It’s been a rocky, entertaining, and rather predictable road for the Celtics through their first 54 games. They are an expected 19-35, have struggled to close out games, wilted in others, and surprised in a few.
This is exactly the type of transition season team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge envisioned. Younger players are developing.
Rajon Rondo has successfully returned from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament, and Brad Stevens has fared well in his first four months as an NBA coach.
The final 28 games will be a fascinating journey. The NBA trade deadline is Thursday and league sources said the Celtics are open to making moves to clear salary cap space.
The Celtics have already parted ways with Courtney Lee, Jordan Crawford, and MarShon Brooks. They have also discovered a potential bench standout in Chris Johnson, who emerged from the NBADL to sparkle and earn a multiyear contract.
The main focus was developing younger players, and that has been accomplished with Jared Sullinger leading the team in rebounding and showing no ill effects from back surgery, and Kelly Olynyk becoming a reliable contributor off the bench.
Rondo, meanwhile, has slowly turned into his old self and has embraced his role as captain.
“January was a tough stretch for us (2-15) and January was probably going to be a tough stretch anyway, especially with the movement and teams we were playing,’’ said Stevens. “So I didn’t think that we were quite as bad as we played. We had a couple of opportunities to win games that were close. We didn’t get that done and you kind of felt like we might be able to win a couple of those if we shore up some things.”
Rajon Rondo — His return was long awaited and for good reason. His energy and effect on the offense is undeniable and he is nearing game shape. Rondo also has surprised with an improved 3-point shot, which helped the Celtics stay close for most of the way Wednesday against the Spurs. While he’ll remain the focus of trade rumors until he is traded or signs a long-term extension, Rondo has shown capable of returning to an All-Star level.
Avery Bradley — He has become an improved and more confident shooter and still is a superior defender. He has been bothered by nagging injuries. Bradley has had his moments this season but the Celtics are uncertain whether he is the shooting guard of the future or just a really good reserve. He’ll have the second half to prove he can stay healthy and mesh with Rondo. Bradley is a restricted free agent this summer.
Jerryd Bayless — He has fared well as a backup point guard but his shooting has been streaky. He has impressed Stevens with his ability to distribute the ball. He has missed some shots down the stretch but his overall impact has been positive.
Jeff Green — He has been an enigma in his first season out of the shadows of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. He was supposed to be the primary scoring option, but the results have been mixed. Green has frustrated the organization and the fans with his highs and low. He’ll score 8 points against the Magic and then 36 a night later against the 76ers. He’ll pass up the opportunity to take over a game in the fourth quarter and then look passionate and unstoppable in the same situation in another game.
Jared Sullinger — Perhaps the most productive player on the club, posting consistent double-doubles and developing into a dependable low-post scorer. Despite being undersized on most nights, Sullinger has beaten opponents to rebounds and loose balls and could be considered untouchable. There was concern after back surgery ended his rookie season but Sullinger feels no effects from the procedure and he plays with a welcome chip on his shoulder because he slipped so far in the draft.
Kelly Olynyk — There are times when the 7-footer plays focused, looks like one of the league’s top rookies, which has occurred lately with his first double-doubles, and there are times when he doesn’t appear sure of himself. He has experienced typical rookie issues, which didn’t seem likely when he resembled a young Dirk Nowitzki during Orlando Summer League. But there is tremendous upside. He has shown the ability to shoot from the perimeter and is nifty around the basket.
Gerald Wallace — His stint in Boston has been quite eventful, beginning with complaints about playing time, continuing with his embrace of a reserve role, and the acknowledgment that his skills have declined. He finally has become the voice of reason and conscience of the team. On the court, Wallace has been erratic and turnover prone with an inconsistent jumper. But he has been fearless and willing to sacrifice his body, which has set a good example for his teammates.
Vitor Faverani — It’s been a disappointing downturn for the Brazilian with international experience. He was a starter briefly early on and now barely plays. He needs to work on his pick-and-roll defense, get himself into premium shape, and develop a go-to post move.
Brandon Bass — A model of consistency, Bass hasn’t uttered a complaint despite being shuttled from the starting lineup to the bench. Bass has improved his rebounding and his shooting has remained sharp. His future in Boston is cloudy because he turns 29 this year and his contract expires after next season. He is an asset because of his shooting and could be attractive to teams seeking a versatile forward who could defend two positions.
Keith Bogans — There are two options here. Use his contract in a bigger trade and give Bogans his relocation wish or let his contract expire.
Phil Pressey — The knock against Pressey while at Missouri was his lack of perimeter shooting and that scouting report has proven correct, but he is astute at running a team and distributing the ball. He can improve his decision-making but Pressey may develop into the reserve point guard the Celtics have sought for years.
Kris Humphries — He has battled injuries, isn’t afraid to face off against more heralded opponents, and has not complained about his ever-changing role. Humphries has an expiring $12 million deal, which could prove just as valuable to the Celtics as other clubs, so unless Boston gets an attractive offer (i.e. a solid young player or draft picks), they will hold onto him.
Joel Anthony — He doesn’t have much of a long-term future in Boston, but his expiring $3.8 million contract next season could be used in a deal. Other than that, Anthony will likely remain on the bench.
Chris Johnson — The biggest surprise of the season, he is shooting more than 40 percent from the 3-point line and providing needed defensive energy.