The state of the Celtics is neither as good nor as bad as some people make it out to be. The Celtics have been given 8-1 odds of winning the title this season, the fifth-best odds of any NBA team, tied with the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.
While it would be difficult to hurdle those top four teams, the Celtics are not as far away from being in contention as some might think. A lot would have to come together, but if the stars align, the Celtics can be in the hunt.
Here are five ways the Celtics can capture the title.
1. Run, run, run the second unit
This ostensibly becomes more difficult without Jeff Green, who was lost for the season because of a heart condition. Still, the Celtics will do themselves a favor if Brandon Bass and their second unit could get some easy points. Rajon Rondo can orchestrate the break, but he doesn’t have a first unit that runs. Take Ray Allen from that unit as a trailer/shooter and mix in any combination of Bass, Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, Chris Wilcox, E’Twaun Moore, Avery Bradley, and JaJuan Johnson, and push the tempo. The worst that could happen is that it doesn’t work.
2. Emulate the Dallas Mavericks
If you’re a little hazy after the lockout, here’s a reminder that the Mavericks -- and not the Miami Heat -- won the NBA title in 2011. The Mavericks did it with one superstar (Dirk Nowitzki) and a solid team effort from the rest of the players. On any given night, Paul Pierce or Ray Allen can give you that Dirk-like scoring. Rajon Rondo can be Jason Kidd. And Kevin Garnett can give you more than Tyson Chandler on offense, though less on defense. What the Celtics need that the Mavericks possessed is consistent 3-point shooting (Keyon Dooling, E’Twaun Moore?) and tenacious team defense.
And they need to buy into the team concept.
3. Keep Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal healthy
One reason the Celtics’ chances of winning a title aren’t great is that their margin for error is razor thin. The Jeff Green situation doesn’t help that. An injury to either Kevin Garnett or Jermaine O’Neal would likely kill any hope, and that’s scary considering the combined 31 years of NBA experience between the two players. If either player goes down, the Celtics simply can’t replace him. Both players will have to be effective as well as healthy, which is where a short season might come in handy.
4. Have Rondo make a leap
Rondo made the leap to All-Star point guard last season, but there are two areas in which he can improve: consistency and free-throw shooting. Rondo started last season on fire, averaging 16.7, 13.4, and 13.0 assists in each of the season’s first three months. But his numbers fell off drastically, especially in March and April, where his assist averages slipped into single digits. He’s a player who can take over a playoff game with an unbelievable triple-double, so we know he has the talent. On the free throws: if he just makes them and keeps going to the hoop, the Celtics will have another weapon in the fourth quarter.
5. Play the rookies
This is, of course, predicated on the rookies playing well, which is no guarantee. But if the Celtics can get any kind of production out of E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, it helps them get younger and faster at the same time. The Celtics need a good surprise to come out of this team, and Moore and Johnson are the place to start since their expectations are so low. Avery Bradley could also chip in and be effective to give the Celtics another dimension, kind of like J.J. Barea did for the Mavericks. Surprise us, young fellas.