Celtics Finish Off Year 1 of Rebuild Process

BOSTON – Rebuilding.

The word consists of only 10 letters, but in the NBA, its depth is immeasurable.

When a franchise enters into the world of rebuilding, it enters into the world of the unknown. This process is a long and arduous one. It is embodied by hope, and there are no guarantees.

Except, of course, for the guarantee of a new beginning.

The Boston Celtics entered into the world of the unknown on Monday, Sept. 30, when a fresh crop of faces gathered in Waltham, Mass. for the team’s annual Media Day. This Media Day was far different than the previous six. Gone were the Big Three and their coach, Doc Rivers. In came the new regime of Brad Stevens, youth and draft picks.

Boston Celtics huddle

Year 1 of the latest Celtics rebuild featured many losses, but also plenty of promise.
Steve Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

This was Year 1 of the franchise’s latest rebuilding effort, a year that many expected to be quite trying. But Stevens, the first-year NBA head coach, had no interest in settling for the minimal expectations of others.

Stevens brought his team together for training camp and preached about taking the season one day at a time. Concentrate on today, he said. Do your job. Do the little things.

Boston’s players, comprised of only seven returnees and eight first-year Celtics, adhered quickly to their coach’s philosophies. They molded into a team during training camp and genuinely enjoyed playing with one another. Such was evident from the very onset of the regular season, as Boston surprised the masses with its grit and success.

The Celtics opened up the season with a four-game losing streak but quickly turned things around, so much so that they were atop the Atlantic Division standings as late as Dec. 21. The first two months of the season included several monumental victories, none of which were more memorable than a 111-110 shocker over the defending-champion Heat on Nov. 9 in Miami. (But don't forget that 41-point drubbing of the Knicks on Dec. 8 at The World's Most Famous Arena.)

One of the greatest reasons why Boston was able to surpass expectations was the play of mercurial guard Jordan Crawford. He held down the fort at the starting point guard position while Rajon Rondo healed up from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. He played so well in the role that he was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Dec. 9.

Crawford drew praise from everyone in the locker room for his play, but with Rondo set to return in January, Crawford was expendable. The team capitalized on his value by trading him away to Golden State on Jan. 15, just eight days after dealing away Courtney Lee, who was in the midst of his best season as a pro.

Those trades threw the Celtics for a loop. The team struggled to win without those two players, losing eight of nine games to begin 2014.

But the Celtics were just biding time during that stretch. The rest of the season was set to begin on Jan. 17, when Rondo would return to the lineup against the rival Los Angeles Lakers.

Rondo’s return was not a quiet one. After missing 51 weeks, the entire basketball universe was dying to watch him play. He returned to the lineup against Los Angeles and was named as the 17th captain in franchise history during the starting lineup announcements.

Many expected Rondo’s presence to help the Celtics get back on track. It did, in a sense, but not necessarily in the win column.

Following Rondo's return, Boston went only 11-31 as it dealt with a myriad of injuries. Rondo was one of eight Celtics who suffered injuries during the second half of the season. Those players combined to miss 101 games, and that total doesn't even include the eight games that Rondo missed as he sat out the second night of back-to-backs.

The Celtics managed to be competitive nearly every night despite playing with a wounded cast. Nineteen of their final 31 losses were by three possessions or less.

Another silver lining is that the losses were not logged in vain. Rondo made a clear and lasting impact on the growth of his teammates, most notably Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk.

Both young big men took their games to a new level while playing alongside Rondo. They played so well that the NBA tabbed them to participate in the Rising Stars game, which features the league’s top young talent. The selections primed Sullinger and Olynyk for strong finishes to the season.

Sullinger headed into the All-Star break having logged six consecutive double-doubles. He finished his sophomore campaign with a team-best 22 double-doubles while scoring 20 or more points on 15 occasions.

Olynyk’s numbers weren’t quite as flashy, but he sure did impress. From Feb. 7 on, he averaged 18.4 points per 36 minutes and 10.3 rebounds per 36 minutes. He shot the ball with confidence and consistency, making 50.9 percent of his field goal attempts, 40.3 percent of his 3s and 82.1 percent of his free throws during that time.

Fans savored the growth of their two young big men, just as they did with that surprisingly successful start to the season. The 2013-14 Boston Celtics had started anew, and in doing so they found a way to be both entertaining and encouraging.

That was the good side of this rebuilding year. The losses were at the other end of the spectrum. Everything between? Exactly what you’d expect from a team that jumped headfirst into the world of the unknown.