Celtic Pride

While not many have the Celtics as the favourite to come out of the East this season, the stage is set for their return to prominence. Armed with several expiring deals heading into next year’s offseason and the potential availability of big names on the free agent market, the Celtics seem to be in good shape. Not to mention the possibility of a disgruntled star player in the nation’s capital or on the Portland Trailblazers requesting a trade to a locale where they can realize their championship aspirations. Pairing Jaylen Brown with the offensive maestro that is Jayson Tatum has laid the foundation for a Celtics team that will do everything in its power to raise an eighteenth championship banner. Tatum has reached near superstar status already with his effortless scoring ability from all three levels and posted career-highs in points (26.4), rebounds (7.4) and assists (4.3) this past season. Brown broke out in a big way and reached All Star status this past season after a couple of years of inconsistent, uninspired play. Perhaps the departure of Gordon Hayward to the Charlotte Hornets sped up his ascension but the former first round pick’s talent has always been undeniable. After coming out of California as a raw, defensive-minded forward in 2016, he has turned himself into an elite offensive threat who can score in a variety of ways and averaged nearly 25 PPG this past season before succumbing to a wrist injury. After reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the last five years, this season should be a transitional period for Boston in their quest to raise one more championship banner in the near future.

Photo by Erik Drost, distributed under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Making Moves

The addition of free agent guard Dennis Schröder could pay big dividends this season as a scorer of his caliber could take significant pressure off of their All Star forwards. The guard announced he was heading to Boston on his Instagram account earlier this month, ending his time with the Los Angeles Lakers. After turning down a four-year, $84 million deal from the Lakers and betting on himself in free agency, the guard found himself lacking suitors after his lackluster play in the postseason, where his team fell easily to Phoenix in the first round. Los Angeles opted not to bring him back after nearly shooting themselves in the foot by offering a sizeable contract to someone other teams had no interest in breaking the bank to acquire. However, acquiring a talent with the offensive and defensive ability of Schröder on a one-year, $5.1 million deal is a win-win situation for all parties involved. While his three-point stroke leaves a bit to be desired, the 6’1” guard brings playmaking, defense and the ability to create his own shot to a Celtics roster that lacked a natural scorer to complement their star forwards last season. If the experiment works out, they can re-sign him in the offseason and if it does not, they can easily cut ties with him. Schröder will come into the season with something to prove after his free agency fiasco and may end up having a career year to help secure another long-term deal in the offseason.

Wojnarowski also reported the return of Al Horford to Boston, after the big man (along with Moses Brown and a second round pick) was traded back to Beantown from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Kemba Walker, a 2021 first rounder and a 2025 second round pick. While Horford had three decent seasons in Boston previously, he enjoyed a mini resurgence last season with the Thunder, showing he still had some gas left in the tank. Defensively, the former All Star has regressed, but offensively, Horford’s ability to stretch the floor and facilitate the offense to a certain degree could be invaluable. Last season, the Celtics ranked 27th in assist % at 56.6%, a far cry from their top 10 ranking in 2018-19—Horford’s last season in Boston. While Tatum and Brown prefer to operate in isolation situations, the return of Horford could unlock another dimension to the offense with his passing ability. However, the Celtics were heavily reliant on Tatum and Brown’s isolation exploits given the lack of natural scorers on the team, leading them to trade for Evan Fournier midseason—now a member of the New York Knicks. Kemba delivered an occasional offensive masterclass when healthy, otherwise the scoring burden was carried almost entirely by their All Star forwards. Young centre Robert Williams III has also agreed to a four-year, $54 million extension according to Wojnarowski and could start this upcoming season as a result. When Williams started for the Celtics last season, his impact was felt immediately as he helped Boston post a 12-4 record in those 16 contests. “Time Lord”, as he is affectionately known by fans, posted an impressive 8 points, 7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in just 18.9 minutes a game last season, making the decision to extend Williams an easy one.

Defensively, the men in green should be much improved after the addition of Josh Richardson and Kris Dunn on the perimeter according to a report by Wojnarowski. Richardson, who was acquired from the Dallas Mavericks less than a month ago, brings the coveted 3 & D archetype to Boston and gives Udoka another weapon to deploy when needed. Dunn, another defensive stalwart, who played just four games last season with the Atlanta Hawks after recovering from leg surgery, will team up with resident pest Marcus Smart to torment opposing wing players this upcoming season. Smart returns to the Celtics on a four-year, $77 million contract according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, ensuring the defensive-minded guard will be a crucial part of the team for the foreseeable future. Enes Kanter also returns for a second stint in Boston after a great year in Portland where he averaged 11 PPG and 11 RPG, stepping up in the absence of starting centre Jusuf Nurkic.

Meanwhile, the retirement of long time President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge came as a bit of a surprise after being synonymous with Celtic green for over a decade. That made way for former head coach Brad Stevens to replace Ainge and help usher in a new era for the Celtics. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Boston decided to hire a rookie head coach in Ime Udoka after a lengthy search to succeed Stevens in a surprising move. A former player, Udoka also hold the distinction of being the first-ever head coach of African origin to lead a team in the Association’s 75 years of existence. While he brings nine years of coaching experience as an assistant with San Antonio, Philadelphia and most recently, the Brooklyn Nets, it was an odd move given the choice to forgo a more experienced candidate. How Udoka will fare in his first season as head coach is yet to be seen and with considerable talent at his disposal along with new pieces waiting to be integrated, he has his work cut out for him.

The Celtics are in the enviable position of being a playoff team, while simultaneously having financial flexibility and a young roster that is just a piece or two away from being legitimate contenders. After turning the page on the previous era with a new head coach, President and signing several impact players, Boston is headed in the right direction. How far they will go and whether they will raise the Larry O’Brien trophy for an NBA-record eighteenth time in the near future is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

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