The Boston Celtics open training camp in three weeks, and there will be no shortage of storylines for a team looking to carry over the momentum from last season's second-half surge to the playoffs.
For Day 13 of our Celtics Summer Forecast, we asked our blogger panel: What's the most intriguing storyline at training camp?
There's a lot of little storylines that interest this writer -- How does Jared Sullinger look after a summer spent reshaping his body? Is Marcus Smart ready to be the primary point guard after a strong summer league showing? Can Perry Jones make a push for the final roster spot? -- but the big topic will, appropriately, be the bigs.
The Celtics have an overstocked frontcourt, one in which Amir Johnson and David Lee were the team's most notable offseason additions. They're added to a frontcourt that returns Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and Tyler Zeller. Add in rookie rim protector Jordan Mickey and remember that Boston often thrived last season while using Jonas Jerebko and Jae Crowder -- two players re-signed this offseason -- at the power forward position, and there just doesn't seem to be enough minutes to go around up front.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens acknowledged Wednesday that the team will have to consider more traditional lineups to maximize its obvious depth. The difficulty there is that Boston's second-half push last year was fueled in large part by the success it enjoyed with smaller lineups. Stevens must find a comfortable balance with his lineups and -- more importantly -- keep all his big men happy.
Having too much talent in one positional group isn't necessarily a bad problem to have, but Stevens must craft a plan that not only appeases his stable of bigs, but allows Boston to build off last year's success.
Jeff Clark, CelticsBlog (Sullinger's conditioning)
This is such a key season for Sullinger to prove what he can do. There's no more room for error and he's got tens of millions of reasons to give it everything he's got in a contract year. The Celtics' leadership challenged him to get in the best shape of his life and, by all (social media) accounts, he's worked on that this summer. We'll see in camp if it has really made enough of a difference to push him to another level when the games count again. If he can be consistently productive, that would be huge for this team -- and Jared's career.
Jay King, MassLive.com (Crowded frontcourt)
The Celtics have seven players who should spend time at power forward, plus center Tyler Zeller, who was solid as a starter last season. In such a crowded frontcourt, who will start? Who will play? How will the veterans mix with youngsters like Zeller, Olynyk and Sullinger? Should the second unit still look to small-ball, which catalyzed last season's postseason push? Or should Crowder stick mostly to small forward, where he wasn't always as effective? Stevens has a lot of options. He also has a lot of decisions ahead.
Brian Robb, CelticsHub (Starting lineup)
Who makes the roster will likely be one of the most publicized storylines, but I'm fascinated by who Stevens will elect to go with in his starting 5. Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley appear to have the inside track on the backcourt spots, but Isaiah Thomas will probably still make a strong case that he deserves one of those leading roles. I believe there will also be an open audition for the forward and center starting slots, with nearly half of the roster in contention for those jobs. All of this competition will make for a compelling training camp.
Jared Weiss, CLNS Radio (Battle of the Bigs)
Stevens established a successful rotation for the perimeter last year, so the positional battle will focus on the two big spots. Crowder’s stellar play as a swing late last season puts him in position to see a lot of run at the four as Stevens goes small with Johnson under the rim. But Sullinger and Lee have potential to be impact offensive players playing from the high post. With Zeller the most likely extension candidate, the Celtics’ frontcourt minutes battle will be one of the tightest contests in the league.
Ben Mark, Red's Army (Frontcourt roles)
Will Sullinger's slimmed down body -- at least as evidenced by Instagram photos -- translate into improved, more consistent play? Will Lee get starter minutes? What's Olynyk's role in Year 3? Zeller started last year, how about this year? Is there space for Mickey to make an impact after signing a multi-year deal as a second-round pick? OK, so I just folded five storylines into one, but the fact remains that the frontcourt log-jam will be loads of fun to watch in training camp.
Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live(Roster cleanup)
I'm certain Danny Ainge doesn't want to sell any of his players too short and make a deal purely to provide roster balance, but without such a move the team has far too many power forwards and guards to operate efficiently. Knowing Ainge, such a move is something to pull off later in the season, but training camp would provide his players and coaching staff necessary time to develop and grow the players on the roster, hopefully maximizing those players' value.
John Karalis, Red's Army (Lee's role in Boston)
This is a weird thing. Don't try to deny it. David Lee in a Celtics uniform is, in the long-run, going to be a forgotten answer to the trivia question, "Name all the teams David Lee has played for." I don't think he's here to just fade into the background. But playing him a lot doesn't make a whole lot of sense, either. Shouldn't the Celtics be playing Sullinger and Olynyk a lot more to improve their trade value/develop their skills? I'm not sure where Lee fits. But he sort of has to fit somewhere.
Mike Dynon, Red's Army (Sullinger's impact)
On his draft night, Sullinger was available at No. 21 because other teams had concerns about his back and conditioning. Those fears have come true in two of Sully’s three seasons. After Sullinger broke his foot last February, Ainge criticized the Ohio State product for being out of shape and overweight. Sully has responded by working out early and often throughout the summer, with his Twitter feed featuring photos of a slimmed-down physique. That's encouraging. But Sully has a history of making weight-loss claims that proved dubious, so we reserve the right to see evidence of his improved fitness during this training camp.
Paul Colahan, CelticsLife (Jones vs. Turner)
The Celtics have 16 players with guaranteed deals and only 15 spots to put them. It's over simplifying, but isolating the last spot to Jones vs. Turner is a nice metaphor for the crossroads the rebuilding Celtics find themselves. It’s taking a flyer on a 23 year-old freak athlete versus the veteran that improbably quarterbacked Stevens’ offense last year. Shipping out Turner to make room for Jones is as much about clearing the way for Marcus Smart to run the offense as it is Jones to make an impact himself. Is Stevens ready to hand Smart the keys?
Eddie Santiago, CLNS Radio (Starting frontcourt)
The most intriguing storyline will be who will start at center and power forward for the Celtics. There are so many similar players on the team that it can be any combination of the guys. The only big who has a unique size and skill set is Perry Jones, and it’s not a guarantee that he’s on the team on opening night. It’ll be interesting to see who gets those spots and how the rotation ends up shaking out.
Cory Prescott, CLNS Radio (Will Turner run point?)
Evan Turner proved to be one of the best free agent bargains last season. Yet with a young, crowded backcourt, Turner’s role as a primary ball handler may be affected. Despite being listed at 6-foot-7, Turner is best with the ball in his hands and not spotting up from beyond the arc (he shot 28-percent from 3-point range last season). Smart was drafted with the clear intention of being a point guard. With Avery Bradley, Terry Rozier, and Thomas in the guard mix as well, Turner’s status at training camp will certainly need to be monitored.
Mark Vandeusen, CelticsLife(Will Jones force a move?)
At the beginning of last season, Jones averaged 22.7 points over a three-game stretch before suffering a knee injury in the Thunder's fifth contest of the season. By the time he was healthy, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were back in the lineup and Jones' window of opportunity was gone. The way things stand, Jones appears likely to be cut before opening night when the C's must trim their roster to 15 players. But if he shows flashes of his potential in camp, could Jones elicit a trade of some sort to clear room for him?
Bill Sy, CelticsBlog(Sullinger in focus)
Nobody has been more public about his offseason workouts than Sullinger and, based solely on the eye test, it looks like he’ll be coming into a contract year in the best shape of his career. Couple that with the fact that Sully is eligible for a rookie extension before October 31st (that Ainge has publicly stated he’s lukewarm in offering) and you’ve got the makings of a very interesting training camp. Will Sullinger show enough in October for the front office to possibly overpay before ever seeing him play another NBA game? Or will they risk him entering restricted free agency in a summer where the salary cap will exponentially increase? Stay tuned.