With the dust mostly settled on this offseason’s player movement — and there was a whole lot of it this year — it’s time to take stock of all the fascinating new faces in new places, as well as the more compelling stories of players who will face new challenges while sticking around. Over the course of the next few weeks, Andrew Unterberger will do a team-by-team look at the most interesting players going into next season — one new to the team, and one returning — as we all try to pass the dog days of NBA-less summer, dreaming of hoops-filled months to come. The series kicks off today with the teams in the Atlantic Division: the Celtics, Nets, Knicks, 76ers and Raptors.
Most Interesting New Player: Kelly Olynyk
Obviously, the Celtics’ offseason was more about the purge of the old than the welcoming of the new, as the departure of franchise-defining players like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett was balanced by the dudes in this super-depressing picture – hardly an even reconciliation of the team’s ledger in any respect. It’s unlikely that any of the guys received by the Celtics in their mega-blockbuster deal with Brooklyn will be of terrible consequence for the Celtics moving forward, and it wouldn’t be terribly surprising if none of them even ended the season on the C’s roster.
A brutally depressing Boston offseason may have been slightly redeemed, however, with the drafting — well, more so the Summer League play — of Kelly Olynyk. The Gonzaga big man seemed like a minor stretch when Danny Ainge traded with the Mavs to move up in the draft and take him with the 13th pick, but Olynyk made the selection look like a steal with his impressive exhibition play in Orlando, scoring with ease both in the post and from the perimeter, rebounding and passing well, and generally showing a ridiculous feel for the game for a not-even-rookie. Olynyk was one of the stories of the summer’s exhibition season, averaging 18 and 8 on 58 percent shooting, with the name “Dirk” even being invoked on more than one occasion. Suddenly, there was a non-ping-pong-balls-related reason to be excited about the ’14 Celtics.
Of course, the list of Summer League mirages in the NBA is a long and foreboding one — ask Bill Simmons about Kedrick Brown some time (or maybe don’t) — and there’s some legitimate worry about how Olynyk will fare against the size and strength of pro-caliber big men, so it might be prudent to hold off on calling him Canadian Moses right away. Still, after the loss of Pierce and Garnett, Olynyk will undoubtedly be a focus for Celtics fans, hoping that they might have gotten a guy worthy of being included in future Boston Big Threes.
Most Interesting Returning Player: Jeff Green
It’s hard not to go with Rajon Rondo here, since Rondo is never not one of the league’s most interesting players, and will be particularly so next season, coming back from ACL surgery and now all of a sudden being the virtually uncontested Face of the Franchise after spending the last six seasons trying to get out from the Big Three’s shadow. But who knows when Rajon is returning next year, and in the meantime, Jeff Green will be one of the most fascinating case studies in the league, as he gets to be The Guy for the first time in his NBA career.
Lest we forget, Green came alive late last season as a starter for the injury-plagued C’s, averaging over 20 a game (on over 50 percent shooting both from the field and from deep) in 17 starts, and then leading the team in scoring with over 20 a game in their first-round series against the Knicks. And now after six years of overlapping on the depth chart with the likes of Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce, Jeff Green will open the season is Boston as the team’s obvious first scoring option, finally given the chance to be the offensive focal point that other guys have to adjust their games to fit around. He could average 22 a game, push for the All-Star team and solidify himself as a huge key for the team’s future, or he could struggle to score efficiently, serve as an offensive black hole and effectively be the tanking engine for Boston’s 2014 lottery push. Both seem pretty damn plausible at this point.
Either way, this is probably it for Green — after six years of Yeah Buts and Well If Onlys, he basically has no excuse now not to be his awesomest self. If Green disappoints at age 27 on a young team with (eventually, hopefully) one of the league’s best point guards setting him up, he’ll probably never totally live up to expectation. If there’s a bigger make-or-break season for any one player this year, I’m not sure what it is, and I can’t wait to watch to find out which way he goes.
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