Tuesday , Oct , 19 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Boston Celtics 2004-05 Season Preview

=== Boston Celtics 2004-05 Season Preview ===

By Chris Ruddick, Contributing NBA Writer

2003-04 FINISH: 36-46

OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Gary Payton (G) – Trade with LA Lakers; Tom Gugliotta (F)
– Free Agent.

OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Brandon Hunter (F) – Selected by Charlotte in
Expansion Draft; Chucky Atkins (G) – Traded to LA Lakers; Jumaine Jones (F) –
Traded to LA Lakers: Chris Mihm (C/F) – Traded to LA Lakers.

2004 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (15) Al Jefferson (F, Prentiss HS); 1. (24) Delonte
West (G, Saint Joseph’s); 1. (25) Tony Allen (G, Oklahoma State); 2.
(40) Justin Reed (F, Ole Miss).

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Gary Payton, SG Paul Pierce, SF Ricky Davis,
PF Raef LaFrentz, C Mark Blount

COACH: Doc Rivers

(Sports Network) – The Doc Rivers era is about to begin in Boston, as the 13-
year NBA veteran and former coach of the Orlando Magic replaced interim coach
John Carroll in early May, becoming the 16th coach in Celtics history.

“Well this is an exciting time for the Boston Celtics,” said executive
director of basketball operations Danny Ainge. “I think you probably all know
this, but this is the guy we wanted to be our head coach, and this is why the
search was so fast and short.”

Boston finished the 2003-04 campaign at 36-46, good enough for the eighth seed
in the weak Eastern Conference. However, Carroll’s fate was sealed when the
Celtics were bounced in a four-game sweep.

Rivers spent four-plus seasons as the head coach of the Magic before he
was fired this past season after starting 1-10.

“The fact that Danny called me and offered [the job] to coach the Boston
Celtics; if you like basketball, I don’t know how you say no to that,” said
Rivers.

“You will find me with no agendas. I just want to win. However way we work to
do that, we are going to work to do it. We will both make mistakes and there
will be times when I want to hug you and times I want to kill you. But in the
end, as long as we are shaking hands, things will work out great. ”

The 42-year-old Rivers brings a new energy and his coaching philosophy is more
in sync with what Ainge is trying to build. Rivers was primarily hired to
develop the young talent in Beantown and give players such as their three
first round picks from this year – Al Jefferson, Marcus Banks and Delontae
West – an opportunity to play.

Rivers’ presence was immediately felt, as he convinced free agent center Mark
Blount to re-sign. Blount, coming off a career-year, was heavily sought after
by the Miami Heat and the Philadelphia 76ers, but after speaking with Rivers,
decided to stay in Boston.

Then, not one to stand pat, Ainge went out and acquired 36-year-old point
guard Gary Payton from the Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics also received
forward Rick Fox, a future first-round draft pick, and cash from the Lakers.
In return, Boston sent guard Chucky Atkins, forward Jumaine Jones and
forward/center Chris Mihm and a future second-round pick to LA. Fox, though,
announced his retirement soon after the deal.

Payton, who was also arrested in late August for suspicion of drunken driving,
was not happy with the deal and had threatened to not report to Celtics camp.
However, after a lot of hemming and hawing Payton arrived on time.

As always,though, the one stabilizing force within the Celtics organization
will be All- Star Paul Pierce, who for the second straight season will have to
deal with plenty of new faces in the starting lineup.

BACKCOURT

How much does Payton have left in the tank? If last year’s NBA Finals are any
indication, he might be at the end of the line. Payton played in all 82 games
for the Lakers last season and averaged 14.6 points-per-game and 5.5 assists,
but was never fully comfortable in Phil Jackson’s ‘triangle offense”.

“Last year it was tough for him to get tired because of the way they were
playing. He was standing in the corner by himself without the ball a lot,”
said Rivers, who noted the Lakers got away from Payton pushing the ball
upcourt as the season progressed. “Gary’s a guy that likes to run the show and
that’s why we brought him in here.”

Another role for Payton will be that of teacher, as the team selected West
with the second of their three first round picks. The St. Joseph’s standout,
who probably would have benefited with one more year of college, now has the
chance to learn from one of the best of all-time.

“I know I’m going to have to take a couple of them under my wing to try to
make them better basketball players,” Payton said. “Hopefully, they can catch
on really quick and we can get wins.”

Starting alongside Payton will be the great Pierce, who averaged 23 points,
6.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 80 games for the Celtics during the regular
season. Pierce, a three-time All-Star, is one of the league’s best, but as
proved last year, he cannot win by himself.

With Payton in town, Pierce might be more open to trusting his teammates and
not look to take too much upon himself. Last year, he tried to do it all and
at times handled the ball too much and forced far too many shots.

Pierce will also run the point at times.

Ricky Davis, who was acquired from Cleveland midseason last year in a
questionable move by Ainge, will be Pierce’s primary backup. Davis has the
ability to excite the crowd with a dunk, but also has a propensity to complain
about playing time.

Davis, who averaged 14.1 ppg in 57 games with the Celts last year, has to play
with more discipline or will soon find himself in Rivers’ doghouse.

Also, Allen, the final first round pick of Boston, could find a way into the
rotation based on his defensive presence.

FRONTCOURT

There is some optimism at the forward position for the Celtics, as Raef
LaFrentz comes into camp healthy after missing most of last season following
season-ending right knee surgery in December.

The 6-foot-11 LaFrentz, who was the key to last year’s Antoine Walker deal,
almost has to have a big year to justify the deal. If he is indeed healthy he
brings a huge rebounding and blocking presence, as well as the ability to
shoot the ball.

Jiri Welsch, the other piece in the Walker deal, will start at the other
forward position. Welsch struggled at times last season, but should thrive in
Rivers’ up-tempo style this year. The 24-year-old Welsch, who scored 9.2 ppg
and 3.7 rebounds-a-game, also has a surprising amount of athleticism, but just
needs more time on the court.

Welsch, 6-foot-7, could also run the point at times.

In the middle will be the Blount, who was awarded with a deal reportedly worth
$41 million over six years for his play last season. The 28-year-old Blount
played in all 82 games, starting 73, for Boston and averaged career-highs in
points (10.3 ppg) and rebounds (7.2 rpg).

Blount, one of the most sought after free agents this summer, gives the
Celtics a toughness inside and has the athleticism to run the floor in the
team’s up-tempo offense. He also knocks down almost every shot he takes, as he
ranked second in the league in field goal shooting.

Walter McCarty will be the primary substitution in the front court and will
see time at all three spots. The 6-foot-10 McCarty also has the ability to
draw defenders to the perimeter thanks to his ability to knock down the three-
point shot.

McCarty will also be counted on to be somewhat of a mentor to the team’s
first, first-round pick 19-year-old Al Jefferson, who is right out of high
school. The 6-foot-10 Jefferson will not be rushed by Rivers, but the team
could use another rebounding presence.

Kendrick Perkins, a first round pick out of high school from a year ago, could
also find his way into the rotation. He has lost 43 pounds this offseason,
making him better suited for the running game.

OUTLOOK

Luckily the Boston Celtics play in the Eastern Conference, so they should make
the playoffs as a lower-seeded team. However, after another roster shakeup the
Celtics have their work cut out for them. Ainge, though, probably isn’t done
tinkering with the team with the next deal always being right around the
corner.

BOS