Updated: Oct. 26, 2005, 11:39 PM ET

Celts stockpiling young talent


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Where will the Boston Celtics finish in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference? Get 12 different takes from ESPN's NBA experts.

Marc Stein ESPN.com
With all the kids they have now, this looks like a developmental season for the Atlantic champs. Or a season to be dominated by months of Paul Pierce trade speculation.
Chris Sheridan ESPN Insider
With the departures of Payton and Walker, this is practically a team of children after you get past Pierce, LaFrentz and Davis. Danny Ainge will be fielding calls until mid-February about Pierce, whose displeasure is not likely to remain muted for quite as long.
Will Perdue ESPN Insider
If Paul Pierce is going to be this team's leader he needs to convey a tougher mental attitude. Who cares if they don't like you? Just make them want to play with you and follow your lead.
Jim O'Brien ESPN Insider
The Celtics were fifth in scoring last year and rode this stat to an Atlantic championship. Doc Rivers must find a point guard. Rebounding and sending their opponents to the foul line are areas of concern.
Eric Neel ESPN
Page 2


If they run, they'll be fun and dangerous.

Tim Legler ESPN Insider

See Item 7 for Legler's analysis of the Boston Celtics.

Scoop Jackson ESPN
Page 2


No Antoine, no peace.

John Hollinger ESPN Insider
Youth contingent would be good enough to make playoffs if they had a more credible answer at point guard. But watch out for Al Jefferson.

Chad Ford ESPN Insider
Antoine Walker's late-season return boosted Boston to a No. 3 seed. With Walker and Gary Payton gone, the Celtics are finally committing to their youth movement. It might be painful this year but should pay off down the road. .
John Carroll Scouts Inc.
Which Mark Blount will show up for 82 games this year? Blount looks good in the preseason. Who will be the point guard? Only rookie Orien Greene looks as though he has the tools and body to defend at a high level and run the team.
Ric Bucher ESPN Mag
Who they are this season won't be decided until they move Paul Pierce. None of the deals so far make sense because they need a grade-A point guard and none appear available.
Chris Broussard ESPN Insider

It's all about the future, so Pierce must go.

Pay it forward
Rivers and Green
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who played point guard for 13 seasons, drops some knowledge on rookie Gerald Green.

Lineup Breakdown
ESPN The Magazine sizes up the Celtics roster:

Starters: Maybe Blount and Davis can bring more pep than Pierce saps.
Nice D in post, but it's points they want. And aren't yet getting.
21.6 ppg was his third straight decline in points, but ...
Raef's 11.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg reversed a two-year slide!
The calming influence last year. Think about it.
As long as he's healthy. But game needs more than a flu shot.
Bench: Dan Dickau, at 6-feet, is too short. Rook Gerald Green (6-8, 200) is too skinny. Al Jefferson is just young.



ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hit newsstands Wednesday.

Hollinger's Player Spotlight
Paul Pierce
Player Efficiency Rating
vs. NBA Avg.: +6.82

Paul Pierce played far better last season than he had in his disappointing 2003-04 season, and the key was his shooting. Pierce posted career highs in field-goal and free-throw percentages, averaging more points per 40 minutes despite taking fewer shots. He also shot 37 percent on 3-pointers after being mired at 30 percent for two straight seasons, largely because he stopped forcing so many off the dribble.

Pierce is one of the premier foul-drawers in the NBA and kept it up last season, earning more than eight free-throws a game from his spinning forays to the basket. He is very strong for a perimeter player and protects the ball well. Plus, he's a master at creating contact while going up for the shot. Combining the free throws with his improved shooting, Pierce's true shooting percentage ranked fourth among small forwards, which is an impressive accomplishment considering how often Pierce shot the ball.

In addition, he continues to be among the best at his position in both passing and rebounding, enabling him to fill the stat sheet. His defense is solid too. Although Pierce has too much offensive responsibility to play the role of a stopper, his defensive player efficiency rating was solid and his anticipation netted him 1.6 steals per game.

Despite his accomplishments, the Celtics were pondering trading Pierce in the offseason. Although he's unselfish and plays hard, he has become increasingly grumpy over the past few seasons and might benefit from a change of scenery. His gaffe at the end of Game 6 against Indiana, when he nearly cost the Celtics the game by committing a technical foul after the Pacers intentionally fouled him, also lost him some fans in the organization.

The Celtics need to be careful though. They can't let Pierce's gloominess blind them to the fact that he's the only reason they won the division last year, and that they won't be going back to the playoffs unless they can get a star of equal caliber in return. Considering the low likelihood of doing so, they're probably best off living with his foibles.

-- Celtics player profiles from John Hollinger's "Pro Basketball Forecast: 2005-06," available at Amazon.com and Potomac Books.

Ricky on the rise
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
Ricky rises above a crowd with ease, but can the Celtics stay above the Atlantic fray?

SportsNation Speaks
Other than the development of the Celtics' kids, the biggest question going into Boston's season is the future of Paul Pierce.

We asked SportsNation what Celts prez Danny Ainge should do:

Should the Celtics trade Paul Pierce?
53.2% Yes
46.8% No

Vote: Celtics in 2005-06 | Results

Tim's Time
Paul Pierce

Legs on Celtics: Doc Rivers did all he could with a very young team last season. The problem he will face this season is that they didn't get much better in the offseason.

Paul Pierce is a year older and had, arguably, his worst pro season in 2004-05. The young kids (Delonte West, Al Jefferson and Tony Allen) will be better, but they are still, at this point, average NBA players. Ricky Davis accepted his sixth man role a year ago, but will he be as content this time around?

The bright spot could come from Gerald Green, the Texas high-schooler who looks an awful lot like a young Tracy McGrady.

When you add it all up, the Celts will be on the outside looking in when April rolls around.

Tim Legler, ESPN Insider

Coach's Corner
Doc Rivers
Experience: 6 years
Reg. season record: 216-205
Playoff record: 8-14
Coach's profile

Doc Rivers' high-powered offense was ranked No. 5 in scoring last year and the Celtics used this weapon to win the Atlantic Division.

To repeat, the C's must solve their turnover woes (No. 26), poor rebounding (No. 26) and their fouling problems (opponents shot the second most free throws).

Jim O'Brien, ESPN.com Insider

Hollinger's Q & A
What will Danny think of next?

Ainge's plan resulted in a surprise division championship last season, but nobody thinks he's anywhere close to done. In fact, most expect the Celtics to take a step backward this season as veterans such as Antoine Walker, Gary Payton and Walter McCarty stepped aside to give the youngsters some more minutes. But with Ainge being nearly two years into his plan, Celtics fans are going to expect to see the light at the end of the tunnel soon.

What's holding Boston back is Ainge's free-agent pickups. While his evaluation of draft prospects has generally been impressive, he's fared poorly in the offseason meat market.

A year ago Ainge overpaid to keep Mark Blount, and this summer he mystified observers by handing a five-year, $15 million deal to Nets bench-warmer Brian Scalabrine.

As a result of those missteps, he might need to pull off a blockbuster deal to fill in the missing pieces. It could involve Pierce or one or more of the youngsters, but it's clear that Ainge needs to keep dealing for the rebuilding project to be successful.

More Hollinger Celtics analysis Insider

Fantasy Fix

Sleeper: Al Jefferson enters his second season with loads of potential. Fantasy owners care because the guy averaged pretty healthy scoring, rebounding and shot blocking totals for 14.8 minutes per game. Double his minutes, and in this case, you might double the production to 14 points, eight rebounds. Steal him in round eight.

Bust: Ricky Davis averaged 16 points per game his first full year in Beantown, but smart fantasy owners know that's all he did. Ricky doesn't pass. Ricky doesn't rebound. And Ricky doesn't help enough in steals, threes or anything else to make him a definite starter for you. Will he even score 16 a night? Be careful about overrating him.

Eric Karabell | Fantasy Basketball Index


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