Players were free to report to the Celtics’ practice facility for the first time last week, and training camp officially begins on Friday, when coach Doc Rivers will get to work with his new team for the first time since the end of the NBA lockout.
How many players he’ll have to work with is in question. The Celtics currently have eight players under contract, and that includes Jeff Green, who has not yet been signed to any kind of extension. That’s not enough to field a scrimmage, and certainly not enough to win a title.
A lot will change between now and Dec. 25, when games begin, and June. With that backdrop, we give our best guess at 10 predictions for the upcoming season.
1. Rajon Rondo will be playing elsewhere
Danny Ainge said Thursday that he didn’t anticipate trading Rondo, but what else is he going to say? Based on several reports, it seems that Rondo is being shopped around, and it makes sense. He’s the one trade chip Ainge has that will bring any kind of value in return, and the Celtics as currently constituted don’t stand a better title shot than they did when they lost to the Heat in May. Chris Paul may not be available, but Deron Williams or another star could be. Rondo will be moved. It’s only a matter of time.
2. Glen Davis won’t be back
While we’re on players leaving, it would be a good bet to assume that Davis will be gone as well. The Celtics have seen plenty of Davis’ immaturity to know how it can affect the team, and his no-show in last year’s playoffs drew the ire of both Rivers and Ainge. Either Davis convinces the team he’s got his head on straight and takes short money, or he’s gone.
3. Kevin Garnett will have 25 double-doubles
The lockout may benefit Garnett more than anyone. KG looked like a different player last season, finally getting over a knee injury that caused him to miss the 2009 playoffs and limited him in 2009-2010. Garnett had 28 double-doubles last season after putting up just 10 the year before. Rivers spoke Thursday about getting Garnett’s minutes right this season, but one thing is clear: two fewer months means a fresher Garnett, which could be one way in which this year’s team is better than last year’s.
4. There will be someone new in the middle
The Celtics won’t start the season with Jermaine O’Neal at center. Samuel Dalembert is one prized free-agent target, and Tyson Chandler is another. More realistically, there are guys like Kwame Brown and Spencer Hawes available. If the Celtics deal Rondo, there are likely to be more pieces moving, and the Celtics might be able to get a big man that way. Rookie JaJuan Johnson may even chip in. Any way you look at it, O’Neal isn’t going to cut it. As Rivers said Thursday, “We need size.”
5. Fans won’t get over Kendrick Perkins
“But what about Perk? We already had a big man.” There may not be bigger fans of Perkins than we are, but there were two realities that made trading him necessary: He was injured and wasn’t going to help in the playoffs last year, and he was going to be out of Ainge’s price range this year. To that end, Ainge gave his team a chance to contend last season by adding Jeff Green and a healthy center in Nenad Krstic. But Perk isn’t here, and some Celtics fans will never get past that.
6. They’ll sign a veteran
How does Shane Battier sound? Jason Richardson? T.J. Ford, Jamal Crawford, Allen Iverson, Tayshaun Prince? One of these types of players will be added to the roster in addition to a big man. The Celtics really won’t have the cap room to do much else.
7. The fans will come back
The basic premise of “Did people miss the NBA?” stories run by every major news outlet is a flawed one. People who like NBA basketball missed it, while people who do not couldn’t care less that the league is back. Only 35 percent of people care that the lockout is over, according to some polls, but how many people care about the sport normally? There may be some fans who take a stand, but they’ll be replaced in the stands by people looking for a fun night out. At least in Boston, the fans will come back.
8. Paul Pierce won’t skip a beat
Pierce increased his scoring average last season and played in 80 games, throwing down more highlight dunks than he seemingly did in the previous three seasons combined. His fitness level was noticeably high, which is a good sign for someone who just turned 34. But you know what? Even if Pierce were a step slow, you probably wouldn’t notice. With a game built on balance and herky-jerky mechanics, Pierce wasn’t going to blow by people anyway. He’ll have another solid season.
9. They’ll beat the Knicks
Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and the Knicks are going to be fired up on Christmas Day, and the newly-renovated Garden will be rocking. But one thing will not have changed -- the Knicks won’t be playing any defense. Consider New York one of the two or three most interesting teams to watch over the course of the season, but don’t consider them a winner on Dec. 25.
10. They’ll fall short, this time to the Bulls
Sure it’s hard to predict how the season will finish without knowing the rosters. It’s hard to envision the Celtics being better than either the Heat or the Bulls by season’s end. Chicago was a year of experience and an elite shooting guard away from being a true contender last season, and the Bulls can fix both of those this year. Let’s call the Eastern Conference seeds Miami No. 1, Chicago No. 2, and the Celtics No. 3, with the Celtics losing in the second round.