Hollinger's Team Forecast: Boston Celtics

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After the Boston Celtics' surprise division title in 2004-05 had them hopeful that Danny Ainge's rebuilding plan was beginning to bear fruit, the 2005-06 campaign was a step backward. Paul Pierce was as brilliant as he's ever been, but he didn't get nearly enough help as Boston slumped to a 33-49 finish that sent them back to the lottery.

The Celtics began the year hoping their blend of emerging young talent and grizzled vets, solidified by two high-scoring wings in their prime, could repeat the previous season's success. But while Pierce and Ricky Davis held up their end of the bargain, Celtics young and old disappointed. Up front, Raef LaFrentz's knee problems made him a shadow of his former self, while Mark Blount put together his second straight lifeless season in the middle. Another vet, free-agent pickup Brian Scalabrine, also failed miserably in the first year of a questionable five-year, $15 million deal.

The young kids weren't much better. Al Jefferson was supposed to take over as the starting power forward and provide the missing post element, but he struggled on defense and had nagging ankle problems all season. The combination of poor defense and poor health limited him to 18 minutes per game in just 59 contests.

Shooting guard Tony Allen was another disappointment. A starter down the stretch a year earlier, he had trouble with his knees and played only 51 games, and when he did play he looked out of sync until a late-season burst.

There were a few positives among the youngsters, most notably at point guard, where Delonte West emerged as a quality rotation player (I'm not ready to say "quality starter" yet). Additionally, Kendrick Perkins became a solid option in the middle and seems poised to hold down the starting center job for the next decade or so. Second-round draft choice Ryan Gomes also was a nice surprise, riding his scrappiness to a starting job late in the season.