With the departure of free agent Ray Allen, the Celtics' hopes for extending their run of title contention will be pinned to their deeper bench. Leaning on the reserves will serve two purposes: It will ease pressure on 36-year-old Kevin Garnett and 35-year-old Paul Pierce, and hasten the development of young assets to take over (or be traded for new stars) in two or three years.

In the short term Jason Terry, a 35-year-old free-agent pickup from the Mavericks, will be charged with replacing Allen's clutch shooting. Like Terry, new pickup Courtney Lee is a proven scorer. But the rest of the expected contributors come with issues. Guard Avery Bradley is sidelined until December while he recovers from off-season surgery on both shoulders. Jeff Green missed all of last season due to heart surgery. Of course it helps that Boston has as its floor leader Rajon Rondo, arguably the league's best quarterback. Rondo gives Boston hope. But many questions are beyond his control.

FAST FACTS

COACH: Doc Rivers (9th season with Celtics)

2011--12 RECORD: 39--27 (1st in Atlantic)

OFFENSE: 91.8 ppg (26th)

DEFENSE: 89.3 ppg (2nd)

PICK-AND-ROLL OFFENSE: 22.6 ppg (18th)

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE

in the East from a strength standpoint is going to be Andrew Bynum in Philadelphia.... I'm not 100% sold on Avery Bradley yet. He can guard the one or two, but offensively he doesn't think the game well enough to be a point guard. And he has got to be a better shooter to be a two.

THE LOWDOWN

Best Case

The elder stars are healthy for the playoffs, and Boston upsets the Heat on their way to another Finals against the Lakers.

Worst Case

Overwhelmed by their mileage, the Celtics put up a fight but succumb to younger legs early in the playoffs.

TELLING NUMBER

3

Consecutive seasons in which the Celtics have lowered the NBA record for fewest offensive rebounds per game. In 2009--10 they set an NBA low with 8.7. In '10--11 that number dropped to 7.8, and it fell to 7.7 last year.

PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYER (PIERCE) PHOTOROBERTO SERRA/IGUANA PRESS/GETTY IMAGES (TERRY)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)