The Boston Celtics open training camp in just about a month and when the team reconvenes in full, there will be no shortage of storylines.
But which one will be the most interesting?
For Day 12 of our Celtics Summer Forecast, we asked our blogger panel: What will be the most intriguing storyline at training camp?
Not surprisingly for a team that has 18 players under contract (including 16 guaranteed), the quest to get to the regular-season limit of 15 players is a primary focus. But our panel is also intrigued by positional battles and whether rookie Jaylen Brown -- the No. 3 overall pick in June's draft -- can make an immediate impact.
While this writer is certainly intrigued by the end-of-the-roster competition -- and that will definitely dominate headlines -- I'm maybe most interested to see exactly how coach Brad Stevens utilizes those players who have cemented their places on this team. The arrival of Al Horford, along with the departures of Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger, will force Stevens to tinker with his rotation. I'll be intrigued by how he utilizes his guard depth and the versatility at the big-man position in a quest to find a more firm rotation than what we saw at the start of the 2015-16 season.
A sample of our panel's responses:
Brian Robb, CelticsHub (The final roster spot): With 18 players already expected to be in training camp, including 16 with guaranteed contracts, the competition at the bottom of the roster will be fierce. With a fresh batch of rookies in camp, the pressure will be squarely on second-year guard R.J. Hunter and third-year swingman James Young to prove they belong, since there may only be a spot for one of them on the final roster.
Tom Westerholm, MassLive (Will Hunter make the team?): Set aside Young. His NBA career is in real trouble. To me, Hunter is the really intriguing question mark. In theory, he fills a major need -- a sweet-shooting wing with length who might be able to stretch the floor -- but in reality, he hasn't yet been able to produce at a high level. The clock is ticking for Hunter. On a suddenly crowded roster, he'll be trying very hard not to be the odd man out.
Ryan Bernardoni, CelticsHub (The methods used to clear the roster): Everyone loves trades! Will the team simply cut players to get down to 15 or will the Celtics find trade partners who give future second-round picks for Boston's end-of-the-roster players? Would the Celtics rather trade a player with some value instead of waiving a player with none? The front office has been very good at squeezing the last penny out of every asset, so it would be somewhat out of character to guarantee money to someone like Ben Bentil and then just release him for nothing.
Sam Sheehan, Celtics Reddit and CLNS Radio (Amir Johnson and Brown going at each other -- on Snapchat): The less fun question is, "Who makes the team?" But underreported to date is that the Celtics have added a sensational Snapchat talent in Brown. Before the addition of the Cal product, Johnson was unquestionably the team Snapchat MVP. You have to wonder if there are enough filters and emojis for two alphas like them, or could this be a case of "too many cooks in the kitchen." The answer will likely come down to whoever is there to document Kelly Olynyk breaking his four-bite burrito record.
Bill Sy, CelticsBlog (Isaiah Thomas as sixth man): It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Thomas was an All-Star last season and All-Stars don’t usually come off the bench, but the addition of Horford and (my guess) Olynyk into the starting lineup gives Stevens more offensive versatility at the tip. The Celtics won't need Thomas' scoring as much right away. Stevens could then elect to start Marcus Smart in Thomas' place and bring Thomas in as a super-sub. Thomas would then be paired with the familiar face of Johnson and playoff-tested Jonas Jerebko -- along with youngsters Brown and Terry Rozier -- as a calming force with the second unit like Turner was last season.
Jon Duke, CSL on CLNS Radio (Who is going to make the roster?): It's boring. I wanted to use this space to talk about whether Smart can develop his playmaking abilities with Turner's departure, but the truth is that there are likely one or more first-round draft picks who will be cut by Halloween. For a team that uses its assets so judiciously, that is not a decision the Celtics can take lightly. Still, Young has had 27 months to develop into at least the 15th man on this roster. If he can't do that, despite his youth, he isn't worth keeping around. Hunter is a tougher decision, but Bentil and Abdel Nader could have a shot to beat him out, too.
Dan Greenberg, Barstool Sports (Does Young make the cut?): A few weeks ago, I had Young making the final roster, and this is probably the one storyline I'll obsess most about once camp opens. We talk about last chances -- well, I think it's safe to say this is really Young's last chance to make the team. He needs a strong camp to make up for his mixed summer and, for both our sakes, I hope he performs.
John Karalis, Red's Army (How will Stevens use Smart and Rozier?): Turner is gone, which means the Celtics seem committed to Smart getting the bulk of the first-guard-off-the-bench minutes. But Rozier's summer was intriguing enough to make me wonder if he can handle that role while Smart gets used in more of a wild-card role. I'm curious to see what a backcourt rotation of Thomas/Bradley/Smart/Rozier looks like, considering Smart's defensive versatility.
Justin Poulin, CSL on CLNS Radio (Smart's development): The discussion around Smart this offseason has revolved mostly around him being included in various trade ideas. At the end of last season, Smart found himself getting the Rajon Rondo treatment, and his "flopping" fueled that discussion. I'm quick to dismiss all those notions, but one theme that I buy into is that this season should be a breakout one for Smart. I'll go one step further: It has to be his breakout season. The pressure is on for the former No. 6 pick who is now heading into his third full season. He knows he needs to improve his shooting and has had the entire summer to focus on developing his game. Another area the coaches are likely looking for improvement is his ability to run the pick-and-roll with better passing and overall sense of timing. Rozier showed improvement in all these areas during summer league. While guard play in summer league always deserves an asterisk, Rozier will undoubtedly put pressure on Smart in training camp. Smart also needs to stay healthy after having played in only 67 and 61 games, respectively, the past two seasons. His aggressive style is to be admired -- and Boston fans have always appreciated a bulldog -- but now is the time for Smart to make the leap and display the poise of a professional.
Mike Dynon, Red's Army (Smart's maturity and progress): We've been told this will be the season Smart steps up his game big time. For instance, FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO projections predict Smart will double his wins above replacement number over last season while dramatically improving his offense. As a non-numbers guy, my measuring stick will be whether Smart displays maturity in his third season. He's off to a good start, having worked out with Brown this summer, which is a classic veteran "take a rookie under his wing" move. Next, Smart has to cut out the absurd flopping and earn respect from the officials. The exhibition games should provide a glimpse of what to expect.
Sam Packard, WEEI (Bloggers generating intriguing storylines): After missing out on Kevin Durant, the storyline thirst has been real. Just look at the number of articles about Nader's contract status. I don't expect there to be any controversies regarding adding Horford to the lineup, so it will be up to us, the bloggers (the true heroes), to drum up content before the actual season starts. How many Young stories can we muster before Oct. 26? North of a baker's dozen? I guarantee it!
Ian Keilty, Dirty Water Media (Rozier's production): Rozier looked incredible during summer league, but we've learned in the past that pretty numbers in July don't always carry over to the regular season. After losing Turner, Stevens will need to find another reliable ball-handler and will need someone to turn to for production off the bench. After some solid showings in the playoffs last season, Rozier has put himself into the perfect position to pick up some of Turner's old minutes. Rozier's stellar performance this summer has fans' expectations at an all-time high, but they could come crashing back down to Earth if he doesn't continue to show strides in the right direction.
Jake Keaney, CelticsBlog (Battle for backup ball-handler): I’ll be interested to see whether Stevens and his coaching staff make moves to groom Smart into more of a ball-handling role or whether Rozier makes a mini leap to own most of Turner’s old minutes.
Mark Van Deusen, CelticsLife (Danny Ainge trying to avoid cutting anybody): If Nader is there (meaning he didn't agree to a D-League contract), he'll either need to make the 15-man roster or be cut or traded. The same is already true for Bentil and his partially guaranteed deal. In addition to those two, Young and Hunter will likely be fighting for the final spot on the team. Assuming Nader does sign with Maine in the D-League and Hunter wins the battle for 15th man, Ainge will have to find trade partners for Young and Bentil or release them outright -- something you know he doesn't want to do.
Rich Jensen, Red's Army (Roster situation): Unless Ainge pulls a 3-for-1 deal or something similar, I can't imagine any storyline trumping the Thunderdome atmosphere of this fall's training camp. You've got the Nader situation, which has the potential to get messy; the Bentil situation; the Demetrius Jackson situation (is he trade bait or is he insurance against a trade -- or both?); as well as the questions about Young (fair) and Hunter (perhaps a bit unfair).
Ben Mark, Red's Army (Who bursts through the backcourt logjam?): The three-guard rotation of Thomas, Bradley and Smart is solidified, but who carves out a meaningful role after that? Rozier was a summer league darling but will need to continue to grow in September and October. Hunter and Young were both drafted by the Celtics and have shown the ability to score, but both need to earn Stevens' trust quickly. Gerald Green is more than just a Perry Jones-esque camp invite and will also factor in. Then there's Jackson and his guaranteed deal. Last season, the questions were in the frontcourt. This year, they're in the backcourt.
Jared Weiss, CLNS Radio (Smart as backup ball-handler): The Celtics’ progress is so widely defined by their major acquisitions that player development seems to be an afterthought. But they do have a prospect with serious potential in Smart, and this season is his chance to leap from role player to key sub. His defensive intensity and consistency was vital to the Celtics’ culture last season, but this year he needs to be a key part of the offense. With Turner gone, the pressure is on Smart to keep the offense flowing when the starters come out. He needs to show he can finish around post defenders and display the composure to improvise with the ball when the defense contains his pick-and-roll. If Smart can make that leap this season, he will be irreplaceable come playoff time.