At long last, the 'bag is back.
It's been a dizzying stretch, from a condensed 2011-12 regular season, to Boston's playoff run, to an offseason in which the team has reassembled and reloaded its roster.
As things begin to (finally) slow down, we're opening the 'bag again to talk roster construction and everything else on your mind as we await the start of the 2012-13 season.
Before we dive in, we encourage you to check out our latest Roster Reset, which lays the groundwork for where the roster and salary cap stand at the moment. And, without further ado, on to your letters:
Q: Do you think the Celtics are set on their roster at this point? I still think they need to add another big, even after the signing of Jason Collins. And I really hope they can either re-sign Mickael Pietrus or go after another player that can defend the wing. Your thoughts? -- Paul (San Francisco, Calif.)
A: I think we'll see the Celtics add a few more training-camp bodies, maybe pushing that roster number up toward 18 to promote camp competition. When I look at the roster, I see three areas of potential need: 1) backup ball handler; 2) rebounding big man; 3) depth wing. More on each as we go along in the 'bag, but I don't envision that Boston is in a rush to add another guaranteed contract given its cap situation (hard-capped at $74.3 million after using the full midlevel), and it is probably only going to be able to target one of those areas.
Q: I am worried about our depth at the point guard position. You wouldn't want Rajon Rondo to average 40-plus minutes per game, right? -- Rami (Beirut, Lebanon)
A: The Celtics have seemingly shied away from carrying a pure backup ball handler in recent seasons, preferring instead to maximize a roster spot with a combo guard (Delonte West, Keyon Dooling). This season seems no different -- at least at the moment -- with Boston eying Jason Terry to handle the ball more with the second unit. That said, there's value in having a second-unit quarterback (particularly when injuries invariably pop up) and it wouldn't be the worst thing for the team to target a low-cost ball handler to fill one of the final roster spots.
Q: It is my understanding that under the new CBA, the biannual exception is only available to teams that are under the luxury tax threshold ($70.3 million). The Celtics seem like they will be over the tax, but on the $4 million apron. Can they still use the biannual? -- Tax Man (Boston)
A: Teams simply cannot be above the apron in order to utilize the biannual (keep in mind, that includes being within the apron after using it). As we noted in that Roster Reset, we believe the Celtics are more likely to keep the biannual chip in their pocket because of salary constraints. The team might have enough room to utilize it this season, but there doesn't seem to be a pressing need with what's available at the moment. The Celtics might be able to use the biannual salary ($1.957 million) to add an impact player in-season, whether it's a free agent or waiver-wire move (and the extra salary will prevent a minimum-contract tug-of-war with other contenders). At worst, it's an extra weapon next offseason.
Q: Why didn't Danny Ainge try to extend the contract of Greg Stiemsma before the end of last season to avoid having him stolen by another team? -- Jason (Switzerland)
A: Given Boston's cap situation, the only thing Boston could have done to further entice Stiemsma would have been to rescind its qualifying offer (or not extend it at all, making him an unrestricted free agent), then offer him the biannual (or any other available exception) with the goal of locking him up before other offers came along. Even though Minnesota put Stiemsma in a holding pattern early on, the Wolves did bring him in for a visit and expressed consistent interest, which was enough for him to wait out the process. Boston was in a tough spot and, without the ability to offer Stiemsma a bigger deal given its limited rights and limited cap space, had little chance to keep him.
A: For a fourth- or fifth-string big man, you could do worse than Collins (remember, he was a starter at times for Atlanta in the playoffs against Boston last season). Yes, his offensive game is nonexistent and he doesn't rebound or block shots particularly well. But he still plays excellent man-to-man defense (just ask Dwight Howard) and is a nice depth option in the frontcourt. I do think the Celtics could still use a rebounding big man, but they don't usually come cheap, which might leave them hoping that Wilcox is enough of a boost in that department.
Q: What are the chances of Kris Joseph making the Celtics' roster this year? Is it possible that he could come off the bench and be a solid contributor this season? -- Dan (Syracuse)
A: Based on his encouraging summer performance (Doc Rivers dubbed him one of the team's most pleasant surprises) and his economical contract, I think Joseph is a slam dunk to make the roster. That said, playing time will be dictated by how quickly he can assert himself on the defensive end of the floor. He's got a nice frame and the necessary athleticism to be an impact defender. Establishing himself on that end will earn him floor time, where his offense should come naturally. It will be interesting to see how much he can learn from veterans like Paul Pierce.
Q: Do you think Jason Terry will be Sixth Man of the Year this season? -- Devonte (Natchitoches, La.)
A: Having won that award in the past, there's no doubt he can be a force off the bench. But, let's be honest, the Celtics just need a consistent second-unit contributor. Awards are nice, but if Terry can chip in double-digit scoring and shoot a consistent 3-ball, while aiding the backup point guard role, he'll be exactly what Boston needs -- trophy or not.
Q: Do you think Doc Rivers will limit Pierce's minutes this year like KG's last year, and will continue to further limit KG's as well with the improved bench Danny Ainge put together? -- Matt (Granby, Conn.)
A: It seems like every year we worry about minutes and Rivers swears he's going to drive those numbers down. Given that the Celtics have run out of gas on each of their past two deep treks into the playoffs, you have to think there will be a renewed emphasis on that. Boston put together some increased depth with the goal of easing the load on the veteran cast. Will that happen? It's up to the reserve guys to keep Rivers' trust so they can stay on the floor.
Q: My family is a big follower of Purdue athletes, and the Boston trade of JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore has been of interest. Question: Why would a team like Houston arrange a trade for players they know they will drop (Moore and Sean Williams)? -- Will (Aurora, Ill.)
A: Keep in mind that Houston rescinded its qualifying offer to Lee, making him an unrestricted free agent. Nothing was stopping him from signing on his own with another team. It was in Houston's best interest to try to get something (anything!?) in return for him. By helping Boston increase his salary via the sign-and-trade, the Rockets get a quality second-round pick (adding to their stockpile) and a prospect in Johnson. If they had more roster and cap space, they could have considered keeping Moore. But that space is at a premium for them now.
A: If Bradley isn't ready for the start of the year -- which isn't a definite yet, though the team has stressed it will bring him back slowly -- I think Lee will get the opportunity to make his bid for staying in the first-unit role. The Celtics certainly like the idea of having quality size at the 2. That said, we all remember the insane defensive numbers when Bradley was on the floor with the first unit last season. Let's just say that Boston will have options and flexibility to match up based on opponents, and that's always a nice luxury to have.
Q: Not counting the non-guaranteed contracts, that would leave three spots open for the team. What do you think the Celtics should do to fill out at least two spots on the roster? -- Beza (Los Angeles, Calif.)
A: I think Joseph gets one spot and another goes to whomever most distinguishes himself in camp, whether that's Dionte Christmas and Jamar Smith -- both of whom started that process with strong summer performances -- or another camp invitee. If no one else emerges, Boston can always add a veteran on a minimum contract and hope to sneak the younger players through to the D-League as part of the team-controlled Maine Red Claws.
Q: What do you think the projected starting lineup will be? Will Lee or Terry own Bradley's starting job until he's back, and will he have to win the job back when healthy? Will Terry play the same sixth-man role like in Dallas? Who is going to start at power forward (I think the skills that Jeff Green brings to the table better suits him as a starter and Bass' skills suit him better as a bench guy)? -- Matt (Westford, Mass.)
A: A surprising amount of questions on the starting lineup in the 'bag. I don't see Boston reinventing the wheel here and I think you'll see Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett back in the starting five next season, along with either Lee or Bradley. I think the preference will be to keep Terry in that sixth-man role, while Green can log big bench minutes offering depth at both forward spots. Now, if Lee, Terry and Green are all coming off the bench, that's a lot of cash spent on reserve roles (roughly $19 million next year), but given Boston's bench struggles in recent seasons, it's a solid investment if the team (finally) gets some heightened contributions from the reserve unit.
Q: What do you see as Fab Melo's ceiling? Caught him in the summer league games and thought he looked lost most of the time. He missed rotations and his passing was very suspect. Do we have a bust on our hands or do you see him getting better through the course of the year to become a contributor of the bench? -- Srikanth (Philadelphia, Pa.)
A: Clearly the kid is raw, but for every head-slapping moment, there was a positive to build on. Celtics brass stressed that playing alongside the likes of Garnett will mask some of his deficiencies at this point. I actually think there's an opportunity for him to see occasional floor time, particularly if injuries crop up. If he can follow the sort of Stiemsma-like defensive development path, he could eventually mold himself into an impact defensive big man (whether that can happen in one season remains to be seen). But there's clearly a longer way to go with Melo at the moment, particularly in learning to defend the pick-and-roll and the other principles in Boston's help system.
Q: Finally! An offseason free (so far) of Rajon Rondo trade rumors. Do you think the C's have finally decided that this is the guy they want to go with and build the team around? And do you think the feeling of security will help him this upcoming season? -- James (New Albany, Pa.)
A: Let's just move on before someone makes up a Rondo-for-Dwight Howard rumor (which, no lie, had multiple instances in the mailbag from armchair GMs). It's Rondo's team now; it was last year, too, even after the near deal for Chris Paul.
Q: Is there still room on the club for Mickael Pietrus? As much as I like Keyon Dooling, Pietrus is a blue-chipper and can perform at both ends, especially when healthy. -- Howard (Las Vegas)
A: I simply believe that Pietrus will find comparable available money and a larger role on another contender. As much as he wanted to come back, I could see a team like the Lakers making a run at him because of his desire to compete for a title. If Pietrus can find his offensive game again coming off his second knee surgery in as many offseasons, he will help a playoff team. But I think the Celtics are hopeful that Lee can replicate his defensive abilities in defending opposing wings.