Can the Celtics contend this year? We all know that the Celtics have improved the past two seasons and they’re expected to do so again. In 2014-15, the Celtics had a 40-42 record and surprisingly reached the NBA Playoffs. Last year, they improved to 48-34 although they were bounced easily by the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs. In the offseason, the Celtics added Al Horford who immediately becomes their best all-around player. The only key loss in the offseason was Evan Turner. However, every Celtics fan would take Horford over Turner. Naturally, when the roster improves, the expectations grow. There’s a lot of buzz around the Celtics as we head into the opener on Wednesday Night against the Brooklyn Nets. We’ll discuss the expectations for the team this season in today’s post.
The Eastern Conference has one elite team in the Cleveland Cavaliers and then a few teams who are included in the next grouping. It’s very similar to last season although the Toronto Raptors were the clear-cut #2 team in the East. The Celtics should be able to compete with the Raptors this year for the #2 seed in the East.
Let’s take a look at the Celtics roster. Their starting lineup will likely include Amir Johnson, Al Horford, Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, and Isaiah Thomas. It’s certainly not a starting lineup filled with elite NBA talent, but it’s a very solid starting five. Most importantly, this may be the best defensive starting five in the NBA. Bradley, Crowder, and Horford are all elite defenders with Bradley being the best defensive guard in the league. Scoring will not be an issue for this group. Thomas should be a 20+ point per game scorer. Horford and Bradley are typically in the 15 PPG range. Crowder is good for double digits.
The bench will be very strong. Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jonas Jerebko, Tyler Zeller, and Kelly Olynyk will lead this group. What’s most impressive is the potential of Smart and Brown. Smart is being viewed as someone who is about to take the next step in terms of being a legitimate NBA guard. His defense is elite at times and he has shown signs of becoming a more consistent scorer despite his outside shooting struggles last year. The Celtics took Brown with the #3 pick in the NBA Draft and it wasn’t received very well by Celtics Nation. However, Brown has surprised a lot of people this preseason with solid all-around play and a dynamic finishing ability.
OK. So, now we get to the big question. Can the Celtics contend with the Cavs? There aren’t a lot of experts picking any team in the East besides the Cavs and there’s a good reason why. They are head and shoulders above all of the teams in the East and they’re going to be very difficult to beat in a seven game series.
If this were any other sport, the Celtics would have a very good chance to contend. However, parity is a major problem in the NBA. It’s been that way for a long time. Celtics and Lakers in the 80’s. Bulls in the 90’s. Lakers and Spurs since 2000. Now it’s Warriors – Cavs and everyone else. It’s a star driven league and the reality is the Celtics still don’t have the star that they need to make the jump to the top thanks to Kevin Durant jumping on the Warriors bandwagon.
Unless something unforeseen happens with the Cavs, the Celtics aren’t going to contend for the championship with their current roster. However, they could very well get to the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s the way of the NBA, folks!
Having said that, the Celtics could make a big trade for an elite player which could change things. They have a lot of assets with young talent and top draft picks. The Celtics have the Brooklyn Nets picks the next two years and the Nets are expected to have the worst team in the NBA this year. Next year’s draft is said to have elite talent at the top.
So, there is hope, but the Celtics need some help to contend with the Cavs. We may need to sit tight for another year as Danny Ainge prepares to get his elite player in the NBA Draft. The good news is that the progress should continue and the Celtics are prepping to become the elite team in the East in the near future.