When last seen, the Celtics were … giving up 37 points in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, unable to stop Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. They were one of the last three teams standing and they were dealing with injuries to Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward. But it was still a disappointing finish for the Cs, who were the higher seed and the only East team that finished in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Celtics took a step forward despite losing five rotation players in the summer of 2019, but they came up just short once again, losing in the conference finals for the third time in the last four years.
What’s new? Hayward is in Charlotte after opting out of the final year of his contract. The Celtics were unable to work out a sign-and-trade deal that brought back any players, but they do now have a large trade exception, and Hayward’s departure did allow them to use the full mid-level exception to sign center Tristan Thompson. More important may be that Jayson Tatum put pen to paper on an extension that will keep him under contract through (at least) the 2024-25 season.
What’s missing: Depth. Hayward played in only five of their 17 playoff games and the Celtics still have four quality perimeter players. But the somewhat surprising departure of a guy who averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists last season leaves the team significantly thinner at the forward positions and more susceptible to absences within that first-line group of Walker, Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. With Walker still dealing with a knee issue, the Celtics could also be depending on 32-year-old Jeff Teague more than they should.
POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE
Kemba Walker | 20.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 4.8 apg
Lingering left knee issue is a concern and will keep him off the floor to start the season.
Marcus Smart | 12.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.9 apg
The man who makes “winning plays” became more aggressive offensively last season.
Jaylen Brown | 20.3 ppg 6.4 rpg, 2.1 apg
Not able to create his own offense like Walker or Tatum, but he does everything else.
Jayson Tatum | 23.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.0 apg
Made a huge scoring leap last season and showed signs of playmaking improvement in the playoffs.
Daniel Theis | 9.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg
Had issues against Miami, but still an important, complementary screen-setter and defender.
Semi Ojeleye | 3.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.5 apg
Played just four minutes over the last four playoff games, but back in a key role with Hayward gone.
Jeff Teague | 10.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 5.2 apg
Has a ton of playoff experience, but has been hidden on bad teams for the last two years.
Tristan Thompson | 12.0 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 2.1 apg
Will have to flip a switch after playing for the league’s worst defense of the last two seasons.
Grant Williams | 3.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.0 apg
Had some moments in limited minutes in the playoffs and should see a larger role this year.
Boston Celtics, last 5 seasons
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
The Celtics still have the pieces to rank in the top five on either end of the floor and finish in the top four in the conference for a fifth straight season. And come July, they could certainly be the team representing the East in The Finals, especially if the progress of Tatum and Brown continues at its current pace. But with no Hayward and with Walker’s health a question before the season even starts, they’re a little more fragile than they were last season, when they were able to withstand a myriad of absences within their top six.
Predicted finish: 46-26
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