Friday, December 9, 2011
Mailbag: Answering roster questions
By Chris Forsberg
On the heels of one of the most bizarre days in league history, the Boston Celtics will open training camp Friday at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint. It might not stack up against the blockbuster trade-vetoing, new CBA-approving events of Thursday, but Friday is also expected to be rather hectic since league transactions will commence at 2 p.m.
The Celtics, who currently have a mere six players under contract, will work quickly to fill up their training camp roster. It's expected that Boston will have about 14 bodies available for the start of camp. Not all those players will be on the final roster, but this gets the ball rolling on the roster-building process.
There are plenty of questions surrounding the Celtics as the new season arrives, the most pressing of which is how point guard Rajon Rondo will respond after persistent rumors that his team was willing to move him while in pursuit of Hornets star Chris Paul.
While everyone awaits clarity on Paul's situation (he was seemingly traded to the Lakers Thursday before the NBA vetoed the deal), let's tackle some pre-camp questions about the Celtics:
Q: Chris, I hope that all of this CP3-Rondo hype is not taking away from one of the Celtics major concerns. They NEED a big man! Do they expect to give Jermaine O'Neal starter minutes through a 66-game season with all of those back-to-back games? ... -- Will (Boston)
A: Will, in the part of your question that was edited out, you went on to mention DeAndre Jordan and it's a nice thought. Before the lockout, I envisioned a scenario in which the Celtics might be able to use their midlevel exception to make a quiet run at the restricted free agent. Alas, it seems bigs are in such high demand -- and, under the new CBA, the Celtics will have only the $3 million mini midlevel to offer as a taxpaying team -- that there's little chance of that. In fact, now it appears Jordan could be in line for a hefty payday. Can I interest you in the Kwame Browns of the world? (And, honestly, even he may soon be priced out of the Celtics' budget.) Two thoughts here: If the Celtics determine Glen Davis isn't in their long-term plans, the team could attempt to facilitate a sign-and-trade that might bring back a serviceable big man with a healthy contract. Conversely, Boston could sell Davis on maintaining a sixth-man role and continue to lean heavy on him at both the power forward and center spots. Remember, last season he logged starter-sized minutes off the pine. Maybe a healthy raise would make that role a bit more appealing to Davis, who has often expressed a desire to be a starter in the NBA.
Q: Now that Chris Paul is likely gone, I say the Celtics should try to win with what they've got. Bring back Glen Davis, Delonte West, and Jeff Green. Then use the midlevel to get Kwame Brown (prefer one-year deals for Davis and Brown). I believe the only way the Celtics can win in the playoffs is if coach Doc Rivers utilizes their entire bench, which means they need depth at every position. -- Damon (Boston)
A: Putting the band back together is easier said than done. It's certainly in the Celtics' best interest to use their Bird Rights to retain (or sign-and-trade) Davis and Green, but both players could make a push for long-term deals, and the Celtics will have to determine if those guys fit into their future plans. The Celtics want to remain financially responsible in order to preserve the cap space that will open this summer when the bloated contracts of Kevin Garnett and, to a lesser degree, Ray Allen come off the books. As for West, I think he's seeking more security -- more money or more years -- and other teams can trump what Boston is able/willing to offer (Thursday's trade for Keyon Dooling might also be a sign of Boston's uncertainty about being able to bring back West).
Q: Who are the C's seeking now with the Rondo deal [apparently] dead? -- Kris (Montreal)
A: Given that it's unlikely another elite player like Paul will be available, the guess here is that the Celtics would be forced to maintain their current core. That's not exactly ideal since we're simply not sure bringing back last season's roster (sans Shaq and adding a few new faces) is enough to compete with the likes of Miami (which is already set to add Shane Battier) and Chicago (which is a threat regardless of who is added to that loaded roster). That said, this Celtics core has put together four very successful seasons, and some good health would keep them competitive. The Celtics have to find a serviceable (and durable) big man and then see what this core can do with one more season together.
Q: What about our draft picks, E'Twaun Moore & JaJuan Johnson? In signing them, do you believe that they can jump into action and be able to put in good quality minutes for the C's this year? -- Brent (North Carolina)
A: Recent history suggests it's extremely difficult for rookies to crack Doc Rivers' rotation. I think Johnson has a skill set (and size) that gives him a good chance of seeing floor time. The team could really benefit from him emerging in the nine- or 10-man rotation (particularly if Glen Davis doesn't return). For Moore, it'll be a bit more difficult. He really has to prove he can be a scoring option off the bench, particularly beyond the arc. Thin roster numbers could aid his cause in earning a spot, but veterans are likely to be ahead of him on the depth chart, forcing him to distinguish himself early.
Q: Are the C's going to keep Von Wafer? He was good in limited minutes last year. -- Jason (Switzerland)
A: The sense I get is that Wafer will not be back with the Celtics. The team showed confidence in carrying him all of last season, especially early on when he had a nonguaranteed deal and got into a dustup with Delonte West. Alas, injuries plagued Wafer late in the year and he just wasn't consistent enough, particularly with his 3-point shot, to carve out a role. My guess is he lands with a younger team where playing time might be more plentiful (keep an eye on Minnesota, which is now coached by Rick Adelman, who got the best out of Wafer during his time in Houston).
Q: Do you think this Celtics roster can actually compete in the East this year? Shane Battier and Eddy Curry signed with LeBron and Co. in Miami; the Knicks are almost at a deal with Tyson Chandler. Can we compete? -- Nate (Clarksville, Md.)
A: The East isn't getting any easier and the Atlantic Division won't be the cakewalk it's been, either, with the Knicks and Nets having their new superstars at the start of the season. I do think that the East overall is still very top-heavy, which puts a premium on seeding, so it will be on the Celtics to put together a quality record during the condensed 66-game regular season. Is that possible? Maybe. Boston will benefit from a home-heavy schedule before the All-Star break, but I wonder how the C's will hold up in the game-heavy months of March and April (with some daunting road trips in there). With the right moves, the Celtics can compete. Will it be enough? I'm just not sure.
Q: What was the story with Troy Murphy? They went all out to get him over the Heat -- Ednr (Massachusetts)
A: You know, sometimes those pickups just don't work out, especially the midseason acquisitions. Go figure, the one tug-of-war the Celtics win in enticing a player to Boston instead of South Beach, and it produced little in the way of production. Murphy likely needed more court time to rebuild his confidence (and conditioning). I wouldn't be surprised to see his numbers bounce back a bit in the right situation this season.
Q: You think I'd forget.... MUHHUAAAHHHAAHAHAAA!! -- Player X (????)
A: For those of you who don't remember, Player X wrote a blog for ESPN last season (including one in which he ripped KG) and he sends occasional submissions to the mailbag, which always make me chuckle. Expect them to remain a staple.
Q: So, did we totally kill Rondo's confidence with this whole mess? -- John (Austin)
A: Ahhh, yes, maybe the No. 1 issue entering camp now. How will Rondo react to being the center of endless trade rumors amidst Boston's desire to obtain Paul? Some wonder if it will mess with Rondo's psyche and leave him moping at the start of the season. It was suggested (by Shaq, no less) that Rondo went into a prolonged slump last season when President Obama criticized his shooting, and that was just a (pretty) harmless jab (albeit from the leader of the free world). The Celtics didn't help matters in this situation by publicly stating they had "no intentions" of trading Rondo, even while numerous reports indicated they were willing to move him to numerous teams in order to get the players that might help facilitate the Paul swap. You would hope, behind the scenes, Ainge was relaying through Rondo's agent (since player and GM can't officially talk until today) the honest truth about his situation.
But there is potential for this to be a positive. Ainge suggested it's a compliment to be involved in trade rumors, and maybe Rondo will become callous to hearing his name pop up in these types of situations (since it could easily happen again near the deadline). What's more, maybe Rondo can parlay this into an even bigger chip on his shoulder. Let's just say, the next time he sees Paul on the court, I'm expecting an otherworldly performance. An angry Rondo can be a good Rondo, when channeled correctly. But it's most certainly the thing to watch at the start of camp.
Buckle up. Friday -- and the next two weeks leading up to Christmas Day tipoff -- should be a lot of fun. Basketball is back, baby!
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics and Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.