2013-2014 NBA Preview: Atlantic Division

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Oct 7, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens with forward Kris Humphries (43) and forward Gerald Wallace (45) on the sideline against the Toronto Raptors in the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics (31-51)

It sounds funny to say, but I think that I’m actually high on the Celtics despite a 31-win projection. Many people have them in the absolute doldrums of the Eastern Conference, and the fact that I have them as a semi-competitive outfit is a testament to how I feel about their new head coach Brad Stevens. I’m all-in on Stevens for the future as a creative, stat-driven coach who “gets it”, and once he has talent, they’ll be just fine.

As for the roster, it’s ugly in Boston. Their one legitimate star, Rajon Rondo, is recovering from an ACL tear, and no one knows when he’ll be back. I really enjoy Rondo’s work and think he’s a borderline elite player (11+ assists per game in 3 straight seasons), but he’s on the trading block even when healthy thanks to a “unique” game and a less-than-ideal temperament, and it’s hard to build around a player like Rondo. This projection has some built-in confidence in Rondo playing more than half the year, but that’s a guess.

The next tier of Boston’s roster is solid, but thoroughly unspectacular. Jeff Green is the classic hit-or-miss player who can look like a world-beater on one night and be completely lost on the next, but he’s a valuable piece. For reference, Green averaged more than 20 points per game in the playoffs (albeit in 6 games), but only managed a 13-point/4-rebound average in the regular season with a league-average PER of 15.01. He’s a maddening player to root for, but all reports are that he’s a good guy who could produce more if put in the right spot.

Gerald Wallace, Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass, and Marshon Brooks fill out the remainder of the 2-through-4 spots for Boston, and each guy has positives. Wallace and Lee are quality defensive options (at minimum), and while Wallace fell off a cliff last year in Brooklyn, I think he sustains a bit of a bounceback to what resembles his former, disruptive self. Bass and Brooks are all-offense guys, but this is a team who will need scoring and they could provide it.

Rookie Kelly Olynyk is garnering all kinds of hype in the preseason after coming out of Gonzaga, but it isn’t a great sign to have Olynyk and Kris Humphries as your only options on the interior. I famously opined for the Hawks to target Olynyk in the draft, so I’m a fan, but the expectations are becoming unreasonable, and Boston fans should have their guard up a bit.

This isn’t your dad’s (or older brother’s) Boston Celtics team, and the talent simply isn’t there. There will be flashes, mostly when Rondo is healthy, where they are very competitive, but I can’t see a playoff run.