1. Which Celtic player will lead the team in scoring this season?
Cameron Rahbar: Ideally, Jared Sullinger will return to the 2014-2015 campaign in better shape and with a more consistent outside shot. He already averaged 13.3 points in 74 games last season with 42.7% shooting and a weak 26.9% from beyond the arc. If he comes back in better shape and Kelly Olynyk becomes more comfortable at the five, Sullinger will see an increase in court time. Increase his minutes per game and up his 3P%, and you’ve got a leading scorer.
Mike Salvitti: Avery Bradley. He’s improved his shooting statistics practically each season since 2010 and averaged career highs in points (14.9 ppg) and free throw percentage (80.4%) this past season. At 23 years of age, Bradley is set to enter his peak years as a player in the league. I expect him to lead Boston in scoring this year and possibly even push 17ppg. In signing AB to the only notable contract of the last six months, the Celtics have sent a strong signal about their faith in his continuing abilities, and I think Bradley is set to deliver on the deal right away.
Kevin Cronan: Jeff Green. Despite never becoming that go-to guy Celtics fans were hoping for, Green is still the best option on offense. He was last year’s top scorer by a solid margin, and there have been no adjustments to the roster this season that would lead me to believe that will change. He may not be the most consistent guy night-in and night-out, but he shouldn’t see much competition from the rest of the team.
2. If you could get one player on a comparable contract level in exchange for Rajon Rondo, who would it be and why?
Cameron Rahbar: At this point it isn’t about trying to find a comparable player but the best return. Unfortunately the market for Rondo is lacking demand, so his value will most likely be adjusted with a discount. To make it more difficult, finding a trade partner is only the first barrier. After that, teams interested would have to be filtered down to clubs who have what we want: picks and potential. A trade I would like to see would involve Greg Monroe, Spencer Dinwiddie, and a first round pick. This would allow Rondo to play with his good friend Josh Smith, and it would give us a solid center, a young point guard that we were interested in during the draft, and more picks.
Mike Salvatti: This will never happen, obviously, but Russell Westbrook. Contracts are sort of in the same ball park. Both have lost some trade value due to knee injuries but still remain top ten point guards in the NBA. Westbrook would add a scoring punch to a guard combo in Boston has a lot more upside on the defensive side, and immediately become the first option on a team that struggled to create shots throughout the season.
Kevin Cronan: Well, going by comparable salaries alone, I’d love to see Steph Curry in green. But if we’re talking realistically, I’d have to say Roy Hibbert. It’s been a long time since Boston’s had a rim protector, and Hibbert’s one of the best defensive bigs in the league. It may be a long shot, but it’s not impossible that it might happen. Definitely a better chance than landing Love was, at least.
3. Assuming only minor roster tweaks, can the current Celtics team make the playoffs?
Cameron Rahbar: There is a chance, but let’s just say I wouldn’t bet any money I would lose sleep over on it. At this point the clubs with close to definite chances of making the playoffs in the East are (not in any order) the Cavaliers, Bulls, Wizards, Raptors, Heat, and Hornets. That leaves two spots for a lot of teams. If healthy, I would assume the Hawks claim one of these vacancies. The Knicks did a lot more than expected in the offseason, but they are fairly prone to crumbling. And, of course, who knows when the Nets’ inevitable downfall will begin. If Brad Stevens can cook up some real magic and the Celtics become more consistent, there is a chance we can squeeze our way to the 8th seed.
Mike Salvitti: It’s certainly possible. The bottom feeders of the Eastern playoff picture are mediocre teams that pulled out just enough wins to sneak into the playoffs. If the C’s start out hot and Stevens develops some sort of consistent substitution pattern, it could build momentum and turn them from possible sellers into buyers at the deadline. My prediction however, is that the Celtics miss the playoffs and finish tenth in the East.
Kevin Cronan: In the Eastern Conference, why not? The disparity of talent between the two conferences is so bad that I wouldn’t count any team out of the East, except for maybe the Sixers. Boston will have a healthy Rondo from the start which should help them immensely and, depending on how long he stays through this season, he could add a lot in terms of wins. Don’t forget: It’s a contract year for him, too. Sullinger and Olynyk are also a year older and can hopefully make strides in their respective games. Throw in whatever Smart can bring to the table, and I wouldn’t be relegating the Celtics to the lottery just yet.
4. Which Celtics rookie will have the biggest impact on the team this season?
Cameron Rahbar: It is safe to say that Marcus Smart will put up better numbers than James Young. Aside from the fact that swingman Young would have to share the court with Bradley, Turner, Wallace, and Green, he is simply not as NBA-ready as Marcus Smart. That being said, I suspect Smart’s numbers to be inconsistent in the beginning of the season as the Celtics seem pretty set on playing him at shooting guard (even though that did not pan out too well in Summer League). Hopefully he will get a chance to learn a lot under Rondo, however brief the remainder of the veteran’s tenure with the team may be, and be able to contribute a lot to the team by the All-Star break.
Mike Salvitti: Marcus Smart. He will struggle shooting the basketball early, but the kid has too much pride and talent not to overcome it. He often affects the game positively without necessarily impressing the advanced metrics crowd. Lots of intangibles and an eagerness to learn might eventually translate into more minutes and a more prominent role in Boston’s roster scheme. I think he can average 11ppg by season’s end.
Kevin Cronan: Marcus Smart, no question. He still managed to go sixth in a loaded draft, and had he declared a year earlier, he had a solid chance of going top-3. With so many guards on the roster, it will be hard for James Young to even get minutes this season, and I foresee a lot of time up in Maine for him. Smart may have struggled offensively during summer league, but he was undoubtedly effective on defense. Remember, also, that Smart played on the USA Select team this summer and got a chance to work out against the rising stars in the league. Team USA does not make those selections lightly, and if you look at past teams, you can see the caliber of player that receives an invite.