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Thursday, October 18, 2012
Who'll back up Rajon Rondo?

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

Six exhibition games down, two more to go -- we're 11 days away from basketball that actually matters. Fresh off the Boston Celtics' most inspired effort of the exhibition season with Thursday's thumping of the Brooklyn Nets, let's rip open the Celtics Mailbag and see what's on your mind:

Q: With the addition of Leandro Barbosa, part of me was excited to have the Brazilian Blur, especially at the minimum. But another part of me cringed at the thought of skipping out on the chance to add at least one true backup point guard. Do you think that will come back to haunt us? I mean what if -- God forbid -- Rajon Rondo gets injured? -- Joshua (McAllen, Texas)

Leandrinho Barbosa
How will Leandro Barbosa fit in Boston's backcourt?

A: The Celtics haven't been afraid to roll the dice on Rondo's health in recent seasons, but it does leave them in a dangerous situation if he were to sustain a long-term injury. That said, Boston as a whole would be in trouble without Rondo, regardless if they had a pure backup or not. The Celtics are hoping this guard-by-committee approach, one that will put more-shooting-than-point guards around Rondo in Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Avery Bradley and Barbosa, will be enough to mask their lack of a pure backup point. As coach Doc Rivers is quick to point out, very few teams in the league have more than one elite ball-handler. If Rondo stays healthy, Boston believes the scoring potential of the other four guards will help this team more than someone who can quarterback the second unit for short minutes. One more thing to keep in mind: There's simply not a lot of desirable options at backup point guard out there; Barbosa offers more potential than what's currently unemployed. As Rivers noted, the Celtics were looking for the best available talent, not necessarily position-specific.

Q: Once Bradley comes back, Barbosa, Lee and Terry will be the guards off the bench. Who do you think will be the odd man out of the rotation? -- Tim (San Diego, Calif.)

A: If everyone is healthy, Barbosa would seemingly be the odd man out, with Terry and Lee splitting top reserve minutes. But injuries or foul trouble or slumps or something else will almost certainly give Barbosa a chance to keep himself in the mix. The key for him is showing that he can be an valuable asset over the first month-plus while Bradley is in the final stages of rehab.

Q: I know it is only preseason, but the Celtics have lost some bad games. Do you think that this will affect their game throughout the regular season? -- Robert (Jakarta, Indonesia)

A: Just like no one should overreact to Boston's dominant effort Thursday night in Brooklyn, it's probably not worth getting too lathered up about their previous struggles. Let's remember that Boston is integrating a bunch of new players into the offense and Rivers is mixing-and-matching them, trying to figure out what lineups best maximize that talent. You can make the case that Boston's third-teamers have kicked away two wins (versus Knicks and Nets). Alas, the Celtics were downright stomped in Philadelphia (albeit without Kevin Garnett) and there's plenty to clean up before the regular season arrives. A defined rotation and longer playing time for the veterans should alleviate much of the preseason concerns thus far, but Boston will almost certainly be a work in progress for much of the early part of the new season.

Q: Why, if the Celtics are such a good defensive team, have they struggled to defend the pick-and-roll? -- Carlos (Quito, Ecuador)

A: Defense at the guard spot has been suspect at times. Some of that is new faces getting comfortable (or veterans learning to work with the newcomers), but even Rondo admitted there's simply room for improvement (which we saw Thursday). Garnett has played sparingly this preseason and one surefire way to improve team defense is having him on the floor more often. The Celtics will tighten up their defense; the more pressing issues at the moment are familiar woes such as defensive rebounding and lack of free throw attempts.

Q: Do you see Jared Sullinger becoming the next star of the Celtics franchise after Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce retire, especially because of the mentoring that KG could provide him with? -- Josh (Boston, Mass.)

A: Sullinger Hype Machine Alert (SHMA)! So far this preseason, fans are ready to put Sullinger in the (1) starting lineup, (2) rookie of the year conversation, and (3) Hall of Fame. Slow your roll. There's a lot to be excited about with Sullinger and it's clear he's going to have a real impact on the 2012-13 team -- no small feat for a rookie in Rivers' system -- but let's see how it plays out before dubbing him the next face of the franchise. The ability to develop a homegrown star (as the Celtics did with Rondo) would certainly aid this team as it transitions out of the Big Three era down the road, but it's too early to tell exactly what Sullinger's ceiling is; the hype machine suggests it's pretty high.

Q: After watching Andray Blatche torch Sullinger -- among others -- it bears the question of why the Celtics didn't pick him up? Yes, he is a head case, but also very talented and still young enough to improve. Especially for the minimum, he seemed to be a low-risk, high-reward player. Quite possible that getting into a winning system with Rivers and veteran leaders, it could have helped him blossom. Given that his ceiling is infinitely higher than Chris Wilcox or Jason Collins, it seems Danny should have brought him in given the potential. -- John (Las Vegas, Nev.)

Chris Wilcox
Is it too early to consider Chris Wilcox trade bait?

A: Given their veteran nucleus, the Celtics can sometimes look past a reputation if they see potential in a player (say, someone such as Delonte West). But other times it's simply not worth the headaches. Blatche played well Tuesday, but can he do that consistently, especially on short minutes, all while avoiding the issues that dogged him in Washington? The Celtics are rolling the dice a bit with Darko Milicic, but probably believe he's less likely to be a nuisance than someone such as Blatche.

Q: Far be it for me to question Danny Ainge, who has seemingly built a very good young team around three solid vets, but releasing Dionte Christmas this early seemed like a bit of a gamble. I felt like they could have released [Rob] Kurtz or [Micah] Downs and given a bit more of a chance to Christmas. I liked his upside. Am I off base here? -- Andy (Reston, Va.)

A: So Andy's question came in before the signing of Barbosa, which probably helped explain Boston's thinking in releasing Christmas. Once it became clear that the Celtics would look outside the organization for another guard, it left the team to pick the player with the most long-term potential to stick on the roster. It is mildly surprising that it was Joseph, if only because Christmas had half his minimum deal guaranteed. The Celtics were willing to eat that due to Joseph's potential. And he gave a glimpse at the end of Thursday's game why the Celtics like him.

Q: What do you think the chances are that Joseph makes the team? He's not getting much playing time in the preseason and some of us Canadians would like your feedback on that. -- Rickey (Toronto, Ontario)

A: Even before his 11-point, 5-rebound outburst in 12 minutes on Thursday, it was the mere potential that set Joseph apart. He's a smart kid with the tools to be a role player, particularly if he improves his defense. He'll probably spend some time in the D-League alongside fellow Syracuse product Fab Melo, but learning now under Paul Pierce and Jeff Green should aid his development.

Q: I'm about two hours east of Cleveland. As you might guess, there isn't much coverage of the Celtics here, let alone televised games. I'm not real tech-savvy, but I am thinking there has to be a way to watch their games -- maybe even some preseason -- online. Can you confirm that, and let me know how to access them? -- Michael Meadville, Pa.)

A: If you've made it here to the mailbag, I'm thinking you're tech-savvy enough to consider League Pass. Being outside the market, you can watch all of the Celtics games on your cable provider or online for one price. If all else fails, there's a bunch of national games on ESPN, TNT and NBA TV that can keep you in the C's loop.

Q: What impact do you see Chris Wilcox having this season with the emergence of Jared Sullinger? (Trade bait?) -- Tom (Acton, Mass.)

A: Wilcox has to get himself ready, physically, first. As Rivers noted even before the start of camp, Wilcox underwent surgery nearly four months after Jeff Green, so we should all remember that he's a bit further behind in his recovery. Wilcox admitted that he rushed himself a bit to be ready for camp and, having battled some back spasms, he's now focused on getting his conditioning and strength where it needs to be in order to stay on the floor. When healthy, Wilcox can help this team as a forward or center who can rebound and run the floor with Rondo. Boston will find minutes for him when he can contribute.

Q: How do you feel about the Jeff Green-James Worthy comparison? Is the comparison actually fair? How would you say Green measures up to Worthy, skill-wise? Could we have a potential James Worthy coming off the bench? -- Michael (Charlottesville, Va.)

A: Is this the new thing each year: Compare a current Celtics player to a Hall of Famer? Last year we had Greg Stiemsma with the shot-blocking ability of Bill Russell, and now the Green-Worthy comparisons. Here's what I think Brian Scalabrine was trying to get at: Green and Worthy have similar body types and abilities. I don't think he was trying to put Green on the same level as "Big Game" James. Green has the ability to be an impact player this season and has been maybe the standout of the preseason, but any comparisons may be setting the bar too high for a player that is still looking to meet the lofty expectations he's carried throughout his career.

Q: I think with KG re-signing with the Celtics, he seems like a shoe-in to have his number hanging in the rafters some day. My question to you is about Ray Allen. Do you think he did enough in his five years here to get his number retired? Do you think he burned too many bridges by going to Miami to even be considered? -- Colton (Charleston, W.Va.)

A: As hurt as the feelings are at the moment, those bridges Allen crossed on his way out of town are probably not burned beyond repair. Time will heal some of the wounds of signing with a rival (particularly if Boston goes further than the Heat this season). But, for all the great moments Allen had here, including winning a title with the 2008 squad and becoming the NBA's all-time 3-point king last season, I just don't think it's enough to earn a spot in the rafters. Maybe the bar is set too high by those already up there on this tradition-rich team, but Allen's five years here will ultimately be just a small portion of his NBA resume.