The Boston Celtics are coming off of a very disappointing 2018-19 NBA campaign in which they won 49 games and were eliminated from the second round of the playoffs, leading to a summer full of change.
Gone are Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, as well as depth pieces such as Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, and Aron Baynes.
The Celtics pivoted by signing Kemba Walker to replace Irving, and while they were not really able to replace all of the depth that they lost, they did make shrewd moves such as bringing in Enes Kanter and re-signing Daniel Theis, both on short, cheap deals.
In spite of all of the roster turnover Boston has experienced this offseason, it is still considered one of the top teams in a wide open Eastern Conference.
One thing about the C’s is that their starting lineup has the potential to be fantastic. We know what Walker and Kanter bring to the table, particularly on the offensive end, and if Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can take the steps forward that most are expecting, the Celtics will be that much more dangerous.
And, of course, there is Gordon Hayward, who now has a full year of recovery under his belt after suffering a gruesome broken leg injury two seasons ago, so if he can get back to the player he was during his Utah Jazz days, Boston could have a shot of being the best team in the East.
Obviously, there are a lot of ifs there, so that’s why there is so much trepidation surrounding the C’s heading into the 2019-20 season.
I’d feel much more comfortable about the Celtics’ standing if they had a bench, but outside of Marcus Smart, Boston’s pine is full of question marks.
The C’s will be relying an awful lot on youngsters such as Robert Williams, Romeo Langford and Grant Williams, of which the latter two are both rookies. Robert Williams looked very impressive in limited action during is rookie year, but is he prepared for a much larger role?
Theis has been solid for the Celtics since signing with the club during the summer of 2017, but a torn meniscus cut his 2017-18 campaign short and definitely affected him this past year.
He is a guy who can spread the floor and play good defense, but he will probably be the first big off the bench for Boston, and I’m not sure that’s a winning strategy.
There is also Vincent Poirier, the massive seven-footer the C’s signed out of France. The dude looks talented and tough, but he has absolutely no NBA experience, so it remains to be seen how his game translates.
The good news for the Celtics is that they are playing in a weak conference.
Kawhi Leonard is no longer around to rule the roost, so the Toronto Raptors are pretty much out of play as a legitimate contender. The Milwaukee Bucks are still around, but they lost Malcolm Brogdon, and I still say their 60-win season was a bit of a fluke. The Philadelphia 76ers have the most individual talent, but the fit is weird, and they have very limited floor spacing and no bench. Plus, who knows if Joel Embiid is going to stay healthy.
The wild card is the Indiana Pacers, who may very well be the best team in the East if Victor Oladipo is able to come back alright from his quad injury in December or January, but while a healthy Pacers squad may be the most balanced team in the conference, they also come with the biggest variable.
So, let’s say Tatum and Brown both show improvement and Hayward is able to rediscover his old self. Suddenly, the Celtics look pretty good in a shallow Eastern Conference, even if they don’t have much depth.
Another positive for Boston is that its locker room should be a heck of a lot better than the toxic mess it was this past season, as two of the primary culprits, Irving and Rozier, are both gone. Walker is an incredible locker room guy, and the youngsters like Tatum and Brown may find it a bit easier to breathe without Irving’s dark cloud suffocating the club.
Not that Kyrie was the only problem this past year, because he certainly wasn’t, but he was the main one.
But make no mistake: the Celtics are going to miss their departed players. Horford was their best player the last three years, Irving was a dynamite go-to and clutch scorer, Morris was a Swiss army knife, Rozier was a tough guard who wasn’t afraid of the moment and Baynes defended Embiid better than anyone else in the NBA.
It’s not just Horford and Irving that are gone; it’s a whole host of guys that contributed a whole lot to the Celtics over the last couple of years, so Boston is going to have to find a way to replace all of that.
The C’s are talented enough to win 50 games. Heck, the Isaiah Thomas-led Celtics won 53 games in 2016-17, and this group is considerably more talented than that iteration of the Celtics.
As for a potential playoff run? I’m not sure this team is talented enough to make it to the finals, but stranger things have happened, especially in an Eastern Conference that does not have a clear-cut favorite.