The Boston Celtics completed what would be considered a positive season for most NBA cities; reaching the playoffs as a 5th seed and increasing their win total for the second straight season since the hiring of Brad Stevens. But, while the season proved to be somewhat of a success, there is much more that must be done if this team is going to ascend to the upper echelon of title contenders. In essence, this band of brothers are a team that was built for regular season; but not to contend.
Let me say first off that i really liked this Celtics team, for all the intangibles these plaayers brought to the court. Woth the exception of a player or two, I was comfortable with each as they took the floor. For that reason, I view this season to be successful, because they left their heart and soul on the floor most nights. The Celtics’ 48 wins are a great result for this team, far exceeding this writer and many fans’ expectations. After posting a 22-21 record in mid-January, Boston would proceed to win 26 of their remaining 39 games; a .667 winning percentage. Much of the team’s regular season success was Brad Stevens continual work on player rotations which led to 8-10 players providing significant minutes on any given night.
While this team was build for on strong perimeter defense and fast-paced offense, it was the diversity of talent that made this squad fan favorites. In addition to first-time All Star Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics would rely heavily on Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Evan Turner to contribute on both ends of the floor. When defense was essential, Marcus Smart would play a prominent role as lead antagonist for the opponent’s lead scorer; no matter their size. On many nights, playing “small ball” would frustrate opponents; especially when the team was executing efficiently on offense. Ball movement would lead to open shots; and perimeter defense would make overcoming any game deficit possible.
The results speak for themselves; as Boston would have their longest losing streak of four games while having four game winning streaks of five (twice) and four games (four times) throughout the campaign. There would be marquee wins like Golden State on April 1, and the season-ending 26-point comeback win over the Miami Heat on April 13. On any given night, the Celtics could beat any team in the league.
Unfortunately for Celtics fans, playoff basketball requires a different skillset and approach. Player rotations get shorter and opposing teams have the opportunity to prepare for the Celtics. The Game 6 playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks were a perfect example; where the Hawks held leading scorer Isaiah Thomas to a combined 12 of 36 from the floor (.333 shooting percentage); rushing extra defenders in Thomas’ direction each time he would dribble penetrate. Given his diminutive size (5′ 9″), such stifling defense proved difficult in gaining any open shots for most of the series in general. Granted the injury to Avery Bradley and to a lesser extent Jae Crowder had some impact on the series outcome; but to be honest, this team would have struggled to find any offensive consistency in the series even if Bradley were on the floor.
The obvious lack of marquee talent was the leading contributor to the Celtics demise this postseason. While Thomas is a All Star player, this team needs more elite talent should they ever aspire to compete with Cleveland, San Antonio and Golden State. When you look at these contending teams, they have exceptional play-making guards but also the presence on the wing and in the post; leading to a more well rounded and potent attack. Until such talent is obtained, this team will remain in the hunt as a mid-level seed and possibly win a round in the playoffs, but little more.
On the horizon, team president Danny Ainge has a boatload of assets that can be leveraged to get the requisite talent, along with increasing cap space to spend on a top flight free agent. Should a Kevin Durant or Jimmy Butler find their way to Beantown, the prospectus of the Celtics in years to come gets far more positive due to having a strong wing scorer in the fold. Addressing the post with a defensive presence such as Hassan Whiteside (C – Miami) or former/recent rivals Pau Gasol and Al Horford (C – Atlanta) would certainly change the competitive landscape. Adding a combination of players like this would then place incumbent Celtics Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart into a tremendous supporting cast as opposed to having to be the “go to guys” directly responsible for the team’s fate.
On the trade front, having multiple first round draft picks over the next few seasons would become an enticing commodity for also-ran teams looking to rebuild. Look at the Brooklyn Nets (Brook Lopez), New York Knicks (Carmelo Anthony), Sacramento Kings (Demarcus Cousins) as franchises without a clear direction. Facilitating a multi-team trade to provide complimentary salaries to the draft picks could be an option worth pursuing. Granted, with the exception of Cousins these players do not offer long-term upside for Boston; but what they do is infuse All Star talent to boost the Celtics roster to the next level.
I for one will admit that last fall my outlook for the Celtics season was not very positive. I could see this team being a low playoff seed again and possibly missing the playoffs should other teams have improved as their talent suggested they would (Bulls, Wizards, Bucks). I believe this team is on the right track and have the leaders in place (Ainge, Stevens) to elevate this franchise in the coming seasons.
I will forever bleed Celtic green and remain optimistic that better days are ahead. Unlike some sports cities where championship aspirations are more like pipe dreams, in Boston it will always be “title or bust”. It is because of such high expectations that the Celtics front office continues to work towards building the next championship team. And with a couple of right moves this summer, it could be much closer than you think.