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Tag:Rajon Rondo
Posted on: February 5, 2012 12:39 am
 

Jeremy Lin: From teammate's couch to career night

NEW YORK – This was partly about Jeremy Lin and his own personal party at Madison Square Garden Saturday night. It was about Lin, the first NBA player from Harvard in 58 years and only the fourth American-born Asian to play in the league, putting on a show with 25 points, seven assists with the crowd chanting his name.

And then Pearl Jam singing his name over the PA system as thousands stayed in their seats for the on-court TV interview.

He had toiled in the D-League, been tossed aside by the Warriors and Rockets, and wasn’t sure he’d be long for this part of the basketball world, either. How unsure was he? Lin had been crashing at his brother’s place when coming home late from road games, as the Knicks did after a crushing loss in Boston Friday night. But there was no room at the inn – his brother had ample house guests, Lin said – so he slept on teammate Landry Fields’ couch the night before the best game of his life.

“I think I may just go move in with him,” Lin said.

Or get his own place. It’s only one game, but it was precisely the spark the Knicks needed after losing 11 of their previous 13 with an offense predicated on quality point-guard play “grasping at straws” without one, coach Mike D’Antoni said.

“The biggest thing is, he’s got a point guard mentality,” D’Antoni said. “He has a rhyme or reason to what he’s doing and players can kind of play off that. Whereas when you don’t know, you’re just grasping at straws. He gives us a good feel. Again, it’s one game, so let’s not get too excited. But he gives us what we sorely need.”

And this is where the story of Lin having a career night turns into a story that is really about something else. Having a point-guard play the way Lin did Saturday night – attacking and beating pick-and-roll double teams, aggressively getting into the paint and scoring – only underscored how lost the Knicks were without that.

And how lost they will continue to be if they don’t keep getting it.

“We’ve got to make sure we continue to keep the floor spaced and move the ball,” said Amar’e Stoudemire, limited to 17 points and in foul trouble in the Knicks’ third game in as many nights. “We’ve got to continue to do that consistently. We can’t do it one game and then the next game go back to what we’ve been trying not to do.”

Stoudemire was a factor only sporadically due to foul trouble and the grueling stretch of games. Carmelo Anthony was 3-for-15 for 11 points. In the Knicks’ third consecutive game against the kind of elite point guard they lack – Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams – somehow Lin was the best player on the floor. If you’d told Stoudemire before the game that Lin would’ve had almost as many points as Stoudemire and Anthony combined Saturday night, “I would’ve woken up from a bad dream,” he said.

Was it a fluke that Lin made 13 of 19 from the field – jumpers, floaters, reverse layups – on his dream night? Yeah, that’s not going to happen again. But the way Lin directed the Knicks’ directionless offense? The way he gave it purpose and an actual method of attack? Having seen him a time or two in the D-League, where he was the best player on the floor of every game I’ve seen in person, Lin can do that.

But the fact that D’Antoni already said he was thinking seriously about starting Lin Monday night against the Jazz? That speaks more to the Knicks’ state of desperation than anything else. They’re going nowhere without a point guard to run the offense, and who knows when Baron Davis is going to be ready. And when he’s ready, who knows how much of Baron Davis is going to show up.

So for now, for this snapshot in time, the Knicks have a point guard. Dare I say it was the best a point guard has played for D’Antoni since a gentleman named Steve Nash was doing stuff like this every night for him. So Jeremy Lin saved the Knicks from their 12th loss in 14 games, saved D’Antoni from another day of speculation that he’ll be fired, and generally just took a tense, desperate situation and let everyone breathe a little.

“I’m just thankful to be here right now for this team,” Lin said.

Believe me, the team feels the same way.
Posted on: December 6, 2011 6:38 pm
Edited on: December 6, 2011 10:32 pm
 

Hornets engaged in serious CP3 talks

The Hornets began to seriously engage in trade discussions for superstar Chris Paul Tuesday, with the Celtics, Clippers, Warriors and Mavericks among the most serious suitors, sources told CBSSports.com.

UPDATE: The Clippers' opening salvo was an offer that included restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan and Minnesota's unprotected first-round pick, with L.A. hoping that the prospect of playing with electrifying forward Blake Griffin and the big stage of Los Angeles would be enticing enough to Paul that he would eventually commit to the team long term. Eric Gordon is not in the deal "at this time," a source said, though it is understood that any deal that would include a commitment from Paul would have to include the sharpshooting guard.

The details of offers surrounding talks with Dallas and Golden State weren't known, though Yahoo Sports reported that the Warriors' offer centered around Stephen Curry and rookie Klay Thompson. But the Celtics stepped forward with an offer that would not have to come with any commitment from Paul that he'd re-sign with Boston after the season. According to a person familiar with the discussions, the Celtics offered Rajon Rondo, two future first-round picks, and restricted free agent Jeff Green in a sign-and-trade for Paul.

The impetus behind the Celtics' potential rental offer for Paul was intriguing: Come to Boston, take a shot at winning a title with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett while the window is still open, and then have enough room to entice Dwight Howard to come on board as an unrestricted free agent next summer. Garnett and Allen come off the books July 1, leaving the Celtics with only $30.4 million in committed salary for next season, when Howard can opt out of his contract with Orlando.

Though Paul has never expressed a desire to play in Boston, if he liked his new surroundings and the Celtics' chances of luring Howard, he would be in a championship-contending situation and could get his max deal of five years, $100 million six months after the trade.

Independent of the Paul situation, the Warriors are among the teams with the most serious interest in free-agent center Tyson Chandler, and the interest is mutual. Paul reportedly has let it be known that a team like the Warriors or Clippers signing Chandler, his former teammate in New Orleans, would enhance its chances of getting a long-term commitment from him -- a scenario confirmed by front office executives Tuesday.

The Hornets also are open to the idea of sending out free-agent power forward David West in a sign-and-trade, possibly as part of a trade package for Paul, sources said. It was New Orleans' interest in Jordan that prompted the Clippers to step forward Tuesday with a reported five-year, $40 million offer for their restricted free agent -- though a person close to Jordan said he is intent on remaining in L.A.

The Knicks also were said to be trying to engage New Orleans in conversations, given that Paul has long coveted the chance to join his friends Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire in New York. But the best the Knicks can offer at the moment is Chauncey Billups' expiring $14 million contract, Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert and center Jerome Jordan, a solid prospect who has yet to play a minute in the NBA.

The "other" L.A. team, the Lakers, also have a strong hand in their efforts to try to land Paul, Howard, or in a dream world, both. The Lakers have no chance of clearing the cap space necessary to lure Paul next summer, so their best chance is their deep stockpile of assets, including Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.

Hornets GM Dell Demps has indicated a strong desire to reach a swift resolution to the Paul drama and not allow it to linger for months the way the Nuggets were held hostage last season by the Anthony saga. Denver, of course, was able to get a better deal from the Knicks at the February trade deadline than would've been available before the season. But that was largely due to two key provisions that have been muted in the new collective bargaining agreement: the same length and dollars in an extend-and-trade that Anthony could've received had he simply resigned with Denver, and the fallback option of a sign-and-trade.

Paul can get only one year added to his contract in an extend-and-trade, and he'd get the same money via a sign-and-trade next summer that he would get simply by leaving outright as a free agent for a team with room: four years and approximately $74 million, as opposed to the five-year, $100 million deal New Orleans could offer he he played out the season. Paul also could get a five-year max deal from a new team following a six-month window from the date he was traded.

But front office executives who've been in touch with Demps say that New Orleans has no appetite for a protracted and potentially ugly trade saga with Paul. Yahoo Sports reported that Demps may push for final offers and a resolution by the time training camps and free agency open Friday.

Posted on: May 10, 2011 7:06 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2011 8:04 pm
 

Another tough call for Rivers

MIAMI – In the opening minutes of overtime, in a game the Celtics had to have, Doc Rivers faced a decision he never imagined he’d have to confront.

Badly in need of a basket and unable to afford another turnover from the Heat’s relentless trapping of Rajon Rondo, Rivers had to sit his courageous point guard in the hopes that a healthier Delonte West would handle the ball better and Jeff Green would provide better floor-spacing in the most important minutes of the season.

This was barely a minute-and-a-half into overtime of Game 4 against Miami on Monday night, and it was a problem for which there was no good answer. Take Rondo out? With the inspiration he’d provided and desperation he’d infused into the Celtics after returning from what should’ve been a season-ending dislocated elbow in Game 3? Put the heart and soul of the Celtics on the bench?

“I don’t know what the right call was,” Rivers candidly admitted after the 98-90 overtime loss to Miami, which put the Celtics in a 3-1 hole in the best-of-7 series.

With the Celtics facing elimination Wednesday night in Miami, this was not the last difficult decision Rivers will have to make. However and whenever this series ends, Rivers’ next dilemma will be personal and will affect just what happens to the Big Three era Celtics from here.

Five players remain from the Celtics’ 2008 championship. Rondo’s emergence as one of the top point guards in the league and also a leader with incalculable toughness has since transformed the Big Three into the Big Four. But you can’t mention Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen without mentioning the coach who held them all together.

Rivers has stated that he soon plans to take a sabbatical from coaching to watch his son, Austin, play college ball at Duke. It is a father’s dream, to have the freedom and security to enjoy his children’s accomplishments – especially when those accomplishments intersect on the basketball court.

Rivers hasn’t officially proclaimed his intentions, not wanting to become a distraction for a team that he believed had one more championship run in it. Also, Rivers is a basketball coach, not a basketball spectator. It is a hard game to walk away from if it is ingrained in you as it is in Rivers.

But the reality is that the Celtics’ core isn’t getting any younger, and Rivers’ son figures to play one season at Duke before following in his father’s footsteps to the NBA. It’s a now-or-never moment for Rivers, who is needed away from the court in the same way he was needed in Boston to coax enough sacrifice out of his trio of stars to hang a 17th championship banner from the rafters at the new Garden. If Rivers’ legacy as Celtics coach is two Finals appearances and a championship, he can walk away with his head held high.

Pierce has three years left on his contract, while Garnett and Allen have one each. Rivers and the members of his coaching staff are up after this season, and with at least a truncated lockout looming, there could be no basketball work to do until September or so. If you’re Rivers, how do you view the impending labor crisis as it relates to you? Do you chalk up the potentially shortened season to your sabbatical, and get the best of both worlds – some games with your son and one more chance with the Celtics? Or do you walk away and not look back?

Whatever he decides, Rivers must now prepare for more than the diabolical talents of Heat stars Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, who would like nothing better than to slam the window shut on the Celtics’ run of success. He must prepare for some serious soul searching, and for the accompanying speculation that goes with any accomplished coach who steps down with work still to be done.

The Lakers’ Phil Jackson hasn’t even gotten to Montana yet and already the rumor mill has him coaching the Knicks after next season. The hype machine will churn even more vigorously for Rivers, who will be able to name his team and price whenever he decides to come back.

His history with the Knicks makes him a logical fit in New York if Mike D’Antoni doesn’t last beyond next season. His championship pedigree and ability to manage stars and their egos makes him one of the few men breathing who are up to the task of coaching the Lakers. One high-level coaching source told me recently that the most fitting place for Rivers is Orlando, where he lives. In addition to sons Austin and Jeremiah, who played at Georgetown before transferring to Indiana, Rivers has a daughter, Callie, who played volleyball at the University of Florida.

There are plenty of decisions to be made, not the least of which have to do with trying to keep this season alive for the Celtics Wednesday night in an elimination game on the road. But the bigger dilemma is looming on the horizon for Rivers, and it might just have everything to do with whether the Celtics as we know them are finished.
Posted on: May 2, 2011 4:32 pm
Edited on: May 2, 2011 6:42 pm
 

Pierce OK for Game 2; will Celts respond?

MIAMI -- Paul Pierce will not face further disciplinary action for his altercation with James Jones in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, a league source confirmed Monday to CBSSports.com. Whether the rest of the Celtics will show up with him for Game 2 against the Heat remains to be seen.

After reviewing the incident that resulted in the first of Pierce's two technical fouls in Miami's 99-90 victory in Game 1, league officials decided Pierce's actions did not warrant a fine or suspension. Before practicing Monday at the University of Miami, Pierce said he was "definitely worried" about how the league would view the incident, but the Celtics clearly have more problems to worry about as they try to avoid falling behind 0-2 in a playoff series for the first time in the Big Three era.

"I was surprised at getting kicked out, yeah," Pierce said. "I didn’t think what I did warranted an ejection. But sometimes, players get caught in the heat of the game and sometimes the refs do, too."

Pierce and Jones received technicals after Jones wrapped Pierce up as the Celtics star pump-faked him into the air with 7:59 left Sunday. Pierce and Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Monday they believed that play, as well as a later altercation between Dwyane Wade and Pierce, should have resulted in flagrant fouls on the Heat. 

Instead, Pierce was assessed his second technical foul after Wade tried to run through him on a screen with 7:00 left. Referee Ed Malloy gave Pierce a technical, and crew chief Dan Crawford explained after the game that Pierce received it -- and the accompanying automatic ejection -- for a "verbal taunt." 

UPDATE: After reviewing the incidents Monday, NBA officials rescinded Jones' flagrant foul from the Pierce incident but charged him with a flagrant foul, penalty-one for striking Pierce around the neck. In addition, the league office downgraded Jermaine O'Neal's flagrant-one with 2:30 left in the third quarter to a personal foul. The call was devastating to the Celtics, resulting in a five-point swing when Jones made both free throws and Mike Bibby added a 3-pointer that gave the heata 72-58 lead.

While Rivers disagreed with the explanations given by Crawford after the game, he expertly turned the tables on his team Monday -- essentially taunting his players for allowing the Heat to dictate everything in Game 1, including the physical tone and an aggressive defensive posture that forced the Celtics into a timid, impatient offensive approach.

"Miami wants to show us they’re physical," Rivers said. "That’s cool with us. And we just want to play the way we play. I honestly don’t know if that’s physical or not. That’s for everyone else to say. But at the end of the day, they’re going to play their style, we’re going to play our style, and somebody’s style is going to win."

This is the fourth time the Celtics have trailed 1-0 in a playoff series during the Big Three era; they've yet to lose a Game 2. In 2009, Boston lost Game 1 of the conference semifinals to Orlando at home and lost the series in seven games. The other two instances came on the road during the 2010 playoffs: against the Cavaliers in the conference semis (Boston won the series in six games) and in the NBA Finals against the Lakers (Boston lost the series in seven).

"This is the first time we’ve been in the playoffs with this team," Rajon Rondo said. "It’s different. Obviously, the Big Three have been here. But it’s only five guys now -- myself and Baby (Glen Davis) -- and everyone else hasn’t been in a playoff series with them. So it’s a different team. But we’re confident that we can win Game 2."

How do the Celtics avoid falling behind 0-2 for the first time since Pierce teamed with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007? Five things:

1) Listen to Rivers and be the aggressor: Rivers has such a good feel for the personality of his team, and he knows how insulted his players will be when hearing him belabor the point about how Miami dictated the physical tone in Game 1. Look for the Celtics to come out much more assertively at the start. This means A) clean but hard screens and fouls from the get-go from the Celtics, and B) the officials will have their hands full even more than in Game 1. If you thought that was physical, chippy, cheap, or whatever, just wait until Tuesday night.

2) Channel the aggression into better execution: It's not enough to be aggressive. It has to come with a plan. Rivers has needled his players in recent days by publicly stating again and again how much more athletic the Heat are, saying at one point that if this were an Olympics, Miami would win. That may be true, but this is a basketball game. Rondo has to be in attack mode, but under control and with a purpose. He also has to limit his turnovers; he had five of Boston's 13 in Game 1. The Celtics have to get into their offensive sets early, and stay with them long enough to get to the second or third option instead of letting Miami's athleticism break them down into isolation or desperation -- or worse, turnovers, which activate Miami's unstoppable transition game.

3) Find James Jones: In the film session at the team hotel Monday morning, Rivers highlighted how Jones got free for seven 3-point attempts (he made five) without being forced to take a single dribble. "That's poor defense," Rivers said.

4) Win the matchups they should win: The Celtics actually got decent production from the bench (23 points), but they need more from Rondo and Garnett -- especially when both teams' starters are on the floor. Rondo vs. Mike Bibby and Garnett vs. Chris Bosh should be clear-cut advantages for the Celtics, but Rivers admitted they got away from going into the post to Garnett too early in Game 1.

5) Hope the Heat shoot too many jumpers ... again: The Celtics actually should have been pleased with Miami's shot selection in Game 1. Especially early in the game, Miami fell in love with the jumper. According to Synergy Sports Technology, 43 of Miami's 68 field-goal attempts were jump shots. That plays right into the Celtics' hand. Unless, of course, they go in.



Posted on: November 19, 2010 11:50 pm
 

Without Durant, Westbrook goes solo

BOSTON – At one point during the Thunder’s surprising victory over the Celtics without Kevin Durant Friday night, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks saw something he admired, but didn’t necessarily like.

Driving fearlessly into the conversation about the most lethal point guards in a league filled with them, Russell Westbrook was doing what he was supposed to do in Durant’s absence. He was trying to carry his team, on the road, against the defending Eastern Conference champions. Against the team that lost to the team that knocked the surprising Thunder out of the playoffs last spring.

The trouble was, he was trying too hard. After a turnover and a charge on consecutive out-of-control possessions in the second quarter, Brooks took Westbrook out and tried to give him a chance to cool off.

“He has a spirit that’s not going to back down,” Brooks said after the shorthanded Thunder beat the Celtics 89-84, their second victory in four days against a playoff team on the road following an equally impressive performance in Utah. “But sometimes, you have to back down and use your guys. I said, ‘Russell, you have four guys out there working just as hard as you are. Use them.’”

After a three-minute stint on the bench, Westbrook settled down and ultimately needed those guys – on both ends of the floor – to hold off the Celtics down the stretch. Westbrook finished with 31 points, six assists, and seven turnovers, dueling with Rajon Rondo until the Celtics’ point guard missed the last five minutes with a strained hamstring. The Thunder won despite going the last 9 1-2 minutes without a field goal, with Westbrook going 0-for-7 with six points – all from the foul line – in the fourth quarter, and with Durant sitting on the bench in street clothes with a sprained ankle that caused him to miss a game for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

After finding out less than an hour before tipoff that the Thunder would be without Durant in addition to starting forward Jeff Green, the Celtics suffered a classic case of letdown.

“We were definitely out of sync,” Ray Allen said. “We didn’t have any ball movement. We didn’t have any rhythm all night.”

In effect, the Celtics learned how it feels to be their opponent on most nights. Typically, it is Rondo who controls the tempo and dances through the defense with the ball on a yo-yo string. Westbrook did it with aggression and straight-line speed, whereas Rondo does it with lateral quickness and cut-your-heart-out guile. But Westbrook’s method was just as effective.

“Russell did a phenomenal job controlling the tempo,” Brooks said.

That is, after coming to the bench, listening to a lecture Rondo used to hear all the time from Doc Rivers, and resisting the urge to do too much.

“When guys are down,” Westbrook said, “other guys have to come in and be ready to play.”

Just not too ready.

The Thunder needed a confidence-builder after struggling to a 3-3 start that was capped by a 92-83 loss to the Celtics at home on Nov. 7. Their success will almost always be about Durant. But it was interesting to see Westbrook fearlessly attack Rondo without his superstar scoring machine on the floor with him.

More and more, Westbrook’s matchup with the opposing point guard will be as much reason to watch the Thunder as Durant. The rest of this month alone will feature Westbrook vs. Jason Kidd and Chris Paul. Early next month, Derrick Rose. Westbrook belongs right there in the conversation with all of them.
Posted on: October 26, 2010 10:17 pm
 

Big Three = Big Flop

BOSTON – On opening night, the Big Three were a Big Flop.

So much for the coronation, the predictions of a 73-win season, and shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference in July. In October, when it finally mattered, the Celtics were still the Celtics. The Heat were the test-tube babies of the 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers and the 2006-07 Heat: Not good enough.

The champions of the summer have a lot to work on in the fall.

Returning to the scene of his greatest career disappointment, LeBron James once again was denied by the savvier, grittier, defensive-minded Celtics, who inflicted the first scar on the team expected by some to dominate the NBA. The original Big Three beat the newer version, 88-80 Tuesday night in the 2010-11 NBA season opener.

Boston had to sweat out a flurry of one-on-one majesty by King James, who had 15 points in the third to turn a 45-30 rout into a six-point game, 63-57, heading into the fourth quarter. Then, the Celtics – 26th in fourth-quarter scoring last season – tempted fate with a sloppy closeout attempt as the Cavs – I mean, Heat – went on a 10-0 run from the 4:14 mark to the 1:10 mark. The run cut Boston’s 83-70 lead to 83-80 with 70 seconds left.

The Celtics, still undisputed Kings of getting baskets out of timeouts in big moments, got a 3-point dagger from Ray Allen with 49.8 seconds left to keep mighty Miami winless in 2010-11. The Heat, and their accompanying media circus, travel to Philadelphia Wednesday for Game 2. And if opening night was any indication of the drama and hype that will surround this team, it is going to be a crazy ride.

But the anticipated issues of chemistry between LeBron and Wade, who missed all but three minutes of the preseason with a hamstring injury and Chicago court appearances, reared their ugly head all night. LeBron led the Heat back in 1-on-5 Cavs style in the third, with Wade and Chris Bosh on the bench. Like his old team, LeBron’s new team had no answer to pesky Rajon Rondo and no fortitude in protecting the basket from Boston’s improved frontcourt.

All of this is fixable, and not entirely surprising when you consider that the Celtics’ core has been together for three years, with one title to their credit, and the Heat have been together for what coach Erik Spoelstra reminded everyone before the game was 14 practices and two shootarounds.

But none that changed the fact that LeBron would walk out of TD Garden, his house of horrors, in much the same fashion that saw him leave last spring: In defeat.
Posted on: September 29, 2010 7:25 pm
 

Rivers on KG: 'He'll make or break us'

NEWPORT, R.I. – A year ago, Kevin Garnett was visibly limping up and down the court during training camp, trying to hide the fact that he still wasn’t fully recovered from a knee injury that sabotaged the Celtics’ title defense. On the second day of practice Wednesday, Garnett had no limp, no brace, and no signs of being the kind of defensive liability he was last season.

“Night and day,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I wish he would take a break in practice, but that’s another issue we’ll have to solve. He’s explosive again, especially defensively.”

Rivers must have felt like he was standing in a time machine Wednesday when Garnett grabbed a rebound, threw an outlet pass, and still beat his teammates down the floor. I didn’t see it with my own eyes – that portion of practice was closed to inquisitive observers – but Rivers’ account was believable.

“He couldn’t do that last year,” Rivers said. “Even if he could, he didn’t think he could.”

For the Celtics, it’s simple: To have any chance of getting past Miami to take another shot at the Lakers, they need Garnett to be the old Garnett – or, rather, the young Garnett. If nothing else, Rivers will settle for the healthy Garnett in his bid to get the Celtics back to No. 1 in the NBA in field-goal defense; they slipped to No. 9 last season.

“He’ll make or break us,” Rivers said.

That’s because during the Celtics’ surprising run to the Finals in June, Tom Thibodeau’s infamous defensive schemes were compromised and watered down due to Garnett’s lack of mobility. Gone were the days when Thibodeau could take full advantage of Garnett’s agility – not to mention his reputation as the best defensive player in the league – by letting Rajon Rondo attack the ball with halfcourt and midcourt traps supported by Garnett.

“We literally didn’t pressure the ball up the floor [last season],” Rivers said “When you think about it, you have Rondo on the floor and Kevin to shadow and we couldn’t do it last year. That was a huge concession for our defense, and it put way too much pressure on our defense. Teams were running their offense at 18-20 seconds. Two years ago, they didn’t get into their offense until 12 or 10. That was a huge difference for us.”
Posted on: September 20, 2010 11:04 am
 

Preseason Primers: Celtics


Ah, it seems like The Decision was only yesterday. This week, CBSSports.com will be rolling out our team-by-team training camp primers, which can be found here in the BergerSphere and in the informative, snarky, rollicking neighborhood known as the Facts & Rumors blog . I'm starting with the defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics. You know, the Vintage Big Three. (I'm so 2008.) In keeping with the cloak of secrecy surrounding the Miami Heat's training camp, you will need a security clearance to find out when we're dropping the camp primer on the South Beach version of the Big Three.

Boston Celtics

Training camp site: Newport, R.I.

Training camp starts: Sept. 28

Key additions: Shaquille O’Neal (free agent), Jermaine O’Neal (free agent), Von Wafer (free agent), Delonte West (free agent)

Key subtractions: Tony Allen (free agent), Shelden Williams (free agent). • Likely starting lineup: Rajon Rondo, PG; Ray Allen, SG; Paul Pierce, SF; Kevin Garnett, PF; Jermaine O’Neal, C.

Player to watch: Kevin Garnett. Getting the Big Ticket back to health is of no small importance for the defending Eastern Conference champs. During the Celtics’ surprising run to the NBA Finals, KG finally started to move around better and was able to log substantial minutes without any obvious consequences. Will Garnett ever get back the explosiveness that he possessed before his knees started breaking down? No way. But if he can lose the limp and get some of his lateral mobility back – which he showed glimpses of during the Finals – his impact on the Celtics’ success cannot be overstated.

Chemistry check: Under Doc Rivers’ leadership, the Celtics have been more adept than any team in the league at incorporating new (and mostly zany) personalities into an established locker room. If the Celtics can withstand the potentially disruptive additions of Stephon Marbury, Nate Robinson and Rasheed Wallace, then bringing Shaq into the fold should be easy. But it’s worth wondering how enthusiastic O’Neal will be if asked to accept a secondary role – first to Jermaine O’Neal, and then to Kendrick Perkins once Perk recovers from his knee injury. Prediction: If Shaq didn’t make waves in Cleveland with the way Mike Brown underutilized him, there’s no way he causes trouble for Rivers. One thing about Shaq is that he respects those who’ve earned it. As for Delonte West: If anyone can harness his talents and help him get his personal life under control, it’s Rivers.

Camp battles: Boston has plenty of frontcourt depth. What Rivers will be looking to establish in camp at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., is a dependable backcourt rotation. Tony Allen, who became a defensive stopper of sorts during the playoffs, is a big loss. Rivers will be counting on Daniels, Robinson, West and perhaps someone who isn’t on the roster yet to give him quality minutes behind Rondo and Ray Allen.

Long shots: The Celtics recently worked out Adam Morrison, Rashad McCants, Cuttino Mobley and Trenton Hassell. There isn't much room at the inn, but it's a sign of how badly Boston needs some backcourt depth. Mobley, who has been cleared by doctors to resume his career after retiring due to a heart ailment, is the longest of these long shots.

Biggest strength: Experience. From the championship in ’08, to Garnett’s injuries, to Glen Davis’ shirtless, bloody fistfight in a moving car, to Rondo’s growth as the undisputed leader of the Big Four, to Perkins’ series-altering knee injury in the ’10 Finals, the Celtics have been galvanized by experiencing ups and downs together. Rivers’ decision to return for another season, coupled with extensions signed by Pierce and Ray Allen, has set the table for one more run with the Celtics’ core group before age catches up to them.

Glaring weakness: The glass-half-full version of the above says experience, exshmerience: The Celtics are too old for this stuff. But that’s what everybody thought last year when Boston played .500 ball from Christmas Day to the end of the regular season. At that point, my preseason Celtics-Spurs prediction for the Finals was looking about as dead in the water as the Celtics were. As it turned out, I was only half wrong. I wouldn’t advise counting them out until someone beats a fully healthy Celtics team in a seven-game series.


 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com