Danny Ainge has had a strange summer. One marked huge change, which has placed a lot of pressure squarely on his shoulders. He's invested in a young group of players who seem ready to play hard for a young coach with an "aw shucks" smile and a brain wired for basketball.
Ainge seems focused on rebuilding this team without having to reach the bottom of the preverbal barrel. Is this a case of wanting his cake, and eating it too? Is he foolish in thinking that group of 15 players can compete and excite fans this season, while also hoping it can grow into something better down the road?
One thing that seems incredibly clear right now about this roster is that there is a lot of competition at every position. Discussions regarding a starting line-up resemble that of an Iowa straw poll a year before the election, there are a lot of names on the ballot, and no one is quite sure who will come out on top.
Competition, especially among players that have been written off, can be a fantastic galvanizing force. When examining the players that the Celtics got from the Brooklyn Nets, each one has something to prove. Is Kris Humphries really worth $12 million a year? Is Gerald Wallace going to shoot as poorly as he did in 2012-13? Can MarShon Brooks score at the rate he did his rookie year?
Those three players, all in parts of their career with something to prove could be important to the success of this team.
More questions that will motivate:
Can Rajon Rondo really be a leader (does he need to be considering what Jared Sullinger is doing right now?)?
Is Jeff Green capable of scoring 20 points a game as the first scoring option?
Is Avery Bradley worth a new contract next season?
These questions are huge, career altering questions. Each player on this team has something to prove on the court. When you have players playing for their future, while competing for playing time, it could turn into something really powerful. For this Celtics team "powerful" would probably translate to 40 wins.
The down side of the competition, especially in basketball, is it could turn toxic. Players start to worry about "getting theirs," and losing sight of the team goals that Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge will set when training camp opens.
Expecting each player to answer their question with a resounding "yes" is unlikely. Some players will shrink under this pressure.
The bright side of a big roster is also the possibility that a few players make themselves more valuable on the trade market. If Kris Humphries proves he is worth $12 million, then maybe a team rents him for the stretch run. His contract expires at the end of the season, so he's a good asset.
Making predictions, when we don't know what Rondo's health is, is useless. But understanding that this team is going to have competition as soon as training camp opens could help galvanize them. Considering how weak the bottom of the Eastern Conference is, it could be enough to catapult them into the playoffs. Now, whether that's the goal or not is a whole different article.
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