Are the Celtics better without Rondo?

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Are the Celtics better without Rondo?

I dont receive a ton of reader feedback here at CSNNE, and truth be told, thats fine. I get it.

As a reader myself, its very rare that Im ever compelled to click ye olde E-mail the Author tab. So rare, that I can still vividly remember the last time it happened, despite the fact that its been more than five years.

It was May of 2007, and randomly enough, my e-mail was in response to a column by Jackie MacMullan about the now-legendary NBA playoff series between the Golden State Warriors and the Dallas Mavericks. You know the one Im talking about. Its one of the most captivating first round bouts of all time. That brief moment in history when Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson morphed into Americas Sweethearts. Anyway, after watching the Warriors emerge in Game 5 and take an unfathomable 3-1 series lead, MacMullan filed a column entitled An exciting game, and she wants in.

I have basketball envy, MacMullan wrote. Can't help it. I was watching Dallas implode against Golden State the other night and was transfixed by the energy pulsating from Oracle Arena, where the Warriors play. Golden State fans hadn't witnessed a playoff game in 13 years, and the place was positively trembling with excitement.

"You know, the way this town used to be."

As someone who watched and loved every second of that series, and who had also just lived through the most depressing Celtics season in a long, long time, these words struck a chord, leading (according to my gmail archives) to the following response:

Jackie: Thank you so much for writing about this series. Its truly amazing whats happening in Golden State. What Id give for even an ounce of that drama and excitement to return to Boston. Its been so long.

Naturally, she wrote back immediately to praise my unique perspective and offer me a job at the Globe. Of course, I respectively declined. But thats beside the point. In fact, the only reason I brought this up was to say that while my inbox isnt necessarily flooded with reader e-mails, theres a healthy helping, and of those, some of the best come from a reader named Dennis.

He lives in New York, is an enormous Celtics fan, and sent me the following note in the wake of Rajon Rondos torn ACL:

Now Danny and Doc will be able to see if Rondo is a big part of the problem, or if he's a big part of the future.

I thought that summed everything up nicely. Everything being the current mindset of folks here in Boston, and the foundation of a narrative thats set to explode as early as tonight, when the Cs host the Kings at TD Garden.

To take it a step further, its an issue that really boils down to one basic question:

Are the Celtics better without Rajon Rondo?

But in the media, you know that it will be simplified even more. The stars are aligned for all sorts of lazy assumptions. If the Celtics play well regardless of any other mitigating factors it will serve as undeniable proof that Boston is better without Rondo and should trade him immediately for anything they can get. An addition by subtraction kind of deal.

If the Celtics struggle? There will be nothing to say, but Im sure it will still end up being Rondos fault. Thats just the way it goes around here.

You know, Rondo might be the only player in NBA history to never have an off night.

Seriously, can you remember the last time you walked away from a Celtics game feeling indifferent about Rondos performance? When you shrugged your shoulders and just said, Eh, whatever. Everyones entitled to a bad game. I cant. With Rondo, its always and only one of two things. Either he played well or he wasnt trying. Theres very little in between.

In many ways, this mentalitys insanely unfair. After all, questioning a players effort is just about the lowest form of insult in professional sports. At the very least, its a close second behind telling your opponent that his wife tastes like an above average breakfast cereal. Yet thats the criticism thats dropped on Rondo after every subpar performance.

He just wasnt trying.

On the other hand, a lot of that criticism is justified. Even Rondos biggest supporters have to concede that hes earned this reputation and that at this very moment, the reputation and that negative vibe is stronger than ever.

Lets face it: This was supposed to be Rondos year. The year that he made the leap, grabbed the torch and every other clich. And thanks to his performance in last years playoffs, combined with all the hype that surrounded him this offseason, many folks in Boston gave him the benefit of the doubt. They ignored years of evidence that suggested that he was perhaps unfit to lead an NBA contender, and suspended belief in the name of positive thinking.

And Rondo let them down. Thats the truth. As the shock and emotion of his injury starts to fade, thats the reality were left with. That Rondos first season in spotlight, something that was built up and fawned for countless hours, days and weeks this offseason, was a train wreck. A failure. He just wasnt ready.

Now, is it possible that he would have turned it on down the stretch, and won back all of his detractors?

Forget possible, I say it was likely. I wouldnt be surprised if in the back of his mind, Rondo was always thinking, Nah, were cool. Once the real season starts, Ill takeover. But now hell never get that chance.

And anyway, he was supposed to be passed that. That was certainly the expectation in the Celtics locker room, and he was more than happy to run with it. The way it was presented to the fans and media, Rondo was done riding the regular season coattails of his Hall of Fame teammates. It was time for them to ride his. But in the end, he just wasnt there. Not as much as he needed to be.

If youre going to build around Rajon Rondo, he needs to show up every night, carry the load and set the tone, as opposed to only strutting his stuff when the rest of the countrys watching.

Are the Celtics better without Rajon Rondo?

It depends on which Rajon Rondo youre talking about.

It depends on who Rajon Rondo is.

Are they better without the guy who spent the last three months going through the motions? Looking at the record, its hard to imagine they could be much worse. In fact, all things considered, I think the Celtics will be better over the next few months without Rondo than they were over the last few months with him.

I think this team finally has something to rally around. I think a lot of the pseudo-championship expectations and pressure have been lifted and will lead to greater clarity and a fresh approach. I think two of the most disappointing and inconsistent players over the first half of the season Courtney Lee and Jason Terry will obviously pick up additional playing time, and in the process get comfortable and start looking more like the players everyone expected them to be.

Above all else, I think Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are about to reach down as deep as they possibly can. How much do they have left? Thats obviously the question, but once again, its their time. This is their team. They wont let this season go down the tubes without giving it the fight of their lives.

Will they compete for a title? Very, very, verrrrrry unlikely. And of course, if the team is further decimated by injuries, or just goes belly up, then this whole conversation is moot. But looking at this roster, my moneys on the Celtics finishing above .500 without Rondo. I can even see them winning a first round series. At the very least, I can see them recapturing some of the spirit and character that was lost over the last few months; I think theyll be a more fun team to cheer for. And a lot of that will come down on Rondos head.

At that point, the underlying question will turn into definitive statement.

It wont be, Are the Celtics better without Rondo?

But instead: The Celtics are better without Rondo. Period. Point blank.

Of course in saying that, and believe me, people will, well be ignoring the potential andor existence of Rondos other identity. He used to go by Good Rondo. These days, Id say its more like Great Rondo. For now, hes the guy who only shows up for games that the point guard deems worthy. But when he does show up, theres no denying his dominance. There are few players that anyone rookie, veteran, future Hall of Famer would rather share the court with. As a fan, there are few players who make the game more fun. Is this team better without the Rondo from last years playoffs? Is this Celtics team, without Rondo, good enough to push Miami to the brink?

We still dont know what it will take for Great Rondo to kill Bad Rondo and assume total control of the Rondo persona. And just to be fair, its worth asking if the Celtics have done all they can to put Great Rondo in the best position to succeed.

Its hard to erase the gory memory of that stretch earlier this season when Rondo was starting alongside Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Kevin Garnett and Jason Collins. Thats pretty good for 2005, but in reality, hows Rondo young, athletic, one of the quickest guards in the league and a master in the open floor supposed to excel alongside four guys who struggle to run up-and-down the court? He's not that kind of guy. Not that kind of player. For better or worse.

If the Celtics manage to re-discover themselves over the next few months, the worse aspects of Rondo will most definitely win out. Hell get more criticism for the teams success than the team will get praise. It will be so difficult to ignore the positive changes brought on by his absence, and leave Danny Ainge in company to do some serious soul searching.

Is Rondo a big part of the problem, or a big part of the future?

As with most things Rondo-related, theres not an easy answer, but you have to assume that it will be at least a little clearer by the time the dust settles on the 2013 season. And you better believe that the answer or more, whatever Danny and Doc ultimately decide will go a long way in shaping the short and long-term future of this franchise.

It could make the difference between another string of inspiring playoff appearances and a return to where we were before that. Which is stuck watching the playoffs every year without a rooting interest, and just dying for that long lost excitement.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Celtics' Ceiling-to-Floor profiles: An award-winning summer for Rozier?

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Celtics' Ceiling-to-Floor profiles: An award-winning summer for Rozier?

Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Terry Rozier. For a look at the other profiles, click here.

BOSTON -- Terry Rozier has every reason to feel good about himself after this year's Summer League, where he was clearly the Boston Celtics’ best player. 
 
But what does Summer League success really mean in the grand scheme of things?
 
This isn’t the Olympics, where a good couple of weeks in the summer can lead to sudden endorsement opportunities. And a bad summer, on or off the court, won’t necessarily result in your personal stock taking a Ryan Lochte-like dip, either.
 
For Rozier, the summer has been a continuation of his emergence during the playoffs last season against the Atlanta Hawks, when his numbers were significantly better across the board in comparison to what he did during the regular season.
 
And while his role at this point remains uncertain, there’s a growing sense that what we saw in the summer was more than just Rozier making the most of his opportunity to play. 
 
It was the 6-foot-2 guard playing with the kind of confidence and overall swagger that Boston hopes to see more of in this upcoming season.  
  
The Ceiling for Rozier: Most Improved Player, Sixth Man candidate
 
Rozier never wanted to see teammate Avery Bradley suffer a hamstring injury in Game 1 of Boston’s first-round series with Atlanta last season. But he knows if not for that injury, he wouldn't have played as much as he did, nor would he be viewed as someone who could seriously compete for minutes this season. 
 
That injury afforded Rozier playing time he had not seen in the 39 regular-season games he appeared in, when he averaged 8.0 minutes per contest.
 
In the playoffs, Rozier saw his playing time increase to 19.8 minutes per game, which naturally led to a rise in all of his statistics. 
 
It did more than help the Celtics compete with the Hawks. It provided a huge confidence boost for Rozier this past summer and will do the same going into training camp, where he believes he will be better-equipped to compete for playing time. 
 
Rozier already plays above-average defense for the Celtics. The big question mark for him has been whether he can knock down shots consistently. It certainly didn’t look that way during the regular season, when he shot 22.2 percent on 3s and just 27.4 percent from the field. 
 
Although the sample size is much smaller, he was able to shoot 39.1 percent from the field and 36.4 percent on 3s in the five playoff games he appeared in this past spring. 
 
So both Rozier and the Celtics feel good about the fact that his game in key areas such as shooting and assists are trending in the right direction. 
 
And if that continues he'll solidify a spot high atop the second unit, which could translate into him having a shot at garnering some Most Improved Player recognition.
 
The Floor for Rozier: Active roster
 
While his minutes may not improve significantly from a year ago, Rozier will likely enter training camp with a spot in Boston’s regular playing rotation.
 
On most nights the Celtics are likely to play at least four guards: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Rozier. 
 
Look for him to get most of the minutes left behind by Evan Turner, who was signed by Portland to a four-year, $70 million deal this summer. 
 
Of course, Rozier’s minutes will be impacted in some way by how those ahead of him perform. But Rozier can’t consume himself with such thoughts. 
 
He has to force the Celtics’ coaches to keep him on the floor, And the only way to do that is to play well and contribute to the team’s success in a meaningful way. 
 
While his shooting has improved, Rozier is at his best when he lets his defense dictate his play offensively. 
 
In the playoffs last season, Rozier averaged 1.2 fast-break points per game, which was fifth on the team. 
 
Just to put that in perspective, Rozier averaged 19.8 minutes in the postseason. The four players ahead of him (Bradley, Thomas, Turner and Smart) each averaged more than 32 minutes of court time per night.
 
While it’s too soon to tell where Rozier fits into the rotation this season, his play this summer and overall body of work dating back to the playoffs last season makes it difficult to envision him not being on the active roster for most, if not all, of this season.

A make-or-break season ahead for Kelly Olynyk?

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A make-or-break season ahead for Kelly Olynyk?

Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Kelly Olynyk. For a look at the other profiles, click here.

BOSTON – The Celtics went into the playoffs last season well short of being at full strength. No player exemplified this more than Kelly Olynyk, a non-factor in postseason due to a right shoulder injury that required surgery in May.

He comes into this season facing a much stiffer route to playing time than his previous four seasons. While Jared Sullinger (Toronto) is gone, Boston brings in four-time All-Star Al Horford, in addition to returners Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller and second-year big man Jordan Mickey, who is in line for a more expanded role this season.

Throw in the fact that Olynyk and the Celtics can reach terms on an extension before the start of the season (an unlikely occurrence because frankly it’s to both Boston and Olynyk’s benefit for him to be a restricted free agent next summer), and it’s clear just how important this season is to all involved.

Here’s a look at Olynyk’s ceiling as well as the floor for his game heading into this season.

The ceiling for Olynyk: Starter, Most Improved Player candidate

Kelly Olynyk has proven himself to be a much better contributor coming off the bench as opposed to starting. But no one will be shocked if Olynyk can play his way into a spot with the first group.  A 7-footer with legit 3-point range, Olynyk has shown flashes throughout his career of being a major problem for opponents because of his stretch-big skills.

And when teams have been a bit too eager in closing out or failed to box him out on a rebound, Olynyk has shown us all that “the bounce is real.”

He already ranks among the best big-man shooters all-time and needs just one made 3-pointer to join Dirk Nowitzki (1,701) and Andrea Bargnani (627) as the only 7-footers in league history with 500 or more made 3s.

In addition to making lots of 3s, Olynyk does it at a fairly efficient rate which can be seen in him shooting 40.5 percent on 3s last season which was tops among all NBA centers and made him one of just 20 players in the NBA to shoot at least 40 percent on 3s.

Although Olynyk’s defense has been considered among his biggest weaknesses, his defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions on the floor) of 97.7 was tops among Celtics players who logged at least 20 minutes per game last season.

If he can build off that, as well as continue to make teams pay with his long-range shooting, Olynyk could be one of the breakout performers this season for the Celtics and find himself on the short list of the NBA’s most improved players.

The bigger issue with Olynyk centers around his struggles holding position in the post as a rebounder. Because he’s a stretch big, you know he’s not going to haul in a ton of boards for you.

But he has to be better than last season when he grabbed 4.1 rebounds, which continued what has been a career regression in this area.

After averaging 5.2 boards as a rookie, he slipped to 4.7 in his second season and averaged a career-low 4.1 last season.

The floor for Olynyk: Active roster

Talk to anyone within the Celtics organization and they will not hesitate to point out the skillset that Olynyk has and how important he could potentially be for this team going forward.

Still, that’s part of the problem.

Olynyk has shown promise to be more than just a player in the rotation. He has the kind of skills that if he were to deliver them with more consistency, he would immediately become one of the team’s standout performers which would make Boston a much, much tougher team to defend.

But his game has been one marred by injuries and inconsistent play which, as you might expect, go hand-in-hand.

Even with what has been an uneven career, Olynyk has still managed to be a double-digit scorer in each of the past two seasons.

And his net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) of +5.2 is tops among players logging 20 or more minutes, too.

But even if he doesn’t elevate his game defensively or become a more reliable rebounder for Boston, Olynyk won’t be suiting up in street clothes as a healthy scratch anytime soon.

Olynyk has too much talent, and when you look at this Celtics roster, he fits a clear and well-defined need.

Pace and space remain keys to what Brad Stevens is trying to do with the Celtics and Olynyk’s strengths are an ideal addition.

But as we have seen with Stevens in the past, he’s not afraid to take a player out of the starting lineup or regular rotation, and bench them from time to time.

Just as it won’t surprise anyone to see Olynyk play a more prominent role potentially as a starter, the same is true if he struggles and finds himself racking up a few DNP-CDs (did not play- coaches decision) either.

But Olynyk has too much talent to fall too far off the Celtics’ radar, especially when you look at this roster and realize there’s no other player quite like him in terms of combining size, skill and perimeter shooting.

 

 

 

 

 

     

Could the '80s Celtics have won eight championships?

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Could the '80s Celtics have won eight championships?

In this episode, we sit-down with one of the best basketball writers in the country, Jackie MacMullan. Jackie covered the Celtics for the Boston Globe for several years, and collaborated with Larry Bird on his auto-biography. 

Jim Aberdale, producer of CSN’s documentary on the ‘86 Celtics, talks with MacMullan about the bitter rivalry between the Celtics and Lakers during the 80’s, how the tragedies the Celtics faced following the ‘86 title were difficult to believe, and covering the Golden Age of the NBA.