A sea change seemed to take place in the Eastern Conference last season, one which saw the rise of the talent-loaded Heat and the dynamic young Bulls coincide with what seemed to be the start of a slow but steady decline for the Boston Celtics. Although they won their division easily and entered the playoffs as the number three seed, their aging core was badly exposed in the playoffs against Miami, where the Celtics were brushed aside too easily, and they enter this season as longshots to appear in their third Finals series in five years.
Although the relatively young Rajon Rondo emerged as the team’s best player last season, Boston are still heavily dependent on their veterans, which could spell trouble in such a shortened and rushed regular season where their stamina will be severely tested. They might look to remedy the situation by reverting to a heavier rotation policy, but their lack of depth looks to also conspire to hurt them.
While the Celtics arguably made an upgrade by swapping Glen Davis for Brandon Bass, there is a massive drop talent wise between the starting five and the rest of the roster. There is little genuine quality coming off the bench, and more complete teams like Chicago and Miami will look to take advantage of that fact.
Best Case: No. 3 Seed
In the twilights of their respective careers they may be, but Pierce, Garnett and Allen can still be deadly on their day. With an elite point guard in Rondo, Boston still has some top class talent on their team. If the Celtics can ward off injuries to key players, there is no reason why they cannot hold off the Knicks in the Atlantic and emerge with one of the best records in the conferences. Still, expect the Bulls and Heat to be too good, and once again finish ahead of the men in green before the postseason.
Worst Case: No. 8 Seed
The shortened schedule could prove to be a killer, and there is every possibility that a number of players, from all teams, could succumb to injury as a result. The problem for Celtics is the dire lack of depth, or any backups who look even remotely capable of filling in for the likes of Pierce or Rondo.
Prediction: No. 6 Seed
At least one key player will go down, and the team will struggle as a result. The Celtics will need everything to go right if they are to stay among the Eastern Conference elite; more than likely, an infusion of new blood will be required to return Boston to contender status in the near future.