Celtics Bench Could Propel Them Back to the Finals in 2011
The Boston Celtics are close to bringing back former Celtic Delonte West on a non-guaranteed contract that will invite the guard to training camp with a good shot at making the team. After re-signing Paul Pierce to a deal that will probably keep him in green for the rest of his career, the Celtics have been aggressive in bolstering their already sturdy bench over the past few months. Doc Rivers made a sales pitch that convinced Shaquille O’Neal to join the team and Boston signed center Jermaine O’Neal at the beginning of the off-season to stand in for Kendrick Perkins while he recovers from major knee surgery.
Danny Ainge, the Celtics director of basketball operations, has taken the perfect approach with his aging roster this off-season. When Pierce opted out of the final year of his deal, there were two choices facing Ainge: let the captain walk and start a youth-infused rebuilding project, or put some new pieces around the Big Three of Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen and give it another shot. He settled on the latter, and on paper it would appear he’s done a good job of tackling the task.
The Celtics looked like an unmotivated squad that was too old to keep up with the rest of the NBA throughout much of the regular season last year. Unbeknownst to the casual fan, Rivers was saving his veterans for a legitimate postseason run. I’m not saying that will be the approach again in 2011, but Ainge has brought in the right pieces if Doc chooses to follow the same mold.
When Perkins returns, the Celtics could have the deepest bench in basketball. They have quality big men with plenty of experience in Glen Davis, Jermaine O’Neal, and Shaq. They have very capable backcourt reserves in Nate Robinson (who Ainge resigned this off-season), Marquise Daniels, and Delonte West. Tony Allen was a big part of the Celtics’ postseason success in 2010 and contributed quality minutes down the stretch, but there’s no reason to think West can’t be that role player for the Green in 2011.
With the Big Three all in their mid-30s and Jermaine O’Neal and Shaq having a ton of miles on their big frames, the key to the season will naturally be health. Is it reasonable to believe that all of these 30-somethings can remain healthy over the course of an 82-game season? I don’t need to answer that. But the point is Ainge has put his team in a place where it will be able to withstand plenty of bumps and bruises. If someone goes down, there will be formidable back-ups chomping at the bit. The Celtics are old, but they were old last year and came within one win of a second championship in three years. With a much-improved bench in 2011, they just might find themselves in the same position come next summer.