The Brad Stevens era in Boston began to pay big dividends last season, as the Celtics won 48 games for the first time since the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were in town. While they still had roster limitations, as evidenced by a first-round playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Celtics have clearly shown they're ready to advance to the next level.
After years of quietly browsing in free agency, the Celtics finally went big on a marquee free agent, signing Al Horford away from Atlanta. ... The Celtics used the No. 3 overall draft selection on uber-athletic Cal swingman Jaylen Brown. ... The Celtics saw two rotation players walk in free agency, Jared Sullinger and Evan Turner.
- The rich got richer. As good as the Celtics were last season, adding Al Horford should make them even more dangerous. As a stretch big with a deadeye midrange game, Horford creates even more space for All-Star Isaiah Thomas to exploit on offense.
- The Celtics will look within to replace the production of Sullinger and Turner, who combined to average 20.8 ppg and 10.2 rpg. Horford will pick up some slack, and Marcus Smart will probably be asked to play an increased role.
- As good as Boston should be this season, the road to the top in the East still runs through Cleveland. And until Stevens can unravel that riddle, the Celtics still have plenty of work to do.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Isaiah Thomas made his first All-Star appearance last season, and the 5-foot-9 point guard finished the season averaging a career-high 22.2 ppg. But Thomas went 24-72 (33-percent) from the floor in Boston's four first-round losses against Atlanta, as the Celtics weren't able to find adequate scoring elsewhere. For Boston to be an elite team, Thomas needs to continue his development.
Isaiah Thomas | 22.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 6.2 apg
Last season, Thomas averaged a career-high 6.6 free throw attempts per game.
Avery Bradley | 15.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.1 apg
As an elite defender, Bradley keeps opposing backcourts from targeting Thomas on the defensive end.
Jae Crowder | 14.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.8 apg
His versatility makes him a key rotation player for the Celtics.
Al Horford | 15.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 3.2 apg
The four-time All-Star should shine in Brad Stevens' system.
Amir Johnson | 7.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.7 apg
The veteran big man will allow Horford to play his preferred power forward position.
Marcus Smart | 9.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3 apg
When healthy, Smart is a wicked performer (particularly on the defensive end) for the Celtics.
Gerald Green | 8.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.8 apg
Veteran swingman should provide instant offense off the bench.
Kelly Olynyk | 10 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.5 apg
The Canadian center enters a contract year having proven himself a solid back-up big.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Boston Celtics have officially turned the corner and become part of the Eastern Conference elite. While they still may be a player away from being one of the NBA's best, they still have the assets to deal and perhaps make another addition. In the meantime, Boston already has the ability to beat any team on any evening.
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