That's all for Sullinger

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That's all for Sullinger

Earlier this week, we learned that Jared Sullinger had been passed over for a spot in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend. And upon hearing the news, the city of Boston's general reaction fell somewhere in the middle of anger and shock.

No Sully? NO SULLY?!

And then everyone got over it. After all, we were talking about the Rising Stars Challenge, a game with no meaning whatsoever, and one that we'll all declare a joke after five minutes of fast break dunks. Still, it hurt to see Sullinger get snubbed (he should have made it over Tyler Zeller). It was the principle. It was the knowledge that if anyone on this Celtics team deserved any recognition, it was the rookie out of Ohio State. He'd worked so hard. He was so ready and willing to learn. He was a sponge. He was improving by the game, and already more than capable of holding his own. He had the NBA's most devastating ass since Rick Mahorn.

Even if it didn't really matter, Sullinger deserved a spot in that game

And I just assumed he'd get there:

"But here's the good news," I wrote on Wednesday. "He'll probably make it anyways. I mean what would All-Star weekend be without at least a handful of players dropping out with injuries? We already saw it with Rondo, and it won't end there. Chances are that at least one of these nine rookies will turn an ankle or bang a knee over the next two and a half weeks."

Blah.

At this point, we'd all more than welcome a sprained ankle or bruised knee for Sullinger. We'd prefer to hear that he's going to miss a few weeks after being attacked by a pack of wild dogs. Anything but his back. Anything but the only reason that a player with his talent dropped so far in the draft. Anything but the worst-case scenario.

But that's where we are. Exactly one week after Rajon Rondo became the first player in NBA history to tear his ACL without anyone noticing, we learn courtesy of the arch angel of basketball death that Sullinger needs surgery on his once-again ailing back, and will miss the rest of the year.

What's this mean for the Celtics?

Well, Brandon Bass will likely see a bump in minutes. Jeff Green might have to play a little more power forward. They've called up Fab Melo, so maybe he'll see some run? If there was ever a time to bite the bullet and extend an offer to Kenyon Martin, you'd have to think that time is now. (UPDATE: I somehow forgot to mention Chris Wilcox. Then again, Doc has forgotten about him a bunch this year, too.)

But for right now, concerns over who will fill in for Sullinger pale in comparison to the emotions surrounding the fact that they need a fill-in at all. That it's his back. That it's going to be a long time before he is back. And the other questions: Does it stop here? Is one surgery and eight months on the shelf the only thing standing between Sullinger and a happy, healthy career? Or is this just the beginning?

It's too early to speculate. Especially since, at this very moment, optimism is hard to come by, and common sense suggests a future that no one wants to accept. Either way, life was a whole lot easier when a meaningless Rising Stars snub actually meant something.

And when all those teams who passed on Sullinger were still overly cautious suckers.

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

Celtics expectations at a new high in Stevens' fourth season

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Celtics expectations at a new high in Stevens' fourth season

WALTHAM, Mass. – As Amir Johnson made his way to the podium during the Boston Celtics’ Media day on Monday, he didn’t waste any time addressing the biggest change from last season this time.

For the first time under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics have  expectations – high expectations – for the upcoming season.

“A lot of expectations I hear around here,” Johnson said. “'Celtics got this,'  'Celtics got that!' Talk to me!”

Well he’s right.

The expectations are at a level we have not seen under Stevens, and its players like Johnson and his play that have helped fuel such speculation.

Vegas lists Boston as one of a handful of teams whose over/under win total is over 50. 

Last season the Celtics were 48-34 which was tied for the third-best record in the East.

Arguably Boston’s greatest strength last season was their depth; the kind that seemed to have a serviceable player at every position times two (or in some instances).

While Boston’s depth this season isn’t any greater in terms of quantity, the quality of Boston’s starters and backups is indeed of a higher grade which is why defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers are the only team at this point that’s without question better than the Celtics.

Being a team that’s expected to be among the top teams in the East is new for this crew. In fact, you have to go back to the days when Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were around to find another time when Boston was thought of so highly in the Eastern Conference.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is well aware that there’s an increased level of external support that believes his team will be among the top squads in the NBA.

But he also recognizes his team’s best path towards success is to remain true to who they are and what they do best.

When asked what success for the Celtics will look like this season, Stevens was succinct in his response.

“My expectations never change,” Stevens said. “It’s all about getting better tomorrow, making sure we’re as good as we can be. That’s’ a very simple, boring process but that’s the way that I go about it. The results take care of themselves.”

After winning just 25 games during his rookie season, Stevens-coached teams in Boston have increased their win total each season.

So the growth both he and the Celtics as well as their fan base are seeking, has been pretty obvious.

And while most of the players tried to be as non-committal as they could on what would a successful season look like, Jae Crowder left nothing to the imagination when he laid out what a good season in his eyes looked like.

“Our first goal was to make it to the playoffs,” Crowder said. “We’re beyond that point now.

Crowder added, “Success is home court advantage going into the playoffs, getting past the first round. Two years in a row we got the same result. We have to progress from that. That’s what we’re shooting for.”

Being one of the hunted will be a new experience for the Celtics, one that Danny Ainge is excited about this season.

“We expect our team to be better,” said Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations. “We expect each of the players to be better. We have a lot of guys that are not yet in their prime that are moving in that direction. I do expect it to be better.

Ainge added, “You can have some goals with numbers but overall there’s a lot of factors in determining success. We want to be better at the end of the year than we are at the beginning of the year, however good we are at the beginning of the year. We want to compete against the best teams.”