It may be the middle of summer, but it's never too early to start thinking about the NBA fantasy ahead. First up, the defending champions.

The Celtics came flying out of the gates (29-3 record to start the season) and never looked back. They had the No. 1 defense in the league, they beat their regular season foes by an average scoring margin of 10.3 points and they decisively beat the Lakers in the Finals to win their record 17th NBA championship.

Fantasy-wise, the Celtics had a pace factor of just 90.9 (ranking 19th in the league), which, coupled with their scoring margin, limited the fantasy value of their players (especially KG).

Added: Patrick O'Bryant, J.R. Giddens, Bill Walker, Semih Erden Lost: James Posey, P.J. Brown

The 7-foot O'Bryant was the ninth overall pick in 2006 by Golden State, but he never proved his worth to Don Nelson and thus the Warriors let him go. He will attempt to replace P.J. Brown, who is likely retiring after a rock solid NBA career (one championship, one sportsmanship award, and three All-Defensive second team selections). Erden is another 7-foot project, but he's going to stay in Turkey this season. Both Giddens and Walker are ultra-athletic rookie swingmen who will try to help fill the gaping hole left by James Posey's departure. Don't expect much from either.

Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will play 33-36 minutes per game and post similar stats to last season. At point guard and center, respectively, Rajon Rondo (30.0 mpg) and Kendrick Perkins (24.5 mpg) proved last season they are more than capable starters. With another year of experience and a boost of NBA title confidence, expect a slight bump in playing time and production for both youngsters. Perkins has had shoulder problems in the past, but he recently had surgery and should be good to go for '08-09.

With Posey (24.6 mpg) gone, Tony Allen (18.3 mpg) will become Boston's sixth man and defensive stopper off the bench. He struggled last year recovering from a major knee injury, but he could bounce back nicely in '08-09. ... Eddie House (19.0 mpg) will backup Rondo at PG and provide instant offense as usual. Since Allen is not the three-point shooter Posey was, House could easily surpass his career-high of 1.5 made threes per game. ... Leon Powe (14.5 mpg) will be Boston's first big man off the bench. He showed his explosiveness when he scored 21 points in just 15 minutes in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, and he should play a little more this season. ... Glen "Big Baby" Davis had a decent rookie season and probably has the inside track over O'Bryant as the backup center. None of the bench bigs are likely to have any fantasy value, though, unless there's an injury. ... And of course, Brian Scalabrine will get his usual 10th man mop-up minutes.

Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen

At first glance, Rondo appears as if he's little more than a two-category fantasy player, finishing 13th in steals and 22nd in assists per game last year. However, his field-goal percentage was solid at 49.2 percent, his turnovers were fairly low at just 1.9 per game, and the only PGs who pulled down more rebounds were Jason Kidd and Baron Davis. Of course, he still can't make a three to save his life and his free throw shooting was horrendous at just 61.1 percent, but that just means there's plenty of room for improvement in the 22-year old's game and fantasy value. After averaging 30 minutes and 5.1 assists per game in the regular season, he pumped those numbers up to 32 minutes and 6.6 dimes per in the playoffs, a very promising sign for the season ahead. His offensive game is still unpolished, but he should be a decent No. 2 or excellent No. 3 point guard in '08-09.

After tearing both the ACL and MCL in his left knee in January '07, Allen returned to the court just nine months later in time for last season. Much of his quickness and explosiveness was gone, but he was still a quality defender despite a mediocre season. Fantasy-wise, he wasn't even a blip on the radar screen, but that could change this year with more playing time. Before his injury, Allen was putting up big-time stats before he blew out his knee (in 19 games, he averaged 16.6 points, 5.3 boards, 2.6 assists, 2.2 steals, .6 blocks, 52.3% FG, and 79.0% FT in 32.5 minutes per game). There's no way he'll duplicate those numbers this season, but he could have some value if his knee is completely healthy. If he looks good in preseason, don't be afraid to gamble on him.

Ray Allen

Allen was brilliant in the NBA Finals, recording 122 points, 30 rebounds, 8 steals, 4 blocks and making 22 of 42 threes in just six games, but he had been struggling quite a bit before that. He still finished the regular season as a top-50 fantasy player, but his stats were down in nearly every single category last season. As long as he can walk, Mr. Shuttlesworth will be able to hit some threes, but there are other areas of concern. His steals per game slipped from 1.5 to .9, suggesting that the 33-year old may have lost half a step. And his stellar 90 percent free-throw shooting isn't nearly as helpful to your fantasy team when he's attempting just 3.2 freebies per game, as he did last year, vs. the career-high 5.6 that he atttempted just one year earlier. Don't get me wrong, Allen is still an elite fantasy player. Just don't use a second- or third-round pick on him like you would have done in the past.

(Where you should draft the follwoing Celtics in an eight-category roto league with 12 teams and 13 man rosters)

Garnett: Mid-to-Late 1st Pierce: 2nd - 3rd R. Allen: 5th - 6th Rondo: 7th - 8th Perkins: 10th - 11th T. Allen: Last round (if he looks good in preseason) House: Don't draft (but pickup if you need threes) Powe: Don't draft (but pickup ASAP if KG goes down)

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