- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The under-construction version of the 2010-11 Celtics looks a whole lot like the final version of the 2009-10 Celtics. Whether that's a good thing seems to depends on who you ask.
Besides two rookies (Avery Bradley and Semih Erden), the Celtics have added just one new face this offseason: Jermaine O'Neal. Meanwhile, they've re-signed free agents Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels, while also coaxing coach Doc Rivers back to the bench.
There's one group of pundits that believes the reassembly of a roster that came one quarter shy of winning a world title last month is a good thing. There's another segment that believes that, as the rest of the Eastern Conference loads up, the Celtics have done little to make themselves better and that could prevent them from making another title run.
Which group is correct? We might not know for sure until June, but there's an argument for both sides.
Optimists' view of the offseason
Strength in consistency: For a Celtics team that leans so heavily on team chemistry and the Ubuntu mentality, keeping the core intact can only be a good thing. Rivers often cites the fact that Boston's starting five of Pierce, Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins is undefeated in postseason play when healthy. The continuity of the starters alone is reason to think the Celtics will remain in title contention.
Fresh start for bench: While much of an inconsistent bench remains intact, here's one thing to keep in mind: Boston was still trying to find the right chemistry and roles for its reserves late in the season and into the playoffs. Consider that Glen Davis missed the first 27 games of the season, then took time to settle into his role as an energy player who did the little things like clean up on the offensive glass and take charges. He hit his stride only late in the season.
Robinson and Daniels faded out of the rotation late in the regular season as they struggled to find their own niches. Robinson, learning on the fly after being acquired at the trade deadline, was a bit of a forgotten man until he surprisingly emerged in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Magic, then logged quality minutes through the NBA Finals against the Lakers.
If Davis avoids the off-court issues that plagued him to start the 2009-10 season, if Robinson gets a full training camp of experience, and if Daniels gets a defined role to start the season, it would seem the second unit is far more likely to hit the ground running in 2010-11.
O'Neal, when he slides to a reserve role upon Perkins' return from ACL surgery, has the potential to be a more consistent contributor than Rasheed Wallace proved to be over the course of an 82-game season.
Age ain't nothing but a number: Internally, the Celtics believe that their starters should be stronger this season, even at an advanced age. Further removed from the knee surgery he underwent last season, Garnett should continue to regain the form he displayed during his first two seasons in Boston. Pierce was hobbled by a steady stream of nagging injuries during the 2009-10 season and would surely benefit from better health, while Allen likely won't have to deal with the rumors that swirled around him at the trade deadline and clearly hindered his play.
As otherworldly as Rondo was in his first All-Star season, there's certainly room for growth, too, particularly in his perimeter jumper and free throw shooting.
Pessimists' view of the offseason
Grumpy old men: The Celtics were an aging bunch that ran out of gas at the worst possible moment last season and the Big Three will be a year older. Add to that, Perkins is coming off ACL surgery this offseason and isn't expected back until around the All-Star break, at which time there's no guarantee he'll even be near the levels he performed at last season. His replacement is a 14-year veteran who has endured knee and ankle injuries in recent seasons. Meanwhile, Rondo -- the one youthful spark plug in the projected opening-day starting lineup -- played 105 games last year and, even at age 24, risks running himself ragged by competing for Team USA during the offseason.
Those concerned with age also see a Boston team that often faded in the second half of games during the 2009-10 season. The Celtics stumbled their way to a fourth seed and made their playoff path more difficult than it needed to be, which could easily happen again this season with improved talent in the East.
Bench pressed: Boston has done little to flesh out its bench, re-signing two players that faded into relative obscurity late in last year's regular season (Daniels and Robinson) and the only other additions are unproven rookies in Bradley and Erden.
The Celtics have been done in by a lack of depth the past two seasons and the departure of Tony Allen -- the team's best reserve defender -- along with questionable depth in the frontcourt could easily spell their demise again in 2010-11 if not addressed before the start of the season.
Minimum wage: In order to fill out that bench, the Celtics are limited to offering free agents the veteran minimum from here on and, if forced to navigate that path, will be forced to pitch players to take less money for a shot at winning a title.
Final judgment: An unbiased opinion
Having played both prosecution and defense above, allow this reporter to play judge and jury as well. While deliberations really shouldn't even begin until the rest of this roster is assembled, it's safe to say the Celtics have at least succeeded in their primary goal of keeping the core of last season's team intact, something president of basketball operations Danny Ainge believed was his team's best chance to remain successful in the short term. What's more, he hasn't compromised the future to do that, aiming for short-term deals with every free agent but Pierce.
Bringing back Pierce and Ray Allen, particularly at team-friendly deals, were shrewd moves in a market where free agents cashed in early and often. The cash-strapped Celtics made the most of their non-Bird rights by retaining Robinson and Daniels, knowing both have low-risk, high-reward potential.
Tony Allen's departure certainly threw a wrench in Boston's otherwise breezy offseason. The Celtics' biggest challenge moving forward will be finding another quality wing to back up Pierce and Ray Allen, ideally someone who can provide an offensive punch at the shooting guard position (since Daniels' role is likely to focus on defense).
During a conference call Thursday, Robinson talked about the benefits of a "fresh start" this season, which his Shrek-and-Donkey colleague Davis can probably revel in as well after all the headaches he endured early last season, the biggest of which was a fractured thumb from an off-court tussle on the eve of the regular season.
As many things had to go right for Boston to make the Finals last season, you can actually see a lot of room for growth from most players.
In the end, Ainge's offseason is likely to be judged by how he proceeds from here. He's accomplished his main goal by bringing back the core (and, maybe most significantly, keeping Rivers on the bench). He's fine to stand pat from here, signing second-round draft choice Luke Harangody and maybe adding another veteran at a minimum contract before training camp.
But if he wants to sway some of those on the fence, there are moves he can make.
Whether that's rolling the dice with 38-year-old Shaquille O'Neal through a sign-and-trade with Cleveland (unless they can persuade Diesel to come for the minimum), or luring an impact perimeter player utilizing Wallace as trade bait, Ainge can acquiesce a lot of fears by adding just one more established player.
What some need to remember is that wholesale roster changes are not always needed to push a team over the top. It's hard for some to watch Miami reel in LeBron James and Chris Bosh to play with Dwyane Wade and wonder why Boston can't make similar additions. In a way they did with Pierce and Allen, but it's not as noteworthy since it simply keeps the band together.
But it's a band that's been to the Finals two of the last three seasons.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.