30 Teams in 30 Days: Boston Celtics return with healthy roster and high expectations
Boston stepped up during the 2018 playoffs -- now Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward join the mix
* Friday on NBA TV: Celtics vs. Hornets (7:30 p.m. ET)
That’s a question many fans ask as the flurry of trades, free agent news and player movement seems to never stop during the summer. Since the Golden State Warriors claimed their third title in four years back on June 8, NBA teams have undergone a massive number of changes as they prepare for the season ahead.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2017-18 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today’s Team: Boston Celtics
Who’s new: Robert Williams (Draft)
Who’s gone: Greg Monroe
The lowdown: The pride of the Celtics lasted all season and well into the playoffs for a team that lost Gordon Hayward in the opener and then Kyrie Irving late in the season. Despite missing their top two players, Boston came within a few games of the best record in the East and one game from reaching the NBA Finals — given the circumstances, a remarkable run. Part of the reason was Jayson Tatum, the rookie whose maturity and development was pressed on fast-forward by necessity. Tatum was asked to win games and accept a large share of the scoring and he accepted that challenge and aced the test. Yet the Celtics were hardly a one-man act, mainly because they couldn’t afford to be; Al Horford was an All-Star, Jaylen Brown took a leap in his second year and Terry Rozier played admirably in the playoffs as the point guard replacement for Irving. Given how well they fared without Hayward and Irving, the Celtics entered the offseason with few pressing needs and the favorite in the East with LeBron James now in the West.
The offseason was all about Hayward and Irving getting healthy. Nothing more, nothing less.
Sure, there was a flirtation with the Spurs about obtaining Kawhi Leonard, mainly because the Celtics have assets: Young players on cheap rookie contracts and picks. Those talks led nowhere — unfortunately for Boston, Kawhi landed in Toronto, one of the challengers for the East title this season.
But missing out on Kawhi wasn’t particularly damaging for the Celtics. They didn’t desperately need him, and anyway, why sacrifice someone such as Tatum, who’s signed for another few years on a team-friendly deal, or even Brown? Why part with young and enduring assets when there’s no guarantee Kawhi would’ve re-signed in 2019?
In the end, it was a no-lose situation for the Celtics. Tatum and Brown have upside, and they fit well on this team. Besides, after missing two crucial players last season, GM Danny Ainge wants to give this crew a chance to be whole, for once. And not only for this season; the Celtics are built to sustain, especially if they re-sign Irving in 2019, but that’s a story for another day.
Hayward had a minor setback during his recovery and required a second procedure in the spring, a follow-up surgery on his left ankle. Yet his prognosis is good and by summer’s end he looked agile during workouts.
Irving’s recovery from a knee infection had no speed bumps and he, too, is projected to be fit for camp. When he wasn’t promoting his Uncle Drew movie, Irving was fast at work on the practice court.
It’s not that the Celtics had a completely quiet offseason otherwise. There was the matter of giving restricted free agent Marcus Smart a contract extension in a soft market, and as expected nothing was settled right away. Eventually, Smart signed for a reported $52 million over four years and the Celtics retained a tough-nosed defender and chemistry guy whose shooting is still a work in progress.
The signing of Smart will make next summer an interesting one for Boston. Irving’s deal will be up, and the Celtics must talk terms with Rozier, too. Finally, Brown will be eligible for an extension. That’s the one “downside” to all of the talent collected by Ainge; you can’t pay everyone, unless of course you’re willing to write a fat luxury tax check annually.
Without a lottery pick — the Brooklyn gifts finally ran dry — the Celtics used their late first-rounder on Williams, a burly power forward with a gentle touch. He didn’t endear himself to the Celtics by showing irresponsibility almost from the start. One reason he fell deep in the first round was because of questions regarding his work ethic. Certainly, the rookie from small town Louisiana will need to grow up fast. He’ll have Horford around to teach him the finer points of being a professional. And they don’t come more solid than Horford.
Williams is 6-foot-10 with a 7-6 wingspan and brings good defensive instincts. If he gets his body and his act together, he might see time in the back of the rotation, especially with the Celtics declining to keep Monroe.
Otherwise, there was no need for the Celtics to embark on a heavy offseason or take risks with their rotation. If anything, Boston needs to see how the pieces fit next to Hayward and Irving.
Because of that, don’t be too surprised if the Celtics endure some initial growing pains, even with Brad Stevens’ coaching. But with a healthy core and LeBron on the other coast, the East is Boston’s to lose as the Celtics enter camp.
Coming Next: Golden State Warriors
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