One of the biggest challenges during the Celtics’ current transition is devising productive playing rotations, and coach Brad Stevens said Thursday that his starting lineup will continue to be fluid.
Stevens has started three point guards in the three games since the club traded Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks — Evan Turner, Marcus Smart, and Jameer Nelson — and he wouldn’t commit to a starting lineup for Friday’s game against the Nets.
The Celtics have been trying to regain their footing since losing their best player. They put away the Timberwolves in the fourth quarter the day after the trade. But the past two games have been disappointing efforts, including Tuesday against the Magic, when they fell behind by as many as 27 before rallying in the fourth quarter.
While development for the future appears to be the primary goal of management, Stevens said the focus is winning. The Celtics are 1½ games behind Brooklyn for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“One of the things that’s hard to balance is we want to get everybody acclimated,” Stevens said. “At the same time, you’ve got 12 guys who have been here who know exactly how we’re trying to play and how we want to do things on both ends.
“I don’t know if I did a great job in Game 1 [against Miami] of balancing that. I don’t know if the rotations we had in Game 2 were perfect for that.
“Obviously the group at the end of the game made a run but I still think that there are a lot of things that we have to iron out. It will be a process. That’s what I’ve been working on the last few days.”
One of the changes Stevens made during the loss to Orlando was benching starters Jared Sullinger (for the second half) and Jeff Green (for the final 15:50). Green scored a season-low 4 points, his first time in single figures since March 31, a string of 33 games. Sullinger went scoreless for the second time in eight games.
In that eight-game stretch, Sullinger has averaged 6.1 points.
“I talked to both of them and I’ll talk to both of them,” Stevens said. “That’s happened, at one time or another, to everybody on our team.
“Again, I thought the best example of that was obviously the Washington game [where he benched all five starters]. It’s happened to Avery [Bradley]. It’s happened to Kelly [Olynyk], Jeff, Sully.
“We need all those guys to be really good. There’s certain nights where you may feel like another guy may be playing really well and you roll with him.”
Stevens decided not to anoint a team captain following Rondo’s departure, saying the remaining players can compensate for any leadership void.
“I don’t think there’s any question that our older guys will, and Gerald [Wallace] has done a great job of being that guy and that sounding board for people,” Stevens said. “He’s been that all year.
“Brandon Bass is another guy. His minutes have been inconsistent each of the last two games but he continues to be that kind of a guy. He continues to be a great role model for the players in regards to work ethic.”
Stevens said the younger players are also capable of becoming leaders, but the ones considered potential cornerstones have experienced personal struggles this season.
“Absolutely,” Stevens said when asked if they are capable of leading. “Everybody goes through lulls. I think the biggest thing is staying the course, believing in what we’re all doing together. Believe with the right mind-set things would turn around quickly.”
Getting Young ready
When Rondo was traded, Stevens said the primary goal for the Celtics was to win, and that still remains the objective despite the push to experiment with players such as Brandan Wright and James Young.
“I really believe [trying to win every game] is the best way to help develop,” he said. “Guys see and prepare and go through it and have to perform in clutch moments. All of those things, I think that’s part of being a competitor and part of being the very best you can be.”
When asked about Young, the rookie who could become the team’s small forward of the future, Stevens said he’ll play when he shows he’s ready to break into the rotation.
“If we feel like he’s going to impact our best opportunity to win, then that will be his opportunity,” Stevens said. “That’s where we have to continue to help him grow, get him healthy, get some practices in under his belt.
“I do think he can do some things that we need now, specifically helping score the ball. We see that all the time. The deal is he is getting better and hopefully when he gets his chance, he’ll play well.”