be our small forward of the future and that he didn't adapt well to his reserve role, but I don't think starting him would be the right move. What do you think? -- Alex (Cincinnati, Ohio)
A: I thought Ainge's comments, while probably innocuous and simply suggesting one roster tweak the Celtics could employ next season, can also be viewed as a minor jab at Pierce for his struggles in the Miami series. I think we all know how well these players respond to motivation, and it could be Ainge simply tweaking Pierce a bit and giving him a little something to think about this offseason. In the end, I think the solution is to bring down the minutes being logged by Pierce (and all of Boston's veterans). The Celtics can find a way to play Jeff Green 30 minutes as a top reserve without messing with the starting lineup.
Q: What is wrong with our bench play? Every year we seem to bring in better and better players that have performed on a consistent basis on other teams. However, it seems that the minute they join the Celtics, they're unable to get a decent offensive flow. Do you think this could possibly be Doc's fault? Does he need to keep slightly lower expectations from the bench and allow then to run simpler plays rather than the same ones the starting five is supposed to? -- Emad (Toronto)
A: Ainge said something I thought was kind of interesting at his end-of-the-season breakdown last week while talking about how Boston's original Big Three suffered through similar stretches of bench under-production because guys were simply looking over their shoulders too much. I think there's something to that. Boston's bench players sometimes look too concerned, worried that they're going to get a quick hook and start overthinking the game (Glen Davis the prime example). In the end, it's on the player to just go out and perform. In my mind, the Celtics are still looking for a sort of selfish, shoot-first presence off the bench who won't get psyched out when shots don't fall.
Q: Fozzy, as the guy who's watched just about every game and practice this year, what would your dream offseason move be to put the C's in a better position for next season? -- Nick (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
A: Boston's financial situation makes this very difficult. If they are truly committed to one more run with the Big Three, then I think they're almost bound to putting the entire band back together next season and simply hoping for better injury luck when the games matter most. The current CBA rewards teams that try to keep their own free agents, so rather than bring in a bunch of new faces on veteran minimum deals, the C's should spend to keep the guys they have (like Green, Nenad Krstic and even Davis). Then you hope the midlevel exception still exists and take a swing at hauling in a proven name who can aid the bench. Maybe Doc Rivers can work his magic to lure Grant Hill on a low-cost deal (will the biannual exception exist?), but there aren't a lot of minutes to promise him if you're committed to Pierce and Green for 30 minutes per night.
Q: Considering the market and the Celtics' needs heading into the offseason, is Delonte West the most important piece we need to sign? -- Crosby (Chicago, Ill.)
A: Of Boston's own free agents, he is probably the best value if you can ink him back around the minimum salary the Celtics paid last season. The question is whether another team will be willing to throw more money or more years at West for what he showed he was capable of in the Miami series. That's the production and impact we expected all season from West, but health worked against him. If he'll take a modest non-Bird Rights bump in pay and another one-year deal, it's a steal for Boston. That gives Avery Bradley another season to ease into the West-like role he has potential to fill down the road.
Q: I know everyone's impulse is to blow up the C's bench and make it better, but shouldn't we be looking to hang on to someone like Von Wafer who already knows our system rather than wading into an uncertain free agent market? P.S. With Danny, Doc and Rondo signed long term, 18 isn't just a dream, it's very possible. -- RM (Kansas)
A: Ainge always glowed about Wafer and, right before the calf injury that derailed him toward the end of the season, he was playing well. If no one comes calling for him and you have the chance to bring him back at minimum money, it's certainly not bad to keep a guy who has had a year in the system.
Q: Chris, it seems as if DeAndre Jordan was just the player we needed in the draft a few years ago and we got J.R. Giddens instead. If Doc and Danny both like him now, what was their apprehension in drafting him at the time? -- Sam (San Diego, Calif.)
A: Let's remember that plenty of teams passed on Jordan, who came with the dual label of "incredible upside" and "high-bust potential." The 21-point, nine-rebound night he put up against Boston in March is sure to have him on the radar, but how much are you willing to pay? Boston has to hope the midlevel exception still exists and maybe attempts to split that with an offer to Jordan. Alas, the Clippers have a lot of cap room of their own, and I don't see why they wouldn't match any reasonable offer for a guy who is only 22 years old and started 66 games last season. Boston would have to overpay for his services, which wouldn't be the worst way to spend the midlevel instead of splurging again on an older player.
Q: Don't you think that Doc is playing too short rotations? He don't even have a full five-man second unit! If you look at other teams they are able to play at least 10 players and have much more options to play with. Doc should have played more with the rookies, Wafer and Co. at the beginning of the season so they could have helped at the end. What about sitting the five starters for some nights to rest them and develop chemistry within the second and third units, give them more responsibility? -- Jason (Switzerland)
A: If Rivers can be criticized for anything during his tenure, it's certainly an inflexibility to utilize players at the end of the bench. It's one thing to shorten up that rotation in March when you start jockeying for position. But, ready or not, I wonder if rookies and younger players do need more court time just to aid that development. If the Celtics had more faith in Bradley, they could have skipped the Carlos Arroyo signing and kept young center Chris Johnson around. Rondo's health and the need for a pure backup point guard forced Boston's hand last season, so it's easy to question in hindsight. But next season, I do think the Celtics need to ride Bradley and the incoming rookies to simply spell minutes and aid possible development.
Q: Is there any chance we'll get to see DeShawn Sims in green? I followed him here at Michigan and have always thought he had NBA potential, and it sounds like he's tearing things up with the Maine Red Claws. He could definitely be a helpful piece as Boston tries to reconfigure for next year. Your thoughts? -- Nate (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
A: Here's where the potential lockout is going to hurt younger players. With no summer league, the Celtics won't be able to bring in a core of young talent to see who has potential to fill out the end of the bench. Let's remember that Luke Harangody pretty much earned his contract with a strong summer after being a second-round pick last year. I'm sure the Celtics like what they've seen out of Sims in Maine and he's the type who could earn a spot at camp, but he will have to scrap for a gig and it's clear Boston favors veterans at the end of the bench. Maybe this season taught Boston it wouldn't be a bad thing to give the likes of Sims and Stephane Lasme a chance to grow in an NBA situation.
Q: Chris, tough way to go out all around, but go Thunder! I'm a pretty optimistic guy in general, but I can't see a way the Big Three stay healthy next year. So, if we're not projected to win it all by the trade deadline, I have a feeling Ainge will start unloading expiring contracts like a Goldman Sachs trader jettisoned CDs. My question is whether you think Ainge is going to make a determination sooner than that -- say before the season starts -- and start the rebuilding process even sooner? I'm already starting to dread another 15-year drought, but these last three years were a hell of a lot of fun. -- GrandJordanian (San Diego, Calif.)
A: The next CBA could dictate exactly how quickly Ainge is forced to blow this thing up. If Boston has some offseason weapons (midlevel, biannual exceptions), I think the C's will try to simply infuse the supporting cast with youth and athleticism. If they're stuck adding veteran-minimum deals and can't boost the supporting cast this offseason, maybe it forces Ainge to do something more drastic and quicker than we might have imagined.
Q: With a lockout looming in the NBA, the season might start later than usual. A lockout seems to be beneficial to older more experienced teams. Will an extended offseason give Boston an advantage over the other elite teams in the east? -- Ty (Auburn, Mass.)
A: See, I've always thought a shorter season could aid Boston by putting less wear and tear on their vets. But ESPN Boston intern Greg Payne brought up a good point at lunch the other day: A shortened season likely means more games crammed into a shorter period of time. That could be disastrous for Boston if it's playing four games per week for a three-month stretch in a shortened season. I think Boston -- and the NBA as a whole -- has to simply hope for a normal schedule.
Q: Chris, looking ahead, do you think there's any chance Dwight Howard would consider coming to the C's? Or is it just a long shot? -- Rodo (Manama, Bahrain)
A: As we've seen this past season with the likes of Carmelo Anthony, sometimes teams will be forced to deal players before losing them to free agency (heck, you can make the case that's what happened with Kendrick Perkins). If Orlando holds Howard through the 2011-12 season, there's a chance Boston could be a player in his free-agent pursuit since the C's will have a ton of salary space free up (and the obvious bait of catching Rondo lobs for the foreseeable future). But Boston almost certainly doesn't have the sort of desirable trade bait if it comes to a midseason pursuit next season.
Q: Chris! Was great to meet you man! Sadly we lost and the season is over. A couple of ball bounces here and calls there and we'd be playing Chicago right now. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Looking forward to next year! But here's something for the guard spot: How much time will Bradley really get next year? If we resign D-West, I'm not sure Bradley sees the floor time he needs. (Also, my friends have been telling me: Pics or it didn't happen on meeting you, how about some proof from your mouth!) -- Zain (Merced, Calif.)
A: Bradley doesn't need a mountain of minutes at this stage, so if the Celtics can just figure out how to get him on the court consistently, even if he's down the depth chart behind a guy like West, I don't think there's much harm in that. Injuries always seem to open potential opportunities in Boston. And, Zain, it was great meeting you as well. I hope you enjoyed your Boston visit. I refuse to believe your friends need photographic evidence of our halftime meet-up during the Heat series. I'll be available for chitchat sessions all summer long at burrito joins throughout Massachusetts.
Thanks again to everyone who sent mail this season. Keep the letters coming as we'll be tackling questions fairly often throughout the summer.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.