The 2018-19 NBA season was riddled with dismay for head coach Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics.
Fast-forward to late September, and the Celtics have undergone some serious metaphorical plastic surgery from a personnel perspective.
By losing Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes, Terry Rozier, and more, President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge had a decision looming.
Option A was to scrap everything and rely on the young pieces in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to develop and eventually bring another contender to Beantown. Option B? Make moves, stay competitive, and refuse to let past failures keep a suffocating grip on Ainge, ultimately scaring him by threatening a repeat letdown in 2019-20.
And as many expected, Ainge chose the latter. He picked up Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter in free agency, and paired them with draft picks that have ‘help now’ potential.
But looking at their depth chart, those incoming Rookies or proven stars like Walker are not the main pieces of the puzzle. As helpful as they may be, Boston is not close to contention without Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum stepping up their game from a season ago.
Shaking up the lineup and kissing Kyrie Irving’s antics goodbye are both strong starts at allowing that jump to take off for Hayward and Tatum — not to mention another year of recovery and experience respectively.
Ceiling: Third Seed
Even when assuming everything will go to plan, it’s hard to picture this team breaking the top two spots in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee is coming off of a league-best 60 wins last season, and MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo shows no signs of slowing down.
The Philadelphia 76ers are also a near-lock to rack up more wins than Boston. What Philadelphia lacks in-depth and shooting, they make up for with a starting five that will lock down defensively.
The 76ers have the ability to have a top-tier center on the floor at all times, after signing Al Horford to a four-year contract worth over 100 million. Add in the two-time All-NBA and All-Defensive big man Joel Embiid to patrol the paint and a Ben Simmons who continues to demonstrate a willingness to incorporate more shooting into his game.
— House of Highlights (@HoHighlights) August 22, 2019
Floor: Fifth Seed
If there’s one thing this team won’t do, it’s drop to anything below fifth in the generally weak Eastern Conference. Losing Kawhi means Toronto won’t sniff the 58-24 record they boasted last year, and the Nets will be without Kevin Durant who’s still on the long road to recovery from a torn Achilles.
But we just witnessed a complete meltdown in Boston, from a team that was originally projected to have the best record in the East. So saying that this new-look squad is a top-three lock would be foolish. The Indiana Pacers have a real shot at stealing that spot, and injuries or a similar disappointment out of Boston’s corner could allow for Toronto or Brooklyn to force Boston out of the top four.