Blogtable: Are Boston Celtics good enough now to overthrow Cleveland Cavaliers?
Each week, we ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day.
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The Celtics have word that Gordon Hayward is coming, but they lost a lot of depth in players like Avery Bradley, Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk. Are the Celtics, as constructed today, good enough to overthrow the Cavaliers?
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Steve Aschburner: No. I’m not even sure the Celtics as constructed today are good enough to overthrow the 2016-17 Celtics. The players to whom they’ve bid adieu represent several steps backward, with the strides forward from landing Hayward still to be determined. Avery Bradley in particular was a valuable, three-way player for Boston. Three-way? Yes, toting up his offensive, defensive and chemistry contributions. And say what you want about Kelly Olynyk, but he gave the Celtics a combination of size and shooting range that it will miss. All that gnashing of teeth we hear coming out of Cleveland is about the Cavs’ apparent difficulty in narrowing The Finals gap with Golden State, not about Boston or anyone else closing the gap in the East.
Fran Blinebury: Gordon Hayward is a very good player and gives the Celtics an upgrade in their starting lineup, but not the same kind of boost they’d have received at both ends of the court from Paul George. The loss of depth should not be underestimated, especially Avery Bradley as a defender and locker room presence. They’re going to need Jayson Tatum and/or Jaylen Brown to step up in a big way. The bigger difference in terms of catching the Cavaliers just might be the loss of general manager David Griffin in Cleveland. He’s the one that kept LeBron James happy and nursed the salary cap with shrewd additions to the roster. Still advantage Cavs.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Yes. I would still give the Cavaliers an edge unless LeBron James recently sold the time machine that last season turned him into a 28 year old, and I think having so many people talk about the Boston is an extra dose of motivation for Cleveland. The Cs winning the East, though, would hardly be a surprise. They will be better and I don’t know that we can say the same about Cleveland.
Shaun Powell: They’re probably not ready to beat the Cavs right now, barring some circumstance that is, but I’m not sure that was the primary goal. Danny Ainge wants this team to be ready for a five-to six-year run and particularly if/when LeBron James has had enough of Cleveland, which could be after this season. In order to stay ahead of the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors and whomever else becomes a contender in the East, Ange must soon address the big man issue. The Celtics need a rim protector.
John Schuhmann: The answer to that question is more about the Cavs than the Celtics. It promises to be another drama-filled season in Cleveland, with the fear of LeBron James leaving (again) next summer and with Kevin Love remaining in trade rumors. If the Cavs can stay focused in between the lines and build better defensive habits through the season than they did last year, they should remain the favorites in the East. But if the wheels start to come off in Cleveland, the Celtics are capable of taking advantage. With improved shooting and playmaking, Boston could have a top-five offense for the first time in 26 years (since 1990-91, the last time Larry Bird played more than 50 games). I am curious to see how they hold up defensively after taking a step backward on that end of the floor last season and losing both Bradley and Johnson.
Sekou Smith: No, they’re not quite there yet. The loss of Avery Bradley directly impacts the (theoretical) matchup with the Cavaliers in that the best possible defender of Kyrie Irving is no longer in green and white. The loss of Bradley is devastating enough, given his abilities on both ends of the floor and fit alongside Isaiah Thomas. But not having him to at least try and slow Kyrie down would be a game changer in that series. I know you have to give something (or someone) of quality up to get something of quality in return this time of year in the NBA, but Bradley was a piece I felt was too valuable to part with in this instance.
Ian Thomsen: On paper, which is all we have today, the Celtics don’t have the star power to bring down LeBron James. But the outlook may be different nine months from now. James is seeking his eighth straight NBA Finals, and even more relevant is that his teammates are trying to get there for the fourth year in a row. Miami looked like a tired team while reaching its fourth straight Finals in 2014, as did Kobe’s Lakers when they fell short of a fourth successive Finals in 2011. In this threshold year, conditioning, teamwork and humility could carry the Celtics a long way. No one should be predicting an NBA Finals appearance for them, but no one should be counting them out either.
Lang Whitaker: Didn’t the Celtics finish with the Eastern Conference’s best regular-season mark in 2016-17? That tends to get overlooked in the aftermath of their thrashing by the Cavaliers in the conference finals, but the Celtics were the best team in the Eastern Conference last season, at least by record. Olynyk had his moments, and Johnson was mostly a contributor off the floor, but the guy I really don’t like them losing is Avery Bradley. Not only is Bradley one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders, but he also provided important defensive cover for Isaiah Thomas, and knocked down spot-up jumpers. The only way it makes sense to me is if you zoom out and look bigger picture: If you’re losing Bradley, Olynyk and Johnson and adding Hayward, Tatum and Marcus Morris, I feel like it’s mostly a net-plus. Especially if someone else (Marcus Smart?) accepts that defensive stopper role.