Title or Bust: Last Call for this Celtics’ Big 3

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The Boston Celtics worked their magic this year.

They were without their top two weapons in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, along with big man Daniel Theis. They went through with playoffs in part without guards Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and most recently Shane Larkin.

They took LeBron James, the self-proclaimed “King” of the NBA, seven games in a thrilling series. Their methods were ridiculed by the rest of the NBA, shown by the fact that coach Brad Stevens didn’t get a single vote for Coach of the Year by his peers.

However, the Celtics were almost able to win all three rounds in the East without having their best player on the floor. The Celtics’ meteoric rise to excellence has been expedited by the fantastic wheeling and dealing by Danny Ainge who easily has lapped the field among executives. But now the pressure is on.

If they don’t win a record 18th NBA title next summer, the Celtics won’t win a title with this cast of characters, and might not at all in the Brown and Jayson Tatum era.

What every Celtics fan should be focused on now is the offseason, with James certain to get smacked in the Finals. The Celtics are getting back their two biggest weapons in Hayward and Irving, and Ainge shouldn’t be trigger happy on a trade.

The feeling around the Celtics front office is that they have enough ammunition for one more big deal—one trade that can really put them over the top. But without seeing Irving in the playoffs and Hayward at all really, Ainge shouldn’t really need to trade.

The only name that could be enticing enough is if New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis becomes available. Even with talented stars like Kawhi Leonard on the market, the Celtics don’t necessarily need him if it compromises too much of their roster. With Davis however, the Celtics need a dominant big man to pair with young studs Brown and Tatum.

The Celtics will need to resign both Smart and Aron Baynes to keep the team around from last year, but everyone else is under contract including sixth man Marcus Morris and playoff revelation Terry Rozier.

Boston should expect a title next year, no question. It doesn’t matter if the Celtics face the Warriors and their lineup of death, or a Philadelphia team that might add James, Leonard, or Paul George. They will have superstars with experience, young athletic guns that have already dazzled in front of the bright lights, and a coach that is regarded as one of the best in the league.

After next season, Al Horford can choose to opt out, and Morris and Rozier will be up for new deals as well as Irving. Owner Wyc Grousbeck has said before that he would be willing to spend into the luxury tax if it meant getting a surefire title winner, but it seems highly unlikely that the Celtics will be able to keep all four of those guys.

If Horford opts out, they may only be able to keep two. Windows in the NBA open and close in a minute. Ainge could see an opportunity to reload and ship out Brown or Tatum for what he feels is an upgrade. The Celtics could look dramatically different in just four years, depending on if they decide to retain Kyrie at a max deal along with Horford and Hayward.

If the Celtics don’t win a title in the next year, it is a failure for a franchise that prides itself on its Larry O’Brien trophies. The hype around Brown and Tatum is real. But the future is bright; but the future is now.

The chips are on the table. It’s time for the Celtics to step up. Green Teamers hate to disparage their squad, but if they don’t win, Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge, and the Celtics philosophy should be called into question.

All their trades and their standing pat on the deadline didn’t get them to the ultimate goal. The Celtics aren’t some second-rate organization who posts the Eastern Conference Championship banners; these rafters hold greatness. It’s time for these Celtics to show up.

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