Do you remember a year ago at this time when the Celtics were considered to be legitimate championship contenders? Needless to say, an awful lot can change over the span of 365 days in the NBA. Boston went on to underwhelm during the regular season before being bounced in five games by the Bucks in the conference semis. Now, they are licking their wounds after losing both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford in free agency.
While the Celtics’ roster may have lost some shine, it’s still a team with no shortage of talent. Boston replaced Irving with Kemba Walker, which was a nice move. It’s at worst, a lateral move for Boston at arguably the most important position in today’s NBA. Considering the lack of depth out east, anything below the 5 seed for Boston next season would be a surprise.
The Boston Celtics will be leaning more heavily on the likes of Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, and Jaylen Brown offensively with Irving gone. How that works out remains to be seen, but entering years 3 expectations will be particularly high for Tatum. He did not grow much offensively between years 1 and 2, but if he starts to look like the player many believe he can be, the Celtics could be an improved team next season.
The main question with Boston comes inside. Horford’s departure leaves a dent in the team’s defense, and replacing him with Enes Kanter won’t do much to cure that ailment. How the Celtics defend a team like Philly, featuring Joel Embiid, in a postseason series remains to be seen. Still, I think there’s merit to betting on the Celtics as a long shot for the same reasons I like Indiana. There’s still talent here, and the East is paper-thin once you get past the top 2 of Milwaukee and Philly.