June 13, 2018, 1:37 pm
Greatness in sports is classified and categorized by eras along with the players and coaches who were most involved in them. You need only to look at the ceiling of the TD Bank Garden that for the Boston Celtics, there are several of those. Those green and white banners and numbers hanging from the rafters began with the Red Auerbach, Bob Cousy and Bill Russell Era. Soon after, they were followed by the Tommy Heinsohn, John Havlicek and Dave Cowens Era. Right after that, the Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish Era. A brief period in the wilderness then turned into the Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett Era.
After two consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances, we may be witnessing the emergence of the next great Boston Celtics era. The Brad Stevens, Kyrie Irving, and Jayson Tatum Era.
It may be heresy to preordain an era before a championship has been won, but nothing in the history of the Boston Celtics another set of jersey numbers will be sent into the air. The Celtics are one of the most successful franchises in all of sports and through a series of shrewd moves, have built yet another foundation for another era of great Celtics basketball to break through. The only things keeping them from this being a true era are health and still not being able to solve their most familiar foe, who also happens to be the game’s Final Boss.
2016-2017 Record 53-29, 2017-2018 Record 55-27
The Boston Celtics began the 2017-2018 season with a couple of absolute megaton #WojBombs when they signed one of the biggest prizes in the free agency market in Gordon Hayward and then traded for one of the best players in the game in Kyrie Irving. They also swung a big deal with the Sixers, trading away the first overall pick for No. 3 and some futures that yielded star rookie Jayson Tatum. Gone were Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and Avery Bradley. Boston also added Semi Ojeleye, Kadeem Allen and Jabari Bird in the draft plus Aron Baynes and European big man Daniel Theis in free agency. Marcus Morris came over from the Pistons in a move that beefed up the roster while making space for Irving’s incoming salary. A big year was waiting.
All the optimism and excitement that came with retooling for a championship run in the offseason was nearly wiped away within five minutes of the regular season starting after Hayward suffered a gruesome leg injury on a failed alley-oop attempt. The Celtics would lose to the Cavs on opening night and again the following night against the Bucks and the questions immediately came up about how the Celtics would fare without Hayward.
The Celtics answered by immediately winning their next 16 games in a row.
This isn’t to say that everything was all peaches and cream after the team recovered from Hayward’s injury. After compiling a 34-10 record, second to only the Warriors in the NBA, the Celtics dropped nine of their next 15 prior to heading into the All-Star break. The Raptors took over the lead for the Division and Eastern Conference and never looked back. In the midst of this stretch, Marcus Smart punched a wall in a tirade and was thought to be on his way out at the trade deadline. Still the All-Star Game came right on time and all seemed to be going right as the Celtics won six of their first seven after the break.
Then all hell broke loose again around March 8th.
Jaylen Brown took a nasty spill and was fortunate to walk off on his own, but would end up missing time with a concussion. Smart would be lost indefinitely to a thumb injury. Theis, an undrafted rookie who became a key part of the Celtics rotation, would be lost to a torn meniscus. And finally, and most devastatingly, Kyrie Irving, who had been dealing with a bothersome knee for a part of the season, would be lost for the remainder of the regular season and later the entire postseason as well.
The Celtics responded adversity again by putting together a six-game winning streak in late March and cruising to the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Terry Rozier was thrust into a major role as the starting point guard and he delivered All-Star caliber performances. At a time when most NBA rookies are hitting the proverbial ‘wall,’ 19-year-old rookie Tatum became the focal point of the Celtics. The team also got huge contributions from both Marcus Morris and Brown upon his return. The depth of this Celtics team was challenged all the way through the season and each player helped guide the team within minutes of a Finals appearance.
The Celtics were a top-10 team in Offensive Rating and Effective Field Goal Percentage in 2016-17. However, when you make big roster moves only to lose the All-Star players you acquired for long stretches, it’s hard to keep up that kind of offensive production. This season the C’s offensive numbers were rather pedestrian. The Celtics were 20th in points scored (104.0), 18th in Offensive Rating (107.6), and 15th in Effective Field Goal Percentage (.516). They were actually a quality team from deep and finished second in the NBA 3-point shooting percentage (.377), but that was offset by how atrocious they were around the rim. They were 26th in the NBA at field goal percentage from within three feet of the rim (.628). So while Boston regressed offensively, Brad Stevens switched gears and they became a smothering defensive team.
The Celtics wore down opponents on a nightly basis. They were tied with the Utah Jazz for the best Defensive Rating in the league (103.9), but where the Jazz were built around their Stifle Tower not allowing anything near the basket, the Celtics made things difficult for the league’s 3-point shooters and held opponents to the lowest shooting percentage from deep in the league at 33.9%. This is what happens when you have six players who finish within the top-40 of the leagues Defensive Win Shares including Tatum (4.3), Brown (3.8), Horford (3.7), Rozier (3.4), Baynes (3.2), and Smart (3.0). Furthermore, the Celtics were a top-5 team in Fast Break Points allowed per game (10.4) and Second Chance Points Allowed per game (11.2).
As a whole, the Celtics embraced their individual defensive assignments and were able to limit teams in areas where scoring is the most efficient and effective. Even if the Celtics can’t maintain their league best defensive metrics, it’s reasonable to expect an improvement in their offense with a healthy Irving and Hayward. If they can do both, then 60 wins next season is hardly out of the question.
Entering his fifth year leading the Celtics, Brad Stevens came into the season with high expectations on him and his team. After the trade for Kyrie Irving and the signing of Gordon Hayward and all the potential that came with them, it would have shocked no one if the Celtics fell apart after both players were lost for the season. Instead Stevens doubled down on the defensive intensity and turned the previously offensive-minded Celtics into a tough-as-nails team that no one wanted to play.
Stevens has been getting plenty of accolades as one of the best coaches in the league and despite not having a title to his name…yet, he’s been earning all of those kudos. Part of that is the aforementioned adjustment based on personnel. It’s impossible to lose one of the game’s most dynamic players and a combined 45 ppg and not need to adjust to your personnel. But that’s exactly what Stevens did and gave his two budding stars, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, the means and the ability to capitalize.
Stevens has also developed a reputation as someone who can exploit matchups and is excellent at drawing up plays after timeouts. This was on full display against the Sixers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Sixers typically play multiple big guys that could shoot from deep with one glaring exception, Ben Simmons. Stevens made sure his more athletic defenders like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum played tight on wings like Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and JJ Redick, while letting Al Horford or Aron Baynes hang back and take away Simmons’ ability to get into the lane where his is most dangerous. The discipline the Celtics showed in neutralizing Simmons was the biggest reason the Celtics advanced so easily against the team that is projected to be their biggest rival over the next several seasons.
This is just one example, but a microcosm of the attention to detail that Brad Stevens brings to the Celtics. The Celtics players in turn rave about his basketball IQ and the preparation he brings to each game. Stevens is also a very levelheaded coach, rarely jawing at referees or his own players. He stresses positive reinforcement with his team and the players, more often than not, reward his confidence in them. Despite no previous coaching experience at the professional level, in five seasons Stevens has already left his mark on the league. If Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich are currently the gold standard in NBA coaching, then Stevens isn’t that far behind them and it’s a matter of making that leap into a championship to join their ranks for good. Stevens isn’t going anywhere as the leader of one of the premier franchises in the league.
ADP: 14/14 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 33/30 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 15/14 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 60
The 2017-2018 season for Kyrie Irving started with insult and ended with injury. But everything that happened in between made the rest of the league green with envy.
Irving was the subject of a tumultuous offseason and reports of spats between him and LeBron James led the league to believe that a divorce of the two Cavs superstars was inevitable. Irving became the subject of trade rumors shortly after the Finals and there was speculation that it was James who was the driving force behind the trade talks, though that has been mostly debunked with James apparently upset at the deal. The two players have shared their side of the story and we may never really know the truth about what was the real reason behind the breakup, but Kyrie Irving ultimately felt maligned as a second fiddle to James and wanted out of his shadow. Irving got his wish as Danny Ainge finally cashed his chips in to land the superstar point guard.
Once Kyrie stepped on the court, he let everyone know that he didn’t need LeBron to be one of the premier players in the league. Good ol’ Uncle Drew set career highs in PER (25.0), True Shooting (61.0%), and Usage (31.0). The PER and Usage Rate placed him in the top-10 of the entire league. Kyrie shot a career best 49.1% from the field and put in a career high of 2.8 3-pointers per game. His per-game numbers were all in lockstep with his normal output as he averaged over 24 points, five assists and a steal and only turned the ball over a manageable 2.3 times per game.
If only his knee would have cooperated a little more. Irving hit the shelf in mid-March, which started his offseason prematurely. He also missed time throughout the year with facial fractures (remember the mask era?), a left quad contusion and then three games with more quad soreness. The Celtics played admirably in his absence, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Kyrie’s former teammate turned nemesis in the Eastern Conference Finals. Health is the only thing keeping Kyrie down as he’s only played 75 games once in his career and has had a number of injury issues he’s dealt with. It’s been said that the knee will bother him for the rest of his career, so fantasy owners should count on some missed games from Irving. While only 25 years old, his present and future remains bright and will be motivated to return strong to a Celtics team that was oh-so-close to a Finals berth.
ADP: 50/47 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 42/40 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 49/43 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 72
Al Horford was the first major signing of the rebuilt Celtics and given the hoopla of their offseason, it was easy to think of Horford as being the third part of the new Boston Big Three. Horford, though, did what he does best and played solid consistent basketball throughout the season. It was enough to earn him his fifth career All-Star appearance.
Horford isn’t the dominant interior presence he was during his Atlanta years, but he made a transition into a big man who can play up top and be a facilitator in a ball movement offense. Instead of being a banger, Horford has become more of a stretch four or five, where he can shoot from deep and hit almost 43% from 3 or average nearly five assists per game for the second consecutive season. The downside is that Horford isn’t scoring as much as he used to, that comes with the territory when playing with an Isaiah Thomas last season or a Kyrie Irving or Terry Rozier this season, but at the same time, his field goal percentage has dropped as he’s moved further away from the basket. His rebounding numbers have slowly dwindled and a part of that is a result of not being on the low block constantly where he can get some easy putbacks on offense. And despite not being a prolific shot blocker, he continues to consistently average over a block per game. He just does a bit of everything rather than overpower you with one or two big specialty areas.
While Horford is starting to get up there in age and there’s risk of less minutes and perhaps health issues – he missed time with a concussion, minor problems with both knees, a sprained ankle, an illness and a separate ‘head’ injury (though none of those ailments cost him more than two games) – there are few centers who can contribute across just about every category like he can. In what should be another star-studded season for Boston next year, Horford should still get his usual Celtics numbers and be a very safe and high-floor, low ceiling player in fantasy leagues.
ADP: 24/26 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 522/514 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 502/483 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 1
It stinks that we were robbed of what could have been with a healthy Celtics squad this past season. Hayward had been one of the more consistent scorers in the league during his time in Utah, and we will have to wait until October in order to see what else might get unlocked in his game after reuniting with his old college coach Brad Stevens.
There’s aren’t a lot of relevant basketball things to say in six minutes of play and a nightmare-fuel injury later. He’s still only 28 years old and in the prime of his career so there’s no reason to think that he can’t recover fully from the injury – a dislocated ankle and fractured left tibia. All reports seem to suggest that Hayward is progressing well enough that it was speculated that he could even have returned this past season. The easiest comparison to make with Hayward is Paul George, who suffered a similar type injury. He came back and took it slow late in 2014-2015 before returning to a dominant form the next season. But even if Hayward is eased back in and only plays to 75-85% capacity as Irving, Tatum, and Horford take on more of the usage that would still put Hayward at worst as a top-50 to 75 player. If you use his 2013-2014 stats as a benchmark where he was 83% less in usage rate than he was in 2016-2017, you could get a look at his potential stats, but could also argue that he could be more efficient with his new team as a shooter. There’s some risk and reward to Hayward next season, but assuming health he could be a solid find for someone willing to take what may appear to be minimal risk.
ADP: 107/126 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 47/42 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 72/67 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 80
Most 19-year-olds are using their initial introduction to adulthood to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives or testing the limits of their livers and kidneys. Most 19-year-olds who are aspiring basketball players are trying to juggle classes and practices while getting paid zero dollars by an organization that makes billions of them. Most 19-year-olds fortunate enough to make it to the NBA are paying their dues on the bench and trying to pick up the speed and nuances of the NBA game.
Jayson Tatum is not most 19-year olds.
In a season where a 19-year-old rookie finished a full season as a top-75 player, that accomplishment wasn’t enough for him to be the top candidate for Rookie of the Year. That distinction is going to be bestowed to either Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell. But while those two are actively arguing the rules about what actually constitutes a rookie, Tatum was serving notice in the postseason that he has all the tools to be a multi-time All-Star and perhaps even an MVP candidate in the very near future.
Tatum can legitimately do it on both ends. He can shoot (1.3 3-pointers per game at a 43.3% rate from deep and 82.6% from the line), he can defend (1.0 steals per game, 0.7 blocks per game and 4.0 Defensive Win Shares), he became a better passer in the postseason (2.7 assists per game compared to 1.6 in the regular season) and he has room to grow into his frame to bang a bit more inside (5.0 rebounds per game). He was unafraid of the spotlight in the playoffs and led the Celtics in scoring (18.5) His posterizing of LeBron James in Game 7 of the ECF even made The King recognize that Tatum had superstar written all over him. Now at 20, Tatum is going to cost a bigger premium on draft day now that the cat is out of the bag on his talents, but the upside is tantalizing and his ceiling is sky high.
ADP: 140/142 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 137/155 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 134/154 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 70
Tatum wasn’t the only player to have Celtics fans salivating over the future. Jaylen Brown was always expected to have a larger role, but again, without Hayward, his impact was far more immediate. Case in point, Jaylen Brown’s best scoring game as a rookie was a 20-point performance. He put up 25 in this season’s opener.
No one ever doubted Brown’s athleticism out of college, but there were doubts about how much of a true scorer he could be with questionable shot selection and limited range. In his second season, Brown is putting those concerns to bed with 1.7 3-pointers per game on 39.5% shooting from downtown. He’s also part of Boston’s nightmare defense as he too was among the league’s top players in Defensive Win Shares and averaged over a steal per game.
Brown was lucky to play in 70 games as he was on the injury report a bit more than you’d think, with his eight-game stint on the sidelines following a scary fall on his back joined by one or two-game absences thanks to his eye, a sore leg and a sore left Achilles.
But despite some huge scoring outbursts and some gutsy playoff games, he still has some holes he needs to fill. He’s a miserable free throw shooter and finished the season at 64.4% from the stripe, which puts him closer to the 7-foot clangers of the league than smooth shooting guards. He’s also not much of a passer either, which dings him when compared to the combo guards that are far more prevalent in the league. Even with his improvements and minutes increase, it still wasn’t enough for Brown to crack the top-150 in 9-cats. Someone in fantasy may see the scoring potential and overpay for him in leagues next season. The same could be said of teams who may engage the Celtics in trade talks for Brown. The Celtics have said that Brown is ‘untouchable’ but given the cap situation his name is bound to come up constantly in trade rumors this summer.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 93/79 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 142/117 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 80
Teams don’t go as far as the Celtics when their best players go down without someone stepping in and putting together a breakout from out of nowhere. Enter Terry Rozier, who started delivering RKOs to opponents all the way through the Conference Finals.
It wasn’t as if Rozier was a complete afterthought with Kyrie on the floor. Rozier was still seeing just under 25 minutes a game as the Celtics lead offensive guard off the bench, but was only doing enough to be a top-150 player. He averaged over 10 points, four rebounds, and more than a steal and a 3-pointer per game at that time. Not bad, but not someone worth starting on a regular basis and possibly sitting on waivers in shallow leagues.
But after Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart were sidelined for the duration of the regular season, Rozier became a top-70 player in the final month of games. He played over 33 minutes per contest and delivered 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.6 triples, and 1.2 steals a night. The only downside was that with more offensive responsibility, Rozier’s field goal percentage plummeted to 36.5 percent. Still, if you owned him it was a nice wave to ride at exactly the right time in the fantasy season. Scary Terry became one of the most memorable players of the postseason with his ethering of Eric Bledsoe and his huge games against the Bucks and Sixers.
The Celtics have a major decision to make with Rozier’s free agency on the horizon, his value at an all time high, and a lot of dollars that need to be spent in order to keep this Celtics nucleus together for at least one more season. If the Celtics sell high, then his value is going to be in the top 50-75 range on draft day as a potential starter on a different team. If he stays with the Cs, then his value is entirely dependent on the health of Irving.
ADP: 107/113 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 194/230 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 137/191 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 54
Smart’s Celtic career is at a crossroads. There’s no doubt about what he brings to the team. He’s one of the better overall defenders in the league and unafraid of any matchup. Just ask LeBron James how easy it is to drive the lane on him. He’s the guy that fans of every other team hate, but the Celtics faithful absolutely love. Smart knows that it’s difficult to measure heart and floorburns, but he believes there is a strong dollar value associated with those things. In an ideal world, the Celtics would love to keep both him and Rozier given that they don’t make it as far as they did without them and would be important cogs in a machine that is churning its way deep into the playoffs next year.
Smart missed a lot of time this season, playing in a career-low 54 contests. He missed two games with a sore ankle, 11 after cutting his hand in the aforementioned hotel room incident and the last 15 regular season games with a torn thumb tendon. He also missed the first four games against the Bucks in round one but would return ahead of schedule at a time when it was reported that he wouldn’t be back until the tail end of the second round.
On the other side, Smart has always been an offensive liability. He’s an absolutely terrible shooter and his 36.7% from the field somehow ties his career best. He doesn’t exactly offset that by his playmaking either. He’s a modest passer even as a natural point guard at 4.8 assists per game. His PER bottomed out at 10.8 and he produces -0.6 Offensive Win Shares, a number that was only better than Abdel Nader on his own team. At this point in his career and in fantasy leagues, it’s reasonable to say that Smart is who he is. He’s an effort guy who you’re only rostering for his defensive ability. The Celtics are hoping that a generally cash-strapped market sees this and decides against spending big dollars on Smart. And even if Smart does hit his payday, fantasy owners should know that the spots on this leopard wouldn’t change, even if his location does.
ADP: 122/135 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 211/205 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 164/149 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 54
Like his brother Markieff, Marcus Morris is generally an afterthought in fantasy leagues. He’s barely a top-150 player and not someone you are regularly planning on starting on a regular basis. And like Kieff performing at a high level in the right situation, his twin Marcus just needed one of his own to showcase his talents.
It was a rocky start, as knee soreness kept Morris sidelined for the first eight games of the year. He also missed 11 of 13 games in a December stretch because of more knee soreness and had two other single-game, knee-related absences. Morris also missed two games with a sore hip and one with a sore ankle towards the end of the year for good measure. While he doesn’t have the starpower of Boston’s other infirmed, they desperately missed his presence on both ends of the floor.
Morris was thrust into a far more prominent role when Smart, Brown, Irving, and Theis all got shelved with injury. So Morris stepped up and had one of the best months of his career this past March. During that month he was a top-50 player by dropping over 18 points, five rebounds, two 3-pointers and a steal per game on 48% shooting. It wasn’t as if Morris wasn’t on the court either. He averaged 25 minutes per game prior to his blistering March, but was shooting a terrible 41% up until that point. Amazing what can happen when the ball starts to find its way in. The basket just starts getting wider and wider. It also helps that he was one of the few potentially-dynamic scorers still standing.
Still, Morris is who he is at this point in his career. It’s evident in the number of questionable shots he takes, though the Celtics have to like his ability to take on the league’s top combo forwards on the defensive end. He’s a borderline rosterable talent who needs the right situation to get hot to be part of most lineups.
ADP: 103/103 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 192/202 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 115/134 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 51
It seems like Greg Monroe deserved better. Moose is a solid scoring and rebounding big man who found himself in Jason Kidd’s doghouse for years and summarily traded to Phoenix as part of the Eric Bledsoe deal. You would think that the Suns would have use for Monroe given that they also employ Tyson Chandler and Alex Len, but instead the Suns felt that tanking was more important so Monroe languished either on the bench or in a silly three-center DNP rotation for months until he was finally freed in February. Monroe would sign with the Celtics to be part of a title contender and the team theoretically needed some offensive depth in their frontcourt.
But Monroe saw less than 20 minutes per game with the Celtics in the regular season where his defensive issues became apparent on a team that was leading the league in defense. He barely saw the court during the playoff run for that reason. The end result was Monroe delivering numbers that he hasn’t seen since his rookie season through mostly no fault of his own. The Moose needs to be on a team where he can be let loose so where he signs will play the biggest factor on if he can rebound his stock to where he’s a must-own center once again.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 210/213 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 279/286 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 81
When Gordon Hayward went down it was Aron Baynes who stepped into the starting lineup in his place. That move helped trigger the defensive shift in philosophy and ultimately the Celtics’ 16-game win streak early in the season. Baynes is by no means an offensive force – he only averaged six points and five rebounds despite starting most nights and seeing nearly 20 minutes a game. No, he’s there for the dirty work and to cover opposing big men all over the floor, which he did with aplomb. With Marcus Smart possibly leaving, Baynes becomes more of a priority for the Celtics to re-sign to keep their defense stiff. He did light the world on fire (relatively speaking) with his 3-point shooting in the postseason, but it’ll take a lot more than that to get Baynes onto the standard league radar.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 235/227 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 247/236 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 51
While Jayson Tatum got all the accolades, another Celtics rookie was quietly making an impact on their bench. Daniel Theis might have been an afterthought had Hayward not gotten hurt, but instead he saw nearly 15 minutes per game and did his best to make the most of them. He too is a solid defender with over half a steal and half a block per game in limited minutes and has some range in his game as well. With the team banged up at times, Theis had his number called and he had some memorable games including a 19-point, seven-rebound, two-triple, two-steal, and two-block effort against the Pistons right after the All-Star break.
With some of the roster in flux and the team likely to take it easy on Hayward in the early going, Theis could have some deep sleeper appeal as he may wind up having a bigger role so long as his own health is up to par after tearing his meniscus in mid-March.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 358/354 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 461/453 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 72
Ojeleye was something of a steal for the Celtics, as his mid-first round hype fizzled quickly and allowed him to be snagged at pick 37. The SMU product wasn’t asked to do much on offense but showed his worth on the defensive end, proving strong enough to crash and bang down low while nimble enough to keep up outside the paint. Ojeleye put some nice work on tape against Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first round but until that translates into more minutes, and those translate into steals and blocks, he can be ignored in fantasy.
These are literally Doctor’s Orders. Priority numeros uno and dos are getting Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward healthy and ready to go for the 2018-2019 season. And that means listening to team docs and taking it slow in the preseason if need be. Those two need to be healthy in April and if that means less minutes or more rest days in October, November and December, so be it. The Celtics would much rather be in the same position they found themselves in this past season, but with Kyrie and Hayward than without them.
Still they have major decisions to make with a less than ideal cap situation and the restricted free agency of Marcus Smart. They could match any offer, but Smart is likely to command huge dollars from a team that has cap space and more minutes to offer him should he decline the Celtics qualifying offer, which by all accounts, seems inevitable. The Celtics certainly have the talent to overcome the loss of Smart, but it would put a significant dent in their defense. At the same time, Smart may be a casualty of necessity given that the Celtics will be facing the same dilemma with Terry Rozier the following season and Jaylen Brown the one following that. This is all predicated on Al Horford opting-in to a $30 million dollar salary for the 2019-2020 season and Kyrie Irving getting a max deal to stay in Boston, both of those seem like the most likely outcomes which would tie up Boston’s cap to their big three for at least the next two seasons.
But these are future problems and the Celtics are focused on what they can do as a title contender for 2018-2019. Losing Smart means that they can prioritize bringing back Aron Baynes on a team-friendly deal. Baynes was a solid defender in the interior and can match up quite well against the Joel Embiids of the world. The Celtics could mitigate the loss of one of their better defenders, but losing two becomes problematic. Also with a Rozier extension on the horizon, the question is do the Celtics sell high to solidify their bench or keep Rozier around knowing he’ll walk out the following season? Rozier needs to remain in green if the Celtics are serious about a title run and have questions about Irving’s knee, but then that means losing out on getting a possible return on a young and improving player that could easily start on a number of teams. This decision likely hinges on how confident Danny Ainge is that Irving and Hayward can make it back to 100% and if he believes there’s another gear that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can find in their development.
If both Smart and Rozier are gone by this coming October then the Celtics would likely need to find some veteran bargains for their bench in July. Maybe it’s someone like Wayne Ellington who can come in behind guys like Irving and Brown and can shoot the lights out of the ball while providing some improved defense that he developed during his time in Miami. Or maybe it’s someone like a Mo Speights, who is a big man that can shoot from deep and has been a valuable role player on teams that have made it deep into the postseason. Whoever it is, they’ll be players who can come in and support an already established core and help provide some leadership for their young future stars.
The Celtics will enter next season with even more expectations than they did this season. They have the right players, the right coach, and all that they were missing was the health to put it altogether in 2018. That and the continued reign of terror by the Mad King LeBron, who they can only hope decides to relocate his throne somewhere out West. But whether or not that happens, the next step is the Finals and ultimately a Larry O’Brien trophy. Making that leap is the only thing that will keep the new Stevens, Irving, Tatum Era from being discussed with the others of Celtics lore.