Fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell ... The NBA season is right around the corner. To get you ready, we've put together pop quizzes. Pencils ready? We continue our Pop Quiz series with the following question ...
Can the Celtics be consistent enough to contend?
When the Celtics lost to the Turkish team Fenerbahce on Friday, it was hardly a news-maker. Exhibition games just don't carry any weight, for good reason. The Celtics have been on a shortened training camp in Istanbul this week, Doc Rivers wasn't going to play starters significant minutes, it was a huge game for Fenerbahce and a game that no Celtic will remember. It's not a good thing the Celtics lost, but it's not a bad thing, either.
And there were positive signs, like the play of Jeff Green in transition, taking over offensively and showing no signs of rust from a year off; and Jared Sullinger making the savvy plays under the basket that he was known for in college and which many, myself included, doubted he could translate to the league. Rajon Rondo looked like Rajon Rondo.
But overall, the loss itself, while not indicative of an answer, does speak to the biggest question about the Celtics.
This team is neither wholly a collection of veteran players relying on experience and precision nor a group of young exciting stars developing or in their primes. It's both, and while the obvious positive side of that is it can lead to balance and versatility, with the Celtics able to out-wit and out-muscle you, and run with you if needed, there's also a dichotomy that creates question marks about the entire makeup.
Older players are prone to nights during which they just don't have it, and we're not talking "a bit past their prime" here. Kevin Garnett was the playoffs MVP for two rounds last season. And yet when the tank went empty against the Heat, that's all she wrote. Garnett had some of those same issues throughout the year, despite a brilliant campaign. Paul Pierce has suffered with health and conditioning, and those issues will likely continue.
Meanwhile, Green lost a pivotal year of development. While he's no spring chicken anymore, he never really established an identity before he lost a year to his heart condition. Courtney Lee is about as feast-or-famine as a still relatively young guy gets. The two rookies look to play a major part. But as talented physically as Fab Melo is, he's too raw mentally to be given heavy minutes. Sullinger is crafty but will have problems with bigger, more physical opponents.
What you have is a team with balance, but that balance exists on both sides. Every team has weaknesses, and the Celtics will no doubt be one of the stongest teams in the league. But their season ultimately will be decided by their ability to create consistency from the Two Face-like roster that they've established. Their team begins with the top-heavy Big 3 of Rondo, Pierce and Garnett and ends with the depth and versatility of Green, Lee and their athletic players' ability to sync with Rondo.
Jason Terry, whose appearance in Celtics green on Friday was genuinely disorienting, and Green might be the keys. Terry is 35 and showed signs last year of being vulnerable to age. If Terry is the JET, making huge plays and big shots like he did in 2011, the Celtics can largely imitate the 2008 and 2010 Celtics teams that won the East. Likewise, if Green is able to take a step forward in his aggressiveness, the Celtics could make a transition to a new era.
It's a coin flip on both of them. If they both come up heads, the Celtics could contend for a title. If neither does, the Cetics could find they brought back the band under misguided pretexts. And if only one does, which is of course the more sensible scenario (not mathematically; they're not actually coin flips), they'll be a strong team that might not be good enough to contend for a title.
Finding the balance will be the key. And for a team that Rivers has leaned on his starters for so long, it provides a huge opportunity and significant challenges to the Celtics' quest for Banner No. 18.