The Boston Celtics have undoubtedly made drastic roster improvements since their trip to the Eastern Conference Finals just last season.
After adding Gordon Hayward and No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum, they now have four-time All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving on the team as well. Their squad was already looking impressive after adding Al Horford last offseason, but this new-look squad has the potential to be great.
While many of the players on the Celtics have played in the postseason, it will be hard to compete with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. James has played in seven consecutive NBA Finals and that experience is invaluable.
Young pieces such as Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier will continue to develop. First-year NBA players Semi Ojeleye, Abdel Nader, Daniel Theis and Guerschon Yabusele may have an opportunity to contribute as well.
The Celtics added veterans Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes to give their team some more depth and experience. But it’s still worth mentioning 23-year-old Marcus Smart has the longest tenure with the team.
In fact, the only players who will return from the team that lost to the Cavs in the postseason last year are Horford, Brown, Rozier and Smart.
Their new-look roster will likely be very impressive on the court, but it will take some time to gel together as a cohesive unit.
Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder were considered a huge part of the “heart and soul” of Boston before they were both traded for Irving. Former starting shooting guard Avery Bradley was shipped away earlier this offseason too. He provided much of the defensive grit the team was known for last year.
Celtics GM Danny Ainge spoke about what Thomas meant to the team (via NBA.com):
“Isaiah embodied what it meant to be a Celtic. He captured fans’ hearts not only with his spirit, but his personality. Jae’s toughness was contagious for our team. He improved his skills each year, but it’s his energy and fight that will be remembered.”
Based on continuity rankings, Boston returns just 36 percent of retained minutes from their 2016-17 campaign. It’s the second-lowest mark in the NBA ahead of only the Sacramento Kings.
Irving is reportedly thrilled to be on the team and the front office made the move with a “strong belief” he will commit to a long-term deal.
Even with Irving, the Cavaliers should still be considered the Eastern Conference’s favorites over the Celtics next season. But as the players on Boston continue to play together and reach their full potential, they could easily surpass Cleveland as the East’s juggernaut in the near future.
Oddsmakers have the Cavs in front of the C’s to win the NBA title next season.
Of course, if James leaves as a free agent next summer, the Celtics would become immediate favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals for the foreseeable future.
These two teams play each other in the first game of the upcoming season on October 17 so fans will assuredly get an idea of the new identity right away.
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