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Celtics' Stevens has work cut out for him in 2nd season

POSTED: Oct 20, 2014 6:34 PM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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2014-15 Celtics Team Preview

Sekou Smith examines the season ahead for the Boston Celtics.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens does not have an easy job.

First of all, his team isn't very good. Even in the weaker conference, the Celtics don't have the talent to compete for a playoff spot. In the standings, the second year of Stevens' six-year contract will likely look a lot like the first.

But Stevens also has a challenge in divvying up playing time amongst a deep group of guards, including Rajon Rondo and the guy who may eventually replace him, Marcus Smart.

Celtics Team Preview: Rajon Rondo

Grant Hill and Mike Fratello go into the mind of Danny Ainge to predict where Rondo will land, and look at the transition of Brad Stevens to the pro game.

Both Celtics president Danny Ainge and Rondo have said that they hope to stay together long-term. But the point guard is in the final year of his contract, the rest of the Celtics roster is a few years from being any good, and Ainge hasn't had any luck in adding another All-Star via trade. We've seen this situation with All-Stars on young and mediocre teams many times before, and the result is often a parting of ways.

So the questions regarding Rondo's future will continue. Meanwhile, Smart, the No. 6 pick in the 2014 Draft, arrives with a higher ceiling than any of the Celtics' other young players, needing playing time and development right away.

He's not what you'd consider to be a pure one, a la a Rondo. But he's also a guy that can handle it.

– Brad Stevens on Marcus Smart

Rondo's broken left hand, which will force him to miss all of training camp and the start of the season for the second straight year, gives the rookie a chance to prove himself right away. But when Rondo eventually returns, Stevens will likely see if the two can play together, because he believes they have different skill sets. Smart, in Stevens' mind, is more of a combo guard.

"He's a basketball player," Stevens said of the 20 year old. "He's not what you'd consider to be a pure one, a la a Rondo. But he's also a guy that can handle it. He can play off pick-and-rolls. He can also play off pin-downs and actions off the ball, which is pretty unique."

Two ball-handlers are better than one, especially when you're trying to play at a fast pace, like Stevens is. But the Celtics' backcourt logjam doesn't end with Rondo and Smart. Over the summer, they drafted James Young with the 17th pick, acquired Marcus Thornton in a three-team trade, re-signed Avery Bradley to a four-year contract, and added Evan Turner with a two-year deal. And as the Celtics try to determine which of their young players are keepers, second-year point guard Phil Pressey also deserves a chance to show what he can do. Pressey's rookie numbers don't stand out, but he was just a minus-27 in 1,132 minutes on a 25-win team.

None of the seven guards competing for playing time are guys that Stevens can consistently depend on. Smart and Young are just rookies, Bradley is limited offensively, Thornton is a no-conscience gunner, Turner was a disaster after being traded to Indiana last season, and even Rondo will have to prove that he's past his injuries and can lift up a young team. As Stevens tries to find the right combinations from night to night, he also has to keep everyone happy and motivated on a team that will lose more games than it wins.

"Brad has his work cut out for him this year," Ainge said before training camp began. "He's got a tough challenge in just figuring out rotations. But I'm really curious to see who's going to step up."

Seeing who steps up will make it easier for Ainge make his decisions. And eventually, he can make things easier on his coach by thinning out that depth chart.

ICYMI ...

With two top-20 picks, the Celtics may have drafted their backcourt of the future ... They picked up a future first round pick for helping the Cavs clear cap space for LeBron James ... Avery Bradley was re-signed with a four-year, $32 million contract ... Wyc Grousbeck questioned Rondo's coachability ... Rondo broke his hand four days before camp started.

THREE POINTS

1. The frontcourt depth chart would be a little clearer, except that Stevens plans on sometimes going small with Jeff Green or Gerald Wallace at the four, where they'll take minutes away from Brandon Bass, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller.

2. A Bradley-Smart backcourt would be pretty strong defensively. Bradley has always been an on-the-ball pest, and Smart appears to be of the same mold on that end of the floor.

3. As he talks deals with other teams, Ainge is aiming high. "There's always things that you think you might be able to do to get a tiny bit better," he said, "but our goals are much bigger than that. We want to hang banners in Boston. So ultimately, that's what drives all of our decisions."

MAN ON THE SPOT

Ainge began the teardown of a perennial contender last year, but still has a lot of work to do to get his team back to relevance. He has six guys on the roster who were drafted in the first round and are 24 years old or younger, but none of them look like superstar material. With the possibility of losing Rondo to free agency next summer, it will likely be a more interesting season off the court than on the court for the Celtics.

STARTING FIVE

Celtics depth chart

Rajon Rondo | 11.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 9.8 apg
He's 20 months out from ACL surgery, but is dealing with another injury.

Avery Bradley | 14.9 ppg | 3.8 rpg | 1.4 apg
The 23-year-old had a bigger offensive role last season and got a new deal to boot.

Jeff Green | 16.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.7 apg
With his consistency and efficiency issues, he shouldn't be a team's leading scorer.

Jared Sullinger | 13.3 ppg | 8.1 rpg | 1.6 apg
Played 74 games the season after back surgery but still needs to get more efficient.

Kelly Olynyk | 8.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.6 apg
Celtics a plus-4.8 points per 100 possessions in 542 minutes with Olynyk and Sullinger together.

RESERVES

Celtics Team Preview: Young Backcourt

Vince Cellini, Mike Fratello, and Grant Hill look at the rookie backcourt of Marcus Smart and James Young, and determine how they will fare this season.

Marcus Smart | Rookie
All eyes on him as Boston looks to the future.

Evan Turner | 14.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.2 apg
Could play some PG, SG and SF.

Tyler Zeller | 5.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.5 bpg
Sent East to clear way for LeBron in Cleveland.