The new-look Boston Celtics haven't played an honest-to-goodness NBA opponent yet, but after a two-game European appetizer, we're ripping open the mailbag for the first time this season and tackling your camp questions:
Q: Is there too much hype behind Jared Sullinger right now or do you think he will have a huge impact this year? -- Dave (Dover, N.H.)
A: Before I dive into your question, Dave, let's take a quick look at a letter that came in mere seconds after yours
Q: How long before Jared Sullinger takes Brandon Bass' starting job? -- Jack (South Bend, Ind.)
A: You were saying something about hype, Dave? Sullinger had two fantastic games overseas, showcasing his ability to clean the offensive glass and convert around the rim. What I'm more impressed with is that he just looks like he belongs. That's no small feat for a 20-year-old rookie. Let's remember how it took Avery Bradley a season and a half to come out of his shell on a veteran squad (though injuries didn't aid Bradley's case). If Sullinger can simply emerge as a reliable option for Doc Rivers, then he'll have an impact this season -- regardless of how he's utilized -- simply given his skill set and Boston's need for serviceable big men.
Q: As Doc Rivers mentioned, the Celtics might not have a backup point guard. Jason Terry can do it, but that would limit his key contribution as a scorer/shooter. What is the likely scenario in your opinion: Terry and Courtney Lee share some point guard duties? Maybe Dionte Christmas plays some PG? Even when Avery Bradley comes back, he is not a point guard either. It seems they have three shooting guards and Rondo. -- El Roz (Hopedale, Mass.)
A: In the aftermath of Keyon Dooling's retirement, both Rivers and Danny Ainge have maintained that the team's desire is to avoid signing a veteran ball handler. Two things have to happen for the Celtics to stick to that plan: (1) Rivers has to devise a way for the offense to avoid ball pressure when Rondo is off the floor. That might also include having Paul Pierce act as point forward with the reserves, and simply letting Terry and Lee share ballhandling duties at times. Even when Bradley is healthy, the Celtics need to keep him off the ball as much as possible. (2) The younger players (Christmas, Kris Joseph and Jamar Smith) have to prove they have more value than a veteran backup ball handler would provide. If those players don't distinguish themselves during camp, it might lead Rivers and Ainge to alter their line of thinking, particularly if the backup ballhandling is one of the team's few areas of glaring weakness.
Q: Who do you see making the roster: Christmas, Joseph or Smith? -- Dustin (Sabbatus, Maine)
A: Christmas just carries himself like someone who believes he will make the team, and the fact that half his minimum contract is guaranteed only aids his cause. Of the three, I think he's the most likely to land on the 15-man roster. I always thought Joseph's spot was pretty secure, but I do think he has to prove he has long-term value and improve his defense in order to stick around. (The fact that his contract is unguaranteed leaves the Celtics able to cut ties cheaply if they desire a veteran body.) As for Smith, he's always faced the longest odds and shooting woes in game situations haven't helped his cause. He was given the chance to operate as backup ball handler in Europe and -- if he shows an ability to balance scoring and distribution -- could make the team think hard about him. My gut says Christmas and Joseph make the team, and Smith ends up in Maine as an affiliated player. But that could change if the C's determine they need a veteran ball handler.
Q: What do you think the future holds for Fab Melo? Will he get minutes or will he go down to the D-League? -- Kevin (Wilbraham, Mass.)
A: Melo's draft-day package from the Celtics likely included a map of Interstate 95. We all knew his skills were incredibly raw and it seems almost certain that he'll spend time with Maine in the D-League to get game reps and develop his skills. Boston still will have the luxury of being able to keep him around the big league squad, particularly if and when injuries deplete the frontcourt depth. But if the likes of Darko Milicic and Jason Collins can solidify the front line, then there's little reason to let Melo waste away in the inactive column.
Q: Boston has made some key additions this past offseason. Why does the rest of the league act like they all came from the Shady Pines Retirement Home? -- Leonard (Philadelphia)
A: We've become so conditioned to thinking of the Celtics as an old team that it's hard for even close observers to recognize that they've quietly assembled a young core. On the surface, you swap out Terry for Ray Allen, so the Celtics don't get younger there. What that overlooks is the fact that Boston has a group of young, starter-caliber players in Rajon Rondo (26), Bass (27), Bradley (21), Jeff Green (26) and Lee (27). Now add Sullinger (20) and Milicic (27) -- that's more than half the potential 2012-13 rotation under 27. Put another way: Lee was quick to point out last week how, in signing a four-year deal with Boston this offseason, he's not only excited about the chance to win with the veteran core that exists now with Kevin Garnett and Pierce, but sees Boston as a sustained contender with the young core growing together.
Q: What do you think will be the lineup at the end of the games for the Celtics? -- Faizan (Albany, N.Y.)
A: Rivers has the luxury of figuring that out as the season goes along. Again, this is what Rivers keeps talking about, he's got options at virtually every spot on the floor. If the Celtics need offense, they can lean on a lineup of Rondo-Terry-Pierce-Green-KG, or if they prefer defense they can trot out Rondo-Bradley-Pierce-Bass-KG -- or maybe run with a 3-point grouping like Rondo-Terry-Lee-Pierce-KG. There's flexibility to go big, go small or match up with any look an opponent offers. That's a luxury that simply hasn't existed before for this team.
Q: Is there a chance that we could see the Celtics go big with some lineups? I didn't realize how good Jeff Green is at creating off the dribble, so maybe a lineup featuring Rondo, Pierce, Green, Bass and KG could work for some spot minutes? Or maybe even replace Bass with Milicic and slip KG over to the 4? -- Lucas (Columbia, Mo.)
A: Why not? This is why I picture Doc Rivers sitting in a room just picking names out of a hat to concoct lineups, laughing like a hyena as he writes them all down.
Q: Over/Under: 6.5 Celtics will average 10 points per game this season? -- Jim (Nashua, N.H.)
A: All right, let's think this through: Last season the entire starting five was in double digits, ranging from Rondo (11.9) to Pierce (19.4). Ray Allen's gone, but Lee averaged 11.4 points over 30.3 minutes per game in Houston. The question is whether he'll get enough floor time here to stay in double digits (and whether he can maintain that production if his minutes dip a bit when Bradley returns). It seems like a strong bet that Terry and Green will be in double digits. So we're at about 6.5. Let's go under. I think the overall depth leaves the likes of Lee and Bradley -- and maybe someone like Sullinger if he develops fast enough -- knocking on the double-digit door, but the balanced scoring ultimately keeps the number at six players.
Q: Once the season begins, what kind of rotation is Doc going to go with? Is he going to play 10 guys? Which guys will see the floor on a routine basis? -- Eric (Cincinnati, Ohio)
A: I see the rotation leaning heavy on 11 guys (12 when Bradley is healthy), then tightening up later in the season. The healthy starting five (Rondo, Bradley, Pierce, KG, Bass) will have capable reserves (Terry, Lee, Green, Sullinger/Wilcox, Milicic/Collins), then it's on the rest of the roster players -- young guys like Melo, Christmas and Joseph (or Smith) -- to provide emergency depth and develop their talents.
Q: Can Fab Melo be as good a Celtic as Acie Earl? -- Justin (Carlisle, Mass.)
A: I'm guessing Boston hopes to get more than two seasons and 104 games out of the first-round pick. Melo should be a better defender than Earl ever was, but might take more time to be NBA ready. Then again, the Celtics were 32-50 in Earl's first season in 1993, so he didn't have the luxury of being brought along slowly.
Q: The team seems to be jelling well after 10 days of training camp and individual player expectations have either been met or exceeded so far. What's our biggest weakness at this point? How do we address it? -- Dean (Glendale, Calif.)
A: Find the injury bug that's been lingering around this team for the past few years and swat it. Despite the improved depth, this team can ill afford to have the likes of Pierce, Garnett or Rondo dinged up when the playoffs roll around. Other than that, it's a bit too early to pinpoint trouble spots. In their loss in Turkey, the Celtics struggled with pick-and-roll defense and turnovers (two familiar woes last season). They tightened up both areas in Milan, but they have to be better than they were last season in both departments.