The Big Three is dead! Long live the Big Three!
If that sounds wrong – as in, “Shouldn’t it be ‘are dead?’ ” – the fact is, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were a unit, an entity, even a state of mind and swagger for the Boston Celtics for five seasons. In other words, singularly exemplary.
But with Allen’s abrupt exit to Miami, there no longer is a need, when it comes to billing, to treat Rajon Rondo like Ernie from “My Three Sons.” The kid who started out as a neighbor and fourth wheel has fully been adopted; frankly, Rondo is the most valuable Celtics player, with the added motivation of being blamed to a large degree for Allen’s departure. By season’s end, the mercurial point guard might extend that MVP talk to the league at large.
Guy on the spot as camp begins: Jeff Green. Green was off the books in 2011-12, off the court due to surgery for an aortic aneurysm, largely out of sight … but never completely out of mind. He still was the key to the Kendrick Perkins trade in February 2011 and, in basketball boss Danny Ainge’s mind, a piece of the Celtics’ future. Enough that Green was gifted with a four-year, $36 million contract. To earn it, Green not only will have to stay healthy, he’ll have to improve on the 9.8 ppg he averaged for Boston in 24 games after the OKC trade.
What the Celtics need to work on: Defense. That might sound silly, considering Boston ranked first in the NBA in defensive rating (98.2) and second in opponents’ points per game (89.3). But that was with Avery Bradley available, pushing for minutes and eventually moving into the starting job at shooting guard. It was with Greg Stiemsma, Mikael Pietrus, Marquis Daniels and Keyon Dooling on board – even guys who aren’t stellar individual defenders can help when they’re familiar with each other. Courtney Lee and Jason Terry — covering for Bradley for a couple months or more while he rehabs from two shoulder surgeries — are among the many new faces who’ll have to caulk around Garnett, Rondo and the rest to keep the Celtics stingy.
Who could surprise: Jared Sullinger. The rookie forward was considered one of the NCAA’s top prospects two years ago, but serious concerns about a disk problem in his back drove him down to No. 21 in the June draft. The Celtics checked him out thoroughly and, given their need for rebounding, might wind up relying on the Ohio State product more heavily than coach Doc Rivers generally does with rookies.