The Boston Celtics have had a busy offseason following their defeat in the Eastern Conference Finals at the hands of the Miami Heat. Miami beat Boston in six games forcing the Celtics to miss out on the finals again after making it to the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the last four seasons but haven’t been able to get over the hump.
Many thought it was a result of chemistry issues during Kyrie Irving’s brief but memorable Celtics campaign. That theory proved unlikely as the team was unable to make the finals in their first season since Kyrie’s departure. They finished the season 48-24 which was good enough for third in the Eastern Conference. After this year’s loss, the Celtics look to reload to match up against the ascending Eastern Conference.
This season will be much different for the Celtics as they navigate newly formed super teams in the Eastern Conference. The Nets are the team to beat led by perennial All-Stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The Raptors retained most of their core and the 76ers reloaded in the hopes of making a deep playoff run.
Boston was able to extend their franchise cornerstone Jayson Tatum after a season in which he made his first All-Star Game. That, along with free agent acquisitions Jeff Teague and Tristan Thompson should help the Celtics fill the void left behind by Gordon Hayward. Hayward signed a four-year deal worth $120 million with the Charlotte Hornets after opting out of his player option with the Celtics.
The Hayward experience didn’t work out as Boston fans had hoped. During his time with the Celtics, Hayward was plagued by injuries leading to him being unavailable for a large portion of his four-year, $128 million deal. His impact on the court will be missed but many are happy to finally see the duo of Jaylen Brown and Tatum blossom together.
Brown set a career high in points, rebounds, and assists in the 2019-20 season and shot 48.1 percent from the field. He helped set the tone for the Celtics offensively as a slasher through the paint and shooting an impressive 38.2 percent from beyond the arc. He’ll look to make another leap this year alongside his teammate and ascending superstar Tatum.
At only 22 Tatum has gained the respect of his NBA peers including LeBron James who learned first-hand what the forward can do offensively. Tatum came into the league ready to set it on fire leading the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals in his rookie year.
Last season, he averaged 23.4 points per game to go along with 7 rebounds and 3 assists. He made the All-Star Game for the first time and was also named to the All-NBA Third Team. This offseason he was ranked the eleventh best player in the NBA by ESPN in their annual top 100. The Celtics as a team had four players in the top 50. Without Hayward, Tatum is going to demand more usage and his production is poised to take a major leap. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say Jayson Tatum is a legitimate MVP candidate heading into his fourth season. If there’s any reason for optimism in Boston, it’s because of Tatum.
The acquisitions made in the offseason shouldn’t be overlooked. Signing Teague to replace Brad Wanamaker after his departure is a smart move for the Celtics. Teague has a history of good production and leadership. He’s a smart player who gives the Celtics another ball handler to take the pressure off of Kemba Walker.
The Celtics hope Walker will have better luck with his health this year after dealing with lingering knee pain all of last season. Teague is a perfect backup for Walker who will miss the first few weeks of the season as his knee recovers.
The Celtics also signed Tristan Thompson who played for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season. Thompson joins the Celtics on a two-year deal after years of being a part of teams led by James who rivaled the Celtics in the Eastern Conference. Thompson brings a presence down low the Celtics haven’t had much of in recent years. He’s a rebounding force who’s played in the Finals with James on multiple occasions. Thompson should provide serviceable post scoring and offensive rebounding within Brad Steven’s system.
The rookie class of the Celtics should be considered when thinking about the rotation for the upcoming season. They took three rookies this year in Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard, and Yam Madar. Nesmith will bring shooting to the Celtics rotation after shooting 52 percent from beyond the arc last season. He averaged 23 points at Vanderbilt and was regarded as the most efficient shooter in the country by many draft analysts.
Pritchard has shined in training camp with teammates raving about his effort on the defensive end. Marcus Smart has long been the best defensive presence for the Celtics but with Pritchard they’ll have another feisty ballhawk to pester opposing point guards.
The Celtics have seen a lot of players come and go in recent years but after the contract extensions for Brown and Tatum were finalized, this team is going to be around for a while. Celtics fans hope the duo of Tatum and Brown alongside their supporting cast will lead this team to their first Finals berth since 2010. This team has the talent and experience to make a deep run in the 2020-21 season and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be in the conversation when discussing contenders for the Larry O’ Brien trophy in 2021.
Photo courtesy of Mark J. Terrill