13 BOSTON CELTICS

October 27, 2014

2013--14 RECORD: 25--57 (4TH IN ATLANTIC) COACH: BRAD STEVENS (2ND SEASON WITH CELTICS)

SPOTLIGHT

On the first day of training camp, impending free agent Rajon Rondo was succinct when asked if he envisioned staying in Boston beyond this season: "Yes." Celtics president Danny Ainge echoes that sentiment. "We'd love to keep him," said Ainge.

Despite those comments, the point guard's future will be a persistent story line for rebuilding Boston. The Celtics' quiet off-season left the core of a 25--57 team intact; coach Brad Stevens will have to develop promising young big men Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk while breaking in rookie guards Marcus Smart (the sixth pick) and James Young (17th). Stevens will get help from Rondo, who struggled last season following a mid-January return from right-ACL surgery. After a summer of conditioning, Rondo—who might miss the beginning of the season with a broken left hand—should look more like the four-time All-Star who led the NBA in assists in two of the last three seasons. Rondo, 28, has formed good chemistry with backcourt mate Avery Bradley and a strong bond with Stevens. "He's the most positive coach I've ever played for," says Rondo.

Ainge, though, has to think long term. Rondo, who will earn $12.9 million this season, says he deserves a max deal. Though Ainge insists that Rondo and Smart can play together, neither provides consistent scoring from the perimeter. There will be a market for Rondo, leaving Ainge with a decision: continue building around him, or deal him and find a new centerpiece.

PROJECTED LINEUP

(2013--14 STATS)

STARTERS

PG

RAJON RONDO

11.7 PPG; 9.8 APG; 5.5 RPG; 40.3 FG%

SG

AVERY BRADLEY

14.9 PPG; 3.8 RPG; 43.8 FG%; 39.5 3FG%

SF

JEFF GREEN

16.9 PPG; 4.6 RPG; 41.2 FG%; 34.1 3FG%

PF

JARED SULLINGER

13.3 PPG; 8.1 RPG; 1.6 APG; 42.7 FG%

C

KELLY OLYNYK

8.7 PPG; 5.2 RPG; 1.6 APG; 46.6 FG%

BENCH

PF

BRANDON BASS

11.1 PPG; 5.7 RPG; 0.9 BPG; 48.6 FG%

SG

EVAN TURNER*

14.0 PPG; 5.0 RPG; 3.2 APG; 42.5 FG%

*NEW ACQUISITION

BEST CASE

Bradley, Olynyk, Smart and Sullinger all flourish, giving the rebuilding job some traction.

WORST CASE

Poor shooting and no go-to scorers blunt Boston's bid to improve on last season's 28th-ranked offense.

ENEMY LINES

A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE CELTICS

Rajon Rondo sometimes tries to do too much and his shooting remains an issue, but put him with quality players and you can win a championship. I don't see the Celtics keeping him past the February trade deadline, though. If they were planning to retain Rondo, why draft Marcus Smart? ... Smart has ideal size [6'4", 220 pounds] for a one, and he's a rugged defender. He can't shoot from outside, but his form is not that bad. If that skill progresses, he can be a star.... Avery Bradley needs to continue to develop on offense to justify his new contract [four years, $32 million]. They have to be encouraged with his improved shooting. [At 6'2", 180 pounds] he's at a size disadvantage against a lot of twos, but he's relentless on defense with great feet.... At his best, Jeff Green makes shots, drives and finishes, and draws fouls. But there are times when you don't know he's on the floor.... Evan Turner isn't adept at running an offense, and he lacks shooting range. If he produces early, they might try to trade him.... Marcus Thornton is out there to score. He's never been bashful, but he can shoot you out of a game just as easily as he can shoot you into one.... Their young big men—Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller—have shooting ability but make little impact as rim protectors.... Brandon Bass is undersized, but he can guard some of the quicker fours.... Players responded to Brad Stevens. He has the right disposition and is more accepting of the NBA way of doing things than most other coaches who have jumped from college.

PHOTOBARRY GOSSAGE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGESFree agency looms for C's leader Rondo. FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS

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)