Celtics' roster shuffle yields familiar result

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Celtics' roster shuffle yields familiar result

BOSTON Well before the Boston Celtics were struggling, head coach Doc Rivers was giving some thought to putting Brandon Bass in the starting lineup ahead of Jermaine O'Neal.

"I've been thinking about it since camp," Rivers said.

Rivers trotted out his new lineup on Friday, and the result was an all too familiar loss as the Chicago Bulls held on for an 88-79 win.

The C's (4-6) have now lost three in a row, and they're off to the worst 10-game start to the season since 2006 - the year before the Big Three joined forces.

"We're still young in the season," said Boston's Ray Allen. "We know what's in us, and we know what this team is capable of. The adversity has struck us early, but we're all in."

Part of being "all in" involves adapting to changes that Rivers believes will help the C's moving forward.

One of those changes was on full display Friday night as Bass made his first start with the Green team.

He had 10 points and nine rebounds while playing just under 33 minutes.

Rivers hasn't decided on whether he'll keep Bass in the starting lineup Saturday against Indiana, but did say that it's a lineup that you'll see "70 percent" of the time.

"There will be nights where I think size will be a factor," said Rivers, who added that Saturday's game against the Pacers is one of those games. "I'm not sure which way we'll go. I just sat JO and Brandon down and I said, 'you two will be our starters.' And that there will be nights when one starts, and there will be nights when the other starts."

Bass' play certainly is a major factor in Rivers' decision to play him at times with the first unit.

But as Rivers points out, it also gives the Celtics more depth in the middle.

"I thought it gave us more versatility and I thought our rotations were easier when you bring Jermaine in for Kevin (Garnett) you stay big," Rivers said. "And what I'm trying to do is always have Jermaine or Kevin - just size on the floor more."

Garnett recognizes, understands and appreciates Rivers' willingness to do whatever he has to do in order to get the C's on track this season.

"Doc's going to play with different lineups, do what he feels is best for the team," Garnett said. "And we're going to support whatever that is. Anybody that's going to be part of that transition, will understand what it is. We're all in here, trying to figure this thing out together.

Garnett added, "these are dog days; these are the days where you're going to really see who is with you, who is fair-weather, but we're going to continue to work. Whatever Doc feels is best for the team, we're going to support either way."

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass-rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.