The Salem News
---- — On Basketball
The Boston Celtics enter the 2012-13 NBA season as the most logical choice to threaten the Miami Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy.
Most would agree they fit that description by default.
The departure of Dwight Howard from Orlando to Hollywood and the uncertain injury status of Chicago guard Derrick Rose after a torn ACL in last year’s playoffs has the East looking thin.
Teams like Indiana, Philadelphia, and maybe Atlanta have good depth but lack star power. The New York Knicks supposedly got better by getting much older, and the New Jersey Nets still seem to be a good player or two away from being a real factor.
Rose’s injury may be the biggest reason people believe the Heat will roll through the East. He’s expected to be out until at least midseason and some NBA experts have suggested that Rose should sit out the entire year. Whatever Rose and the Bulls decide to do, you can be sure that they will not be playing at full speed in April and May.
When you’re talking about the Heat, defending the point guard position remains their biggest problem, and that’s exactly why the Celtics are more than just a default contender.
Love him or loathe him, Rajon Rondo is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference, maybe the entire league.
He takes an occasional hit for outbursts that seem more suited for a spoiled teenager, but his talent is unmatched. Say what you want about Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams and Rose, but none of those players could do the things that Rondo does for the Celtics.
There’s a misconception that a team led by a point guard can’t win an NBA championship. That’s only true when the point guard is trying to lead the team in scoring, which Rondo rarely does.
The Celtics have been Rondo’s team for longer than people want to admit and if you can’t admit it now, then you weren’t watching the playoffs last season.
That’s why Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers began building this team around Rondo during the offseason. The end is near for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, but with a bench bolstered by the return of Jeff Green and the additions of Jason Terry, Jared Sullinger, and Courtney Lee, the Celtics’ title window has been pushed open again.
The health of Garnett and Pierce will obviously be critical to the Celtics’ hope for success this season, but the play of Green and Sullinger — especially in the regular season — could help Boston’s aging duo deep into the playoffs.
Garnett seemed rejuvenated last year. The defection of Ray Allen to the Miami Heat could provide more motivation for KG.
Pierce’s postseason play was somewhat spotty and definitely sub-par last spring. He looked tired and old in the Eastern Conference Finals and the reality is that Boston needs him to play at a high level against Lebron James and Co. If Jeff Green can cut into Pierce’s minutes during the regular season, then the Celtics’ captain just might have more bounce in his step when the games really mean something.
This Boston Celtics roster is as well-built as any other in the NBA, and it was put together specifically for the skills of the team’s point guard.
Now is the time for Rondo to prove all his skeptics wrong.
Matt Jenkins is a staff writer at the Salem News. He can be reached by phone at 978-338-2648, by e-mail at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.