Christmas Countdown: New blood
Editor’s note: From Dec. 12-23, we’ll countdown to the Celtics’ Christmas matchup with the Knicks (Dec. 25 at 12 p.m. ET) by hitting on 12 big topics facing the Green this season.
BOSTON -- As the cluster of cameras scattered, Celtics rookie E'Twaun Moore let out a little sigh of relief and joked to a couple lingering reporters how he felt more nerves in front of all the microphones than he did making his NBA debut at the TD Garden on Friday night.
He wasn’t kidding. Moore knocked down a clutch 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds remaining in an intrasquad scrimmage that should have lifted his team to victory (instead, second-year guard Avery Bradley connected on a broken-play buzzer-beater to help his team emerge with the win).
That didn’t stop coach Doc Rivers from gushing about Moore to those same microphones after the scrimmage.
“E’Twaun’s shot was the more impressive shot, because that was a play that he had to make a decision -- shoot it or throw it to Ray [Allen],” said Rivers. “Most of the time, even though he’s open, most guys would throw it to Ray. And he didn’t hesitate. That’s what I like about him. He can really shoot the basketball. That’s what he does.”
That confidence and shooting ability might be enough to help Moore compete for a reserve role on a team in which rookies have typically been glued to the bench in recent seasons. The Celtics simply need fresh contributions and beggars can’t be choosers.
Boston will welcome as many as eight new faces to their opening day roster this year and each player will get an opportunity to contribute on a team eager to reduce the load on aging core in a condensed, game-heavy season.
“Having confidence can lead you a long way,” admitted Moore.
Having young legs might lead you even further. The Celtics landed Moore (2nd round, 55th overall) and fellow Purdue-product JaJuan Johnson (1st round, 27th overall) in June’s draft to start a bench overhaul. At the start of a frenzied, post-lockout offseason, Boston used its taxpayer mid-level exception ($3 million) to ink forward Chris Wilcox, then worked trades to acquire combo guard Keyon Dooling and power forward Brandon Bass.
After inconsistent returns from the reserves over the last few seasons, the Celtics hope they’ve found the right combination of new blood to ease the load on a returning playoff starting 5 of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jermaine O’Neal.
That bench suffered a devastating loss Saturday when the Celtics announced that top reserve Jeff Green would miss the entire 2011-12 season due to a heart ailment. Green was the centerpiece of a deadline trade in February that shipped Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City and bigger things were expected from him with the benefit of a full camp with the team.
Instead, his absence only puts more pressure on Boston’s new faces to increase their level of play. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge thinks he’s brought in a diverse and athletic batch of newcomers, emphasizing the team’s versatility.
That starts with Dooling, a 12th-year veteran who can serve as the primary backup ball-handler behind Rondo (Rivers noted that will also ease the load on Bradley, last year’s first-round pick, who can now play primarily at shooting guard).
Wilcox has never been to the postseason and the Celtics are hoping he’ll thrive on a championship-driven team. Along with Johnson, he provides a burst of athleticism up front and should land in the highlight giving his ability to finish around the rim when running the floor.
Maybe the most intriguing addition is Bass, who came to Boston as part of a sign-and-trade deal that sent his childhood friend Glen Davis to Orlando. Bass has a nice mid-range game that will ease the departure of Davis, but his intensity might make him a more consistent contributor than the streaky Big Baby.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers identified early on that the bench would be key for this year’s team.
“[The bench is] vital. I spent more time with Danny and his staff than I ever have,” said Rivers. “Right when you saw that we were going to have this season, my first thought was, ‘Bench.’ Get as many 4s as you can get, get as many players as you can get. We’re going to have to use them all.”
That should include Johnson, a lanky big man with a terrific shot (“He does what he does; He can really shoot the basketball,” said Rivers) and Moore, who just keeps hitting big shots in practice.
“Nothing will be given to me,” said Moore. “I gotta earn it.”
A shortened preseason will make it that much more difficult for the new faces to prove themselves. Injuries during training camp have made chemistry even more difficult to forge.
But Rivers said there are no excuses. Every team in the league is dealing with post-lockout hurdles. Boston’s bench will be integral in determining if the Celtics get over theirs.
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