As I read message boards, I still see a lot of negativism and gloom and doom because we missed out on the first 2 picks. I know that sometimes I sound like a broken record, but there are reasons for optimism in this draft and for the Celtics in general.
1. Paul Pierce. Paul Pierce was selected with the 10th pick in the 1998 draft and he has been a perennial All-Star who is averaging 23.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game for his career. He is still in his prime and wants to win. Yesterday's Herald reported that Al is going out to LA to work out with Pierce. Pierce is ready to do whatever it takes to win this next season. This will bode well for next season as Pierce and Al develop even better chemistry and get into the best shape of their respective careers.
2. Al Jefferson. This brings me to Al Jefferson who was selected with the 15th pick in the 2004 draft. His first 2 seasons were derailed by injuries but last season he emerged as a reliable double-double threat. He finished the year averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds per game. This morning's Herald confirms that if he had gone to college and came out for this year's draft, he would be challenging Durant for the #2 spot in the draft. Al has been working hard already this season and will come back even better for training camp. We can only imagine how good Al is going to be. I expect him to be an All Star either this season or next.
3. Rajon Rondo. Rajon Rondo proved at the end of last season that he is a legitimate NBA point guard. He was able to find the open man, penetrate to the basket almost at will, and in spite of everyone saying he couldn't shoot, he was shooting over 50% for his last 20+ games. Rondo has great court vision and ran the team with poise over the last part of the season when Doc finally gave him a chance to start. This season I expect him to be even better. He is one of the players who has been in the gym working hard on his weaknesses and working to be the best player he can be.
4. Tony Allen. Tony's first 2 seasons were plagued with injury and legal problems, but we could see a glimmer of hope when he was able to play. In Pierce's absence last season, Allen had a coming out party that was similar to Jefferson's He was scoring 20+ points per game and at the same time showing the lock down defense that makes him so valuable to this team. Then, injury hit once again when he tore his ACL. His rehab is ahead of schedule and I expect Tony to come back this season ready get back to where he left off last season. I think the encouragement of Leon Powe who had been through the same thing not once, not twice, but 3 times will help Tony to come back with confidence so that he can get to the level he was at before.
5. Wally Szczerbiak. Wally has been injured since he came here. His first season it was his knee and last season, he had one ankle injury after another. He is due for a healthy season this year. He is a former All Star and has averaged 15.6 points per game for his career. When healthy, he is a pure shooter and can give us an offensive threat and a veteran presence. He wants to win and plays hard and will make a big difference if healthy this season.
6. Ryan Gomes. Gomes expanded his shooting range last season to include three-pointers and emerged as a defensive presence on the team, often being given the task of guarding the other team's better players. He is another hard worker who will come back even better next season.
7. Delonte West. Delonte is the heart of this team. He plays hard and his desire to win is infectious. He can play both guard positions and can shoot, dish, defend, and rebound. Delonte's goal was to work on his right hand so he could go left or right and that will make him even harder to defend.
8. Kendrick Perkins. Perk is one of the hardest workers on the team. Yesterday's Herald had this to say about Perk.
There isn’t a more maniacal worker on this team than Perkins. “We had the last game of the season on a Wednesday, a team meeting that Thursday, he took off that Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and was back in the gym that Monday,” said Walter Norton, one of the Celtics’ two strength and conditioning coaches.
His first season, he got all of 19 minutes playing time all season. His second season he didn't get much more playing time and then he was hampered by the shoulder injury. Last season he played in pain all season and the plantar fasciitis limited his mobility and ability to play. The best news I have heard is that he is no longer in pain and working hard on his conditioning and on his game. I expect a summer with Clifford Ray is going to pay dividends next season. Perk is going to break out next season, just as Al did this past season.
9. Gerald Green has great potential but as yet has only been able to touch the very tip of all that he is capable of. The question that has to be answered is whether he can harness all that potential and become a consistent contributor. Green may end up as a trade chip or he may continue his learning curve this next season.
10. We have the #5 draft pick. Danny has been able to find talent with the 15th, 18th, 21st, 24th, 25th, 49th, and 50th picks. Danny should be able to find an impact player in a deep draft with the 5th pick. Brewer, Noah, Jianlin, Horford, Hawes, Green, Wright, and Conley are all possibilities and all have positives that will allow them to come in and help right away. Ainge has proved that he is a very good talent evaluator in the draft and I expect a very, very good player coming back to the team from this draft. This is a very deep draft and similar to the draft where LeBron James was the star, Chris Bosh went fourth and Dwayne Wade went fifth. This is a deep draft and there are several strong players who will become All Star level players. I trust that Danny will pick one of them who will fit our system and make an impact on the team right away.
11. We have a core of very talented players and we also have trade chips that could bring back a veteran all star player. There are many trade opportunities from the possibility of trading down in the draft such as the rumor of bringing Joe Johnson back with the 11th pick for the 5th pick. Or there is a possibility of a trade with several other teams interested in the 5th pick where we could trade down and still get a solid player along with a good veteran. The possibilities are many and this is going to be a very exciting off season.
12. The Eastern Conference is still weak. We didn't get Oden or Durant, but then again neither did any other Eastern Conference team. With Miami and Detroit aging, the conference will be wide open for the younger teams coming up, including the Celtics, Bulls, Raptors, and Cavs. What's more, the Atlantic Division is still a very weak division, giving us a good chance to win our division.
13. The David Blatt rumors. Rumors have surfaced in Italian and Israeli papers, on the internet, and in the Boston papers that David Blatt is considering a move to the Celtics. Along with that, we get the news that Doc's extension is far from the $5 million vote of confidence we first thought. He only gets between $1million and $2 million and the rest is in incentives. With David Blatt in place on the team, it would be a lot easier to let Doc go if we faulter out of the blocks and let Blatt take over the reins. I know it is all rumor at this point, but it does give hope.
14. Celtics Fans. Celtics fans have to be the greatest fans in the world. There are more Celtics blogs and message boards than for any other team in the NBA. Celtics fans are passionate, knowledgeable and loyal. Some have been fans of the team since the Russell years, others have been fans since the Bird years, and still others are recent additions. But, all are good people. I am proud to be a member of this great group of fans. We have suffered together and we will rejoice together again. I am sure of it.
So, fellow Celtics fans, all is not lost. Pull up a chair and grab a glass of koolaid and watch the fun this off season. I have a very good feeling about this team and next season the Celtics will surprise a lot of people. Jump on the bandwagon while there is still room.
Yeah, that's what I'm talking about! Our only enemy next season will be injuries...with all players healhy, we should win division but imagine what if Al got injured for half of season? Yes, and Rajon? OK, and our 5th pick/trade? Well, The Truth? See this seasons stats and you'll know.