After three years of letting their draft picks put the Boston Celtics back in the playoffs, it’s time to make more than just an appearance. Signing Al Horford and going after Kevin Durant was a statement that the C’s want to be in the championship discussion again, but it’s probably one year away from happening.
The Celtics deals over the last few years, as they tore down their big three, along with Rajon Rondo and Doc Rivers, helped them quickly bounce back from missing the playoffs and a massive squad overhaul. But while it has worked well under Brad Stevens, probably the most impressive young head coach in the league, they seem to be drowning in depth, but do not have enough top tier players, and it’s impossible to win in the NBA without difference makers.
In the East, Isaiah Thomas is an All-Star. Avery Bradley is a fantastic player, Jae Crowder is doing the most with the chance he’s gotten after playing a limited role for the Dallas Mavericks. But Horford arriving could be a real game changer for two reasons: The Celtics struggled inside for the last two years, including against the Hawks and Horford in last year’s playoffs. And he was something of a statement signing; a sought after free agent who liked what he saw on a young team on the rise.
Arrivals: The Celtics made eight draft picks, but only Jaylen Brown, their third overall, figures to be included next season. The 19-year old had a good season with the Golden Bears (one-year player), but he’s probably a bit raw to really make an impact next season. Horford is obviously the big new guy in town, while Gerald Green, who found it difficult to find minutes with the Heat, will struggle again in a loaded backcourt.
Departures: Evan Turner signed with the Portland Trail Blazers, Jared Sullinger with the Toronto Raptors. Not fringe players, but two guys the Celtics have no problem replacing, and are probably looking stronger all around compared to last year, and not just because Horford is here.
Best Case Scenario
Isaiah Thomas keeps scoring like he has (21.6 points per game in 103 games for the Celtics), Avery Bradley continues to be dominant on offense while All-Defensive on the other end, Jae Crowder takes another step forward with his offense, and the bench players look like guys who can play in the lineup. This means Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter becoming more meaningful pieces in the rotation, Marcus Smart finally showing some consistency, and players like Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk play their part. Horford will brings his combination of inside-outside offense and defense, blending in well with the Celtics style. Add Brown into the mix, and the Celtics are probably hoping to somehow make the conference finals, although winning a playoff series will be something they’re happy with to.
Worst Case Scenario
Thomas stops being unstoppable for so many nights a year, Bradley and Crowder regress because of Horford’s arrival, while players like Olynyk, Rozier and Hunter make zero progress. But the biggest scare of all is probably Horford not fitting in with his new team after nine seasons with the Hawks. The building across instead of trying to add one more star piece backfires, and the Celtics take a step back from 48 wins last season. Missing the playoffs or once again exiting in the first round, it doesn’t matter; both will be considered massive disappointments for the Celtics, who probably rely more on seeding than anything else.