To preview the Mavericks - Celtics game on Monday night, we've brought in Brendan O'Hare, part of a huge team of writers covering Boston for CelticsBlog, one of the largest and most well-regarded sites in the NBA blogosphere.
1) What are your realistic expectations for the Celtics this season? Is there any chance they put together a run in 2012 like they did in 2010?
Well, if I'm going to heed the warning of our fearless general manager Danny Ainge, then my expectations are going to be low. Now, when I say "low", I mean I don't see the Celtics going anywhere past the second round. They'll make the playoffs for sure (the 8-to-9 seeding drop-off is pretty dramatic this season in the East), and have the vague potential to possibly string together a first round victory as long as the Big 3 manage to stay one level above comatose. I don't think they have any real chance at putting together a playoff "run", especially after the fatigue-induced disaster that was last year's playoffs. I tend to presume the worst will happen.
2) How has the lockout-compressed season affected Boston's older players? Dirk is just finally getting his legs under him in late February.
According to Doc Rivers, the beginning of the season was hampered by the fact that the team was mostly out-of-shape, which is a horrible thing to announce about one of the league's older teams. This became obvious in the beginning of the season, when the Celtics would regularly fade away in the fourth quarter. Kevin Garnett has looked lethargic this season, which is either a testament to his poor conditioning or the fact that he's a 16-year power forward who rarely enters the paint anymore. Ray Allen is a crazy person when it comes to conditioning, but has held back with an ankle injury. Paul Pierce's numbers have decreased since January -- but whether that's lockout induced, a slump, or age gaining ground is hard to say. Going into the season, one had to think the elderly Celtics would benefit from a shortened schedule, but that really hasn't been the case. It seems age wasn't locked out.
3) Next year, Allen and Garnett are free agents and Boston only has $35 million committed in salaries. What's the plan going forward?
If either of them want to come back, they obviously can't expect to paid at the same gargantuan levels they previously were. The drafting of JaJuan Johnson in the previous draft seems to signify the Celtics are looking for KG's heir apparent, or at least someone who can contribute in the post. The Celtics are regularly getting out-rebounded this season, so it wouldn't be a major blow to lose Garnett who isn't helping the Celtics in that regard. I hate to curb-stomp KG like this (mainly because I'm afraid he'll hurt me), but his numbers have been dramatically decreasing, and it doesn't make sense for the Celtics to continue to pay him as much as they do. As for Allen, he seems to want to stay in Boston, and the fact that his numbers haven't tumbled and he keeps himself in tremendous shape seem to help him out. But if Allen doesn't realize his new role -- that of a veteran sharpshooter -- and believes he should be paid like someone much younger and with a wider variety of skills, he definitely will not be returning. The X-factor in all this is Danny Ainge, who is prone to doing anything with little warning. He terrifies me almost as much as KG.
4) Dallas fans saw Jason Kidd add a three-point shot late in his career. Is that something Rajon Rondo could add to his game and, more importantly, why hasn't he already?
Rondo first has to master the mid-range jumper before he goes back any further. He's improved somewhat this season, raising his 10-15 foot field goal percentage from 31.3% in 2010-11 to 40% this season, and slightly raising his 16-23 foot percentage from 41% to 42%. It's an improvement, but it's still nothing to wave a victory flag about. Before he drops behind the three-point line, he has to be able to consistently hit open jumpers, something he struggles with and makes me pull out my hair because it seems so easy. Rondo hypothetically could add a 3-pointer to his game, but would need to engage in the type of Malcolm Gladwell, "10,000 hours of practice" type thing to ever have a chance. The reason the Rondo hasn't added that to his offensive repertoire is because he's never really needed to. He's been able to get away with passing up that shot, because he's never been the first option on offense. However, Rondo has seen his offensive workload increase this season, and the fact that he's unable to hit jumpers and threes is really distressing. I'm sure Rondo practices those shots constantly, but he needs to realize next offseason that it needs to be a primary concern as he inches closer to being the number one scoring option.
5) I was a big fan of Avery Bradley in his one season at Texas. Now that he's part of Boston's rotation, what do you think his ceiling in the NBA is?
Avery Bradley fascinates me tremendously. He's not all that gifted offensively, but is one of the more stifling defenders to come into the league in years. He was the subject of a brief New York Times piece, which is completely insane to think about if you consider his offensive struggles. Jeff Clark (the CelticsBlog CEO) said it best a few weeks ago when he said Bradley could become a non-crazy Tony Allen, which is certainly a compliment. Allen is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, which Bradley has a chance to become. Granted, Bradley would have to improve his offensive game in order to not be a niche player who can't be counted on for more than a few occasional minutes because he's a liability, but if he does that, I don't see why there's any reason that Bradley can become someone like Tony Allen. You know, without the insane Twitter feed and all that Allen goodness.