WHEN A defending champion opens training camp with three healthy All-Stars, a deep bench and a point guard on the cusp of stardom in Rajon Rondo, how concerned should it be about losing a 31-year-old backup forward? Well, if the team is the Celtics and the forward is James Posey, who played a pivotal role in Boston's title run last season before signing with the Hornets as a free agent, the answer is very. "Look, we can't replace Posey," says coach Doc Rivers, "so we're not going to break our heads trying."
The first player who will get a shot at Posey's minutes is fifth-year guard Tony Allen. While the 6'4" Allen is not much of a perimeter threat (he hit just 31.6% of his threes last season), he is a rugged defender who can guard both wing positions. "It's going to be on him to prove himself," says Rivers. "Mentally, I think he's in a great place. He has worked hard."
If Allen can't fill the void, then one of two rookie swingmen, J.R. Giddens of New Mexico or Bill Walker of Kansas State, will have to earn his way into the rotation. What Rivers won't be tempted to do is increase the playing time of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce or Ray Allen to compensate. Garnett played 32.8 minutes per game last season (the fewest since 1995--96, his rookie year), and Rivers says he would actually like to reduce Pierce's and Allen's minutes by "a couple per game. We need those guys to be fresh. It took a phenomenal effort to win the championship last season. It will take an even bigger effort if we want to do it again."
The Celtics were second in the league in scoring defense last season (90.3 points per game), but no team was stingier down low. Boston held opponents to an average of just 34.0 points in the paint.
A rival scout on the CELTICS: They're going to miss P.J. Brown and James Posey, but they've got a decent shot at repeating. Making an in-season move for a veteran defender will improve their chances.... Up front they need either Glen (Big Baby) Davis or Leon Powe to emerge, and they'll probably need more minutes from Kendrick Perkins. Davis doesn't have the length, and he's foul-prone; he's more of an offensive player who can't replace what Brown gave them down the stretch in the big playoff games. Powe's at his best when the game is going end-to-end; he's a tough guy who can rebound, and his athleticism gives him a chance to be more of a factor defensively than Davis.... Rajon Rondo held up terrifically late in the season. His quickness gets him over the top of screens and creates room for him to distribute. He's never going to be a great shooter, but they've got other shooters. The veterans backed him and helped him get better as a floor leader, and I look for him to show more improvement this year.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: G Tony Allen, G Eddie House, F Leon Powe, F Glen Davis, C Patrick O'Bryant*, G Sam Cassell
Record: 66--16 (1st in East)
Points scored: 100.5 (11th in NBA)
Points allowed: 90.3 (2nd)
Coach: Doc Rivers (fifth season with Celtics)
JESSE D. GARRABRANT/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
GIVE AND TAKE Allen is as strong a defender as Posey, but he's not as sharp a shooter, preferring to slash to the basket.
WALTER IOOSS JR.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH