COACH: Jim O'Brien (first full season, 24-24 overall)
LAST SEASON: 36-46, fifth in Atlantic Division
ARRIVALS: F Joe Johnson (first-round pick), F Kedrick Brown (first-round pick), G Joe Forte (first-round pick), F Roshown McLeod (trade with Philadelphia)
DEPARTURES: G-F Adrian Griffin, F Jerome Moiso, G Bryant Stith
SLAM DUNKS: The tandem of G-F Paul Pierce (25.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and F Antoine Walker (23.4, 8.9, 5.5 apg) is one of the best in the NBA. It is a nightmare to match up against and at least one of them should make the All-Star Game. Pierce was second only to Allen Iverson in 40-point games and Walker relaxed once Rick Pitino's voice stopped ringing in his head. The rookies, specifically Johnson and Forte, can play. Johnson knows how to score and Forte has a sweet shot that should keep defenses honest. There finally is some continuity here as most of the core is back. Those players wanted O'Brien as their coach and will benefit from a full training camp with him.
AIRBALLS: There are big question marks of consistency at center with the lumbering Vitaly Potapenko (7.5, 6.0) and foul-prone Tony Battie (6.5, 5.8) and at point guard, where Kenny Anderson (7.5, 4.1 apg) is denying that he is through. The Celts are considering Walker as a point forward, which is all you need to know. Walker sliding over to point helps a bit in loosening the logjam at the 2 and 3 spots. There already are five players for two positions, and that does not include McLeod (9.7) or F Eric Williams (6.6). The Celts could do themselves a favor and move one or two of these guys for an upgrade at the point or the pivot. This way, their kids can play a bit.
IN THE ZONE: With the lack of size and inexperience, don't expect to see many 2-1-2 alignments from the Celts. Potapenko is not a shot-blocker and Anderson is a liability at the defensive end. The team should play more of a helping scheme that most teams used under the old rules. It does have some zone-busters on offense, though.
OUTLOOK: Based on the .500 finish and the failed playoff run under O'Brien, there is optimism here. Pierce and Walker will keep the Celts competitive, but it is hard to imagine them crashing the postseason party unless they get some help from another team that stumbles or make a move for a space-eating rebounder. In other words, a guy like Danny Fortson, whom they traded away last year.
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