Posted on: September 24, 2010 7:19 pm
Edited on: September 25, 2010 10:46 am
The Knicks didn't get LeBron James. Or Dwyane Wade. Or Chris Bosh. Was the offseason a failure? Hardly. The Knicks are relevant again, with superstar Amar'e Stoudemire and supporting players Mike D'Antoni actually wants to coach. Playoffs? Let's not get carried away, but they have a shot. Which is more than the Knicks have been able to say for a long time. The buzz is back at Madison Square Garden. Now, all Donnie Walsh has to do is get Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul or Tony Parker. Maybe then he'd get some of the credit he's due. But even if Walsh never signs or trades for another player, he's already restored respectability and competitivenss to what was a lost franchise when he took over.
Training camp site: Greenburgh, N.Y.
Training camp starts: Sept. 25
Key additions: Amar’e Stoudemire (sign-and-trade), Raymond Felton (free agent), Anthony Randolph (trade), Kelenna Azubuike (trade), Ronny Turiaf (trade), Roger Mason Jr. (free agent), Landry Fields (draft).
Key subtractions: The stench of a decade of irrelevance. And David Lee (sign-and-trade)
Likely starting lineup: Felton, PG; Wilson Chandler, SG; Danilo Gallinari, SF; Stoudemire, PF; Ronny Turiaf, C.
Player to watch: Eddy Curry. Once again, all eyes are on the Knicks’ troubled center, who was on the verge of being an All-Star a few short years ago and now is hanging onto his career by a thread. Curry hasn’t made it through the first day of training camp for the past two years, so progress will be measured in baby steps. The best thing that could happen for all concerned is that Curry somehow stays healthy, keeps his weight in check, and shows enough in preseason to coax someone into taking on his $11.3 million expiring contract in a scenario that makes the Knicks better. For now, making it through a practice will do.
Chemistry check: Although the Knicks inexplicably flirted with past demons with the ill-fated attempt to bring Isiah Thomas back as a consultant, this is as clean as the slate has been at Madison Square Garden in years. With athletes like Stoudemire and Randolph, shooters like Gallinari and Mason, and a serviceable point guard in Felton, Mike D’Antoni finally will get to fully implement his offensive philosophy. Just as important, Stoudemire’s star power will bring the buzz back to the Garden.
Injury watch: Azubuike is still recovering from last season’s knee injury, and when he’s ready, he’ll be the starting shooting guard. That will give D’Antoni the flexibility to slide Chandler to the three or four, making him interchangeable with Gallinari and Randolph depending on matchups. Curry should be the starting center on paper, and the Knicks would like for him to be productive to increase his trade value. But if Curry falters – a good bet, given his track record – the Knicks are extremely high on Russian rookie Timofey Mozgov. D’Antoni is a huge fan of the 7-1 center, who figures to pass Curry on the depth chart by the start of the regular season.
Camp battles: Aside from Curry-Mozgov, D’Antoni has a pretty good idea of what the rotation will be. Mason, Bill Walker, Randolph and Turiaf give D’Antoni the most bench flexibility that he’s had since he came to New York. Fields, a sleeper in the draft who impressed with his length, athleticism and intelligent play during Summer League and in offseason workouts, figures to be a regular part of the rotation.
Biggest strength: The Knicks have been so bad, irrelevant and mismanaged for so long that the fact that team president Donnie Walsh has them under the cap with a superstar big man and young talent around him has gone overlooked. Such is the hangover from the pursuit of LeBron James. But remember: If Walsh hadn’t created cap space for two max players, James wasn’t coming to New York anyway. If Walsh hadn’t landed Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony wouldn’t want to come, either.
Glaring weakness: Aside from needing one more star to compete with the elite teams in the East, the Knicks need something D’Antoni isn’t known for: defense. They definitely have the athletes to defend better than their reputation under D’Antoni would suggest. Now they have to add the commitment and prioritize it, which will be one of the most important goals in training camp.
Posted on: September 24, 2010 5:27 pm
With one of the NBA's biggest stars, Carmelo Anthony, possibly on the verge of being traded, the offseason still hasn't ended. But it ended three months ago for the Lakers, who celebrated their second straight championship, made a couple of mundane moves, and got ready to do it all over again. The defending champs didn't make a Miami-like splash this summer, but they didn't need to. And the moves they did make clearly made them better. Word is that Kobe Bryant, entering his 15th season, can't wait to go to work. Miami won it all in July, but the Lakers are the undisputed Kings of June until proved otherwise.
Training camp site: El Segundo, Calif.
Training camp starts: Sept. 25
Key additions: Steve Blake (free agent), Matt Barnes (free agent), Theo Ratliff (free agent)
Key subtractions: Josh Powell (free agent), Jordan Farmar (free agent).
Likely starting lineup: Derek Fisher, PG; Kobe Bryant, SG; Ron Artest, SF; Pau Gasol, PF; Ratliff, C.
Player to watch: Andrew Bynum. As you can tell from his name being omitted from the training camp starting lineup (which matters only for scrimmaging purposes), Bynum is hurt again. Well, not so much hurt again, but rather still hurt – or better yet, not recovered. After the praise Bynum received for playing through a significant knee injury during the Finals, he’s receiving equal parts scorn for delaying surgery until after he completed a planned trip to the World Cup. Both were deserved. Coach Phil Jackson said Friday that he can’t see how Bynum will be ready for the start of the regular season.
Chemistry check: All the tension over Jackson’s future was relieved when the Zen Master decided to return for one more season. His unique ability to handle strange personalities (he has a few on this team) and his knack for getting under the opponent’s skin will be needed in a big way. If the Lakers started the NBA arms race by acquiring Gasol a couple of years ago, the Heat went nuclear by teaming Dwyane Wade with LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Suffice it to say, a certain Laker who wears No. 24 took note. Sources say Bryant’s competitive fire – always an inferno – has burning even hotter with the prospect of this challenge.
Injury watch: Besides Bynum, Bryant will be limited as he continues to recover from a laundry list of ailments that hindered him throughout last postseason. Lamar Odom is coming off a busy summer with Team USA, and Jackson plans to take it easy on him in camp. Luke Walton (back) will miss significant time, perhaps the entire season.
Camp battles: The Lakers really only face their usual battles with drama, with Kobe’s moods, and with Artest’s Twitter ramblings. Once Bynum is healthy, the rotation is pretty much set.
Biggest improvement: Mitch Kupchak watched LeBron’s decision only out of curiosity; the Lakers weren’t landing any marquee free agents this summer. But they did improve in a key area that will prove to be of utmost importance the deeper they get into the postseason. Their bench got a lot better. Blake is the best backup Fisher has had in a while, and his presence will allow re-signed Shannon Brown to be used more in a scoring role. Barnes brings Artest-like toughness to a second unit that also includes Odom, Ratliff, Blake and either Brown or Sasha Vujacic (until he’s traded.)
Biggest concern: They’re the two-time defending champs, so there are no glaring weaknesses. The biggest concern, as always, is Bynum. He is forever the wild-card for the Lakers. When it’s time to play the Spurs, Mavs, Celtics or Heat in May and June, the Lakers will go as far as Bynum can take them.
Posted on: September 23, 2010 4:44 pm
Let the Melodrama begin. A little more than a year after a trip to the Western Conference finals, the Nuggets are on the verge of implosion. Superstar Carmelo Anthony wants a trade, but first he's going to have to show up at training camp Monday and answer questions about it for days on end. George Karl is back from his valiant cancer fight -- without trusted assistant Tim Grgurich and with a long list of issues. Karl, perhaps, is the Nuggets last, best hope to talk Melo out of wanting out.
Training camp site: Pepsi Center, Denver
Training camp starts: Sept. 28
Key additions: Al Harrington (free agent), Shelden Williams (free agent).
Key subtractions: Johan Petro (free agent), Joey Graham (free agent), Malik Allen (free agent).
Likely starting lineup: Chauncey Billups, PG; Arron Afflalo, SG; Carmelo Anthony, SF; Al Harrington, PF; Nene, C.
Player to watch: All eyes are on Melo. If he’s not traded by the time camp opens Monday – and all signs point to not –then the Melodrama will only get thicker and thicker. There’s zero chance Anthony refuses to show up for camp; he is an image-conscious superstar who is going about his trade request professionally, as opposed to the Rudy Fernandez scorched-Earth approach in Portland, for example. (Plus, Melo doesn’t want to be fined, nor would he disrespect George Karl that way.) But how Anthony responds to the media attention, how he interacts with his teammates after weeks of news reports, and ultimately whether he’s able to reconnect with Karl will be the three biggest stories of camp for Denver.
Chemistry check: This should be a happy time, with Karl returning to the bench after missing much of last season due to cancer treatments. As usual, Karl has a restless locker room to deal with – and Melo isn’t the only problem. Kenyon Martin openly questioned whether the Nuggets got better this summer. J.R. Smith needs to go. The Nuggets cleaned out their front office, too, jettisoning 2008-09 executive of the year Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman and hiring Toronto assistant Masai Ujiri while giving more power to adviser Bret Bearup and executive Josh Kroenke. Oh, and Karl’s longtime assistant, Tim Grgurich, isn’t coming back. That’s all – so far.
Injury watch: Martin and Chris Andersen are expected to miss the early part of the season as they recover from knee injuries.
On the spot: Ujiri. While he technically won’t have final say on whether to trade Anthony, where to trade him, or for what, dealing the franchise cornerstone will be on his resume one way or another.
Camp battles: Harrington, Williams and Renaldo Balkman are in the mix for playing time in the frontcourt while Martin and Andersen are out.
Biggest strength: Well, that depends on whether you’re talking with Melo or without. With Melo, they have one of the top five or six players in the NBA paired with Billups, a savvy floor leader who probably has one more season of championship-caliber play in him. Without Melo, it depends on what they get for him.
Glaring weakness: Stability. In a few short weeks, or at most, months, the momentum of seven straight playoff appearances (including one conference finals appearance) and three consecutive 50-win seasons could go up in smoke if and when they have to move Melo. In the short term, Denver’s weakness will be up front with Martin and Andersen out – which explains their pursuit of Erick Dampier, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and other bigs this summer.
Posted on: September 22, 2010 2:28 pm
You may have heard that the Miami Heat are a bit of a big deal. They ran the table during free agency in July, executing the ingenious plan hatched by mastermind Pat Riley without flaw. Riley even assembled a quality, veteran supporting cast in the blink of an eye, surrounding Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh with shooters, defensive toughness and quality support players. Free-agent center Erick Dampier could be next. Was it enough? Will the Super Team execute as well in June as Riley executed in July? It's time for the Miami Heat preseason primer -- which has all the questions, some of the answers, and none of the fanfare that went along with LeBron's "Decision."
Training camp site: Dark Side of the Moon. (Just kidding. It’s actually on less accessible property: Hurlburt Field at Eglin Air Force Base near Ft. Walton Beach, Fla.
Training camp starts: Sept. 28
Key additions: Smush Parker (fantasy signing), Jason Williams (none of your business), and three of Michael Beasley’s better-adjusted cousins. This is a joke, of course. You know who the key additions are. Besides them, the most important ones are Mike Miller (free agent), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (free agent), Eddie House (free agent) and, um, Juwan Howard (free agent).
Key subtractions: Quentin Richardson (free agent), Jermaine O’Neal (free agent), Beasley (trade), Daequan Cook (trade).
Likely starting lineup: Wade, G; Mike Miller, G; James, SF; Bosh, PF; Joel Anthony, C. (Or maybe Dampier.)
Player to watch: Aside from the circus atmosphere starting Sept. 27 with media day on the University of Miami campus, the most interesting X’s and O’s to examine will be Erik Spoelstra’s use of Wade and LeBron as interchangeable point guards. I expect a token go at it with Carlos Arroyo and/or Mario Chalmers at point, but ultimately Spoelstra’s best lineup will be using Wade and LeBron as interchangeable wings with either one able to initiate the offense.
Chemistry check: There won’t be many clues in the cloistered environment of training camp as to how Wade and LeBron are going to work out their all-important pecking order. But the seeds will be planted for how they divvy up the pressure, credit and blame months from now.
Circus act: The fact that the Heat have chosen a secluded Air Force base for training camp, making it temporarily inconvenient for media to besiege them, is no surprise. Even when the Heat were a .500 team and no lock to get out of the first round, they were one of the most challenging teams in the league to cover. Under Riley, they like their space and they love to control the message. The creation of this super team – as star-studded a locker room as has existed in the modern NBA – will be a daily challenge. Everywhere they go, they’ll receive the rock-star treatment. It’s legitimate to wonder if the attention, and the pressure of converting the coup of July into a championship in June, will have a cumulative effect.
On the spot: The sharing of the ball, the big shots, and the blame if things go wrong will be fascinating to watch as Wade and LeBron navigate their co-superstardom together. But at some point, someone outside the realm of the dynamic duo will have to make a big shot, a defensive stop, or a smart play at the end of a close playoff game with elimination on the line. At that moment, the spotlight will perhaps shift to Bosh, who clearly wasn’t up to that task in Toronto, or Miller, who may have to deliver a corner 3-pointer with a hand in his face at the buzzer of a Game 7.
Camp battles: Chalmers vs. Arroyo for backup point guard. Anthony, Jamaal Magloire and perhaps Dampier for starting center. Pat Riley and Magic coach Stan Van Gundy for best preseason insult.
Biggest strength: In Wade and LeBron, Miami has two players who, individually, are nearly impossible to guard. Putting both of them on the floor at the same time will be enough to make even Tom Thibodeau’s head explode. For 82 nights, and then the playoffs, the challenge for the rest of the league will be: How do you guard them? Which poison do you pick?
Glaring weakness: Size and interior presence. An asterisk goes here based on the likely addition of Dampier, who would give Miami the kind of size and length they are currently lacking with the combination of Anthony, Magloire and Howard at center.
Posted on: September 21, 2010 5:56 pm
It wouldn't be time for another NBA season without the Mavericks feeling like championship contenders. But this time, the feeling is different. This time, there's a palpable belief that the Mavs had better get it done this year or their window will be closed -- for a long time, if not for good.
That's a little drastic. They're still not better than the Lakers, and still might not be able to get past the Spurs in a best-of-7 playoff series. But the Mavs enter training camp as a much better team than the one that lost to San Antonio in the first round a few months ago. With no cap space -- cap space can't score or defend, after all -- Mark Cuban struck out on the major free-agent targets. But the addition of Tyson Chandler certainly will help. Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki know the window is closing, but maybe this is a good spot for them to be in. With all eyes on the Lakers, Celtics, Heat and Magic, maybe the Mavs can quietly be in the mix. If it's possible for Cuban's team to do anything quietly.
Training camp site: Southern Methodist University
Training camp starts: Sept. 28
Key additions: Tyson Chandler (trade), Alexis Ajinca (trade), Ian Mahinmi (free agent), Dominique Jones (draft).
Key subtractions: Erick Dampier (trade), Eduardo Najera (trade), Matt Carroll (trade).
Likely starting lineup: Jason Kidd, PG; Caron Butler, SG; Shawn Marion, SF; Dirk Nowitzki, PF; Tyson Chandler, C
Player to watch: Butler. When he’s good, he’s very, very good. And when he’s bad, he’s divisive.
Chemistry quiz: There shouldn’t be any chemistry issues on a team with so many veterans getting their last realistic shot at a championship. There shouldn’t be. But there could be, especially given that not everyone (Mark Cuban included) was on board with the rotations and substitution patterns Carlisle utilized during another underwhelming (and brief) playoff run. Teams like these, with established players vying for their spot in the pecking order, can come unglued if things don’t go well. (Did we mention Cuban’s recent comments that the Mavs have enough size and depth to beat the Lakers?)
Injury check: Speedster Rodrigue Beaubois is likely out until November following surgery on his broken left foot.
Camp battles: Ultimately, Carlisle faces only two starting lineup decisions. But they’re important ones: Whether to start Chandler or Brendan Haywood at center, and whether Butler starts at shooting guard with Marion at the three, or Butler at the three with Beaubois (once he’s healthy) starting in the backcourt with Kidd. Neither one of those decisions will be made in October. But all eyes will be on first-round pick (acquired from Memphis) Dominique Jones, a slasher who has a chance to crack Carlisle’s rotation and give the Mavs the dribble-penetration element they sorely lacked last season.
Biggest strength: Size and depth. If 6-11 Frenchman Ian Mahinmi stands on a croissant, the Mavs have five legitimate 7-footers: Mahinmi, Nowitzki, Chandler, Haywood and Alexis Ajinca. It can be argued – as Cuban did recently – that Dallas is the team best equipped to combat the Lakers’ twin towers of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. First, the Mavs should worry about getting past the Spurs.
Glaring weakness: Age and miles. The window is closing fast on Kidd, Dirk and Marion, and Jason Terry, all of a sudden, is 33.
Posted on: September 21, 2010 3:13 pm
Edited on: September 21, 2010 3:28 pm
The misnomer about LeBron James leaving Cleveland is that people thought fans in Northeast Ohio were mad at him for leaving. Wrong. They were mad at him for the way he left. So with the first post-LeBron training camp around the corner, the Cavs’ brass are hoping the fan base is as realistic and patient as they will be as they recover from the Decision and all that it wrought. Internally, the Cavs have moved on. They have a new coach with rebuilding experience (Byron Scott) and a new front-office team with a lot of promise and assets at their disposal (GM Chris Grant and VP of basketball ops David Griffin).
Personnel-wise, no one inside the organization is putting any limits on what this team can do. The bad: They lost LeBron, and simply won’t recover in the short term. The good: They still believe they have the defensive foundation that Mike Brown built, along with enough shooters (Anthony Parker, Mo Williams, Daniel Gibson), former All-Stars (Antawn Jamison) and defensive dynamos (Varejao) to be competitive until the opportunity to pounce on a major personnel upgrade presents itself. Until then, here’s your preseason primer on the Cavs without you-know-who:
Training camp site: Independence, Ohio
Training camp starts: Sept. 28
Key additions: Ramon Sessions (trade), Ryan Hollins (trade), Joey Graham (free agent), Christian Eyenga (draft)
Key subtractions: Shaquille O’Neal (free agent), Delonte West (trade), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (free agent), Sebastian Telfair (trade), plus franchise identity, millions in ticket/merchandise sales, and the very soul of a tortured, doomed sports populace (i.e. some guy named ... oh, never mind).
Likely starting lineup: Williams, PG; Parker, SG; Joey Graham, SF; Jamison, PF; Anderson Varejao, C.
Player to watch: J.J. Hickson. He’s the guy the Cavs refused to give up in any trade scenario for Jamison or Amar’e Stoudemire. With you-know-who out of the picture, Hickson should benefit from increased touches and has a chance to be a bright spot as the otherwise dismal post-you-know-who era begins.
Chemistry check: Williams and Jamison both thought they were coming to Cleveland to win titles with you-know-who. Well, with you-know-who having taken his you-know-whats to South Beach, it will be interesting to watch how these veterans approach a daunting rebuilding project.
Camp battles: Graham, Jamario Moon and Jawad Williams will have a lively competition to replace you-know-who at small forward.
Biggest strength: If you take the glass-half-full approach, this is actually the ideal opportunity for Scott to re-establish a winning culture and instill his usual combination of defense, toughness, up-tempo offense and conditioning without getting pushback from cranky veterans who have grown tired of him. (That comes later.) Also, as difficult as this is for Cavs fans to swallow, the Cavs acquired some very useful assets in the sign-and-trade transaction that ultimately sent you-know-you to Miami. With multiple future first- and second-round picks, expiring contracts and a $14.5 million trade exception, the Cavs are positioned nicely when the right opportunity presents itself. They could’ve burned cap space this summer on average players as an emotional reaction to you-know-who’s departure. But Grant doesn’t – and won’t – operate that way. He will be unemotional and methodical, which is how Cavs fans should want him to be. The addition of Griffin, the former Suns executive, gives Cleveland a keen and connected personnel man to team with Grant; it has the makings of one of the finest front-office tandems in the league.
Glaring weakness: Who’s going to score, defend, perform chase-down blocks, sell tickets, toss talc, pose for idiotic pregame mock celebratory productions, star in hour-long reality TV shows stabbing his hometown in the back, and generally just save the world? Someday, someone besides you-know-who.
Posted on: September 20, 2010 2:09 pm
The Spurs were my preseason pick to face the Celtics in the NBA Finals a year ago. It was my way of avoiding the cliched Lakers-Celtics prediction, but it also was founded in a belief that experience and a championship-tested core would mean something come June. I was only half right, and I don't think I'll be picking the Spurs or the Celtics to be the last two teams standing this time around. But I'm not willing to pronounce the end of San Antonio's dynasty, either. Thus, a somewhat optimistic Preseason Primer on Timmy, Tony, Manu and the gang:
San Antonio Spurs
Training camp site: San Antonio, TX
Training camp starts: Sept. 28
Key additions: Tiago Splitter (signed), James Anderson (draft).
Key subtractions: Roger Mason Jr. (free agent), Keith Bogans (free agent), Ian Mahinmi (free agent).
Likely starting lineup: Tony Parker, PG; George Hill, SG; Richard Jefferson, SF; Tim Duncan, PF; Antonio McDyess, C.
Player to watch: Duncan. At 34, Timmy most certainly is on his last legs. But accelerate reports of his demise at your own peril. Gregg Popovich says Duncan will report to camp even slimmer than he was a year ago, when he showed up having shed 15 pounds. The long-anticipated agreement with Splitter, the Brazilian big man drafted in 2007, will give Pop even more reason to be judicious with Duncan’s minutes during the regular season. The best power forward of his generation may also be the most boring, but enjoy his artistry while it lasts.
Chemistry quiz: If you ask Popovich a question about chemistry, he’s liable to launch into a rant about molecules and peptides and the like. That’s Pop. But the normally cohesive Spurs actually do have a bit of a concern heading into camp. Parker, the youngest of San Antonio’s Big Three at 28, appears to be getting anxious about his future in San Antonio and the viability of the Spurs’ aging core. Approached at his front-row seat after a Team USA exhibition at Madison Square Garden this summer, Parker brushed off questions about his situation and the coming season. “I’m on vacation,” he said. With the continued emergence of Hill, Parker’s demeanor and the Spurs’ commitment to him bears watching. Know this about R.C. Buford and his new (and old) front-office sidekick, Danny Ferry: If the wheels are coming off at the trade deadline, they won’t allow the window to close without positioning themselves for the future.
Injury watch: Anderson was limited this summer with a hamstring injury, but returned to the practice court last week. Parker is worth keeping an eye on after missing significant time last season with a broken right (shooting) hand, and Ginobili’s historically balky ankles are always a topic of conversation and potential dread among Spurs fans. (Shhh. I won’t even mention Duncan’s back.)
Camp battles: Despite their reputation for being the old-folks home of the NBA, the Spurs actually have some youth to integrate into the rotation. Some potentially very good youth. Aside from the obvious leaders of this movement, Hill and DeJuan Blair, Popovich s eager to take a look at some of the youngsters who excelled on the Spurs’ Summer League team, which went 5-0 in Las Vegas despite the notable lack of a lottery pick. Sharpshooter Gary Neal, 25, averaged 16 points on 50 percent shooting in Vegas (including 17-for-34 from beyond the arc) and earned himself a three-year contract. Alonzo Gee, 23, and Curtis Jerrells, 23, a D-League callup last season, first-round pick Anderson, 21, and Garrett Temple, 24, also will get long looks in camp. Really, anyone under the age of 30 has a standing invitation to Spurs training camp just to pad the average-age statistic.
Biggest strength: They still have Duncan. And Parker. And Ginobili. And Popovich, who is as good as it gets from a strategic and leadership standpoint on the NBA sidelines. Splitter will not only help rest Duncan, but he’ll also help the Spurs in a notable category around the basket where they lagged last season: San Antonio was 11th in the league in having its shots blocked (5.09 per game).
Glaring weakness: Despite the influx of youth, the Spurs’ two most important players – Duncan, 34, and Ginobili, 33, – also are their oldest. But if the Celtics could get to the Finals last season with Kevin Garnett limping around like an octogenarian, well, maybe there’s hope that San Antonio’s window is still open. Just a sliver.
Posted on: September 20, 2010 11:04 am
Ah, it seems like The Decision was only yesterday. This week, CBSSports.com will be rolling out our team-by-team training camp primers, which can be found here in the BergerSphere and in the informative, snarky, rollicking neighborhood known as the Facts & Rumors blog . I'm starting with the defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics. You know, the Vintage Big Three. (I'm so 2008.) In keeping with the cloak of secrecy surrounding the Miami Heat's training camp, you will need a security clearance to find out when we're dropping the camp primer on the South Beach version of the Big Three.
Training camp site: Newport, R.I.
Training camp starts: Sept. 28
Key additions: Shaquille O’Neal (free agent), Jermaine O’Neal (free agent), Von Wafer (free agent), Delonte West (free agent)
Key subtractions: Tony Allen (free agent), Shelden Williams (free agent). • Likely starting lineup: Rajon Rondo, PG; Ray Allen, SG; Paul Pierce, SF; Kevin Garnett, PF; Jermaine O’Neal, C.
Player to watch: Kevin Garnett. Getting the Big Ticket back to health is of no small importance for the defending Eastern Conference champs. During the Celtics’ surprising run to the NBA Finals, KG finally started to move around better and was able to log substantial minutes without any obvious consequences. Will Garnett ever get back the explosiveness that he possessed before his knees started breaking down? No way. But if he can lose the limp and get some of his lateral mobility back – which he showed glimpses of during the Finals – his impact on the Celtics’ success cannot be overstated.
Chemistry check: Under Doc Rivers’ leadership, the Celtics have been more adept than any team in the league at incorporating new (and mostly zany) personalities into an established locker room. If the Celtics can withstand the potentially disruptive additions of Stephon Marbury, Nate Robinson and Rasheed Wallace, then bringing Shaq into the fold should be easy. But it’s worth wondering how enthusiastic O’Neal will be if asked to accept a secondary role – first to Jermaine O’Neal, and then to Kendrick Perkins once Perk recovers from his knee injury. Prediction: If Shaq didn’t make waves in Cleveland with the way Mike Brown underutilized him, there’s no way he causes trouble for Rivers. One thing about Shaq is that he respects those who’ve earned it. As for Delonte West: If anyone can harness his talents and help him get his personal life under control, it’s Rivers.
Camp battles: Boston has plenty of frontcourt depth. What Rivers will be looking to establish in camp at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., is a dependable backcourt rotation. Tony Allen, who became a defensive stopper of sorts during the playoffs, is a big loss. Rivers will be counting on Daniels, Robinson, West and perhaps someone who isn’t on the roster yet to give him quality minutes behind Rondo and Ray Allen.
Long shots: The Celtics recently worked out Adam Morrison, Rashad McCants, Cuttino Mobley and Trenton Hassell. There isn't much room at the inn, but it's a sign of how badly Boston needs some backcourt depth. Mobley, who has been cleared by doctors to resume his career after retiring due to a heart ailment, is the longest of these long shots.
Biggest strength: Experience. From the championship in ’08, to Garnett’s injuries, to Glen Davis’ shirtless, bloody fistfight in a moving car, to Rondo’s growth as the undisputed leader of the Big Four, to Perkins’ series-altering knee injury in the ’10 Finals, the Celtics have been galvanized by experiencing ups and downs together. Rivers’ decision to return for another season, coupled with extensions signed by Pierce and Ray Allen, has set the table for one more run with the Celtics’ core group before age catches up to them.
Glaring weakness: The glass-half-full version of the above says experience, exshmerience: The Celtics are too old for this stuff. But that’s what everybody thought last year when Boston played .500 ball from Christmas Day to the end of the regular season. At that point, my preseason Celtics-Spurs prediction for the Finals was looking about as dead in the water as the Celtics were. As it turned out, I was only half wrong. I wouldn’t advise counting them out until someone beats a fully healthy Celtics team in a seven-game series.