The Boston Celtics, coming off an exciting and unexpected deep playoff run in 2017-18, headed into last season with mountains of expectations.
And, boy, did they fail to meet up to them.
By the end of the year, a vastly disappointing one that ended with a second-round defeat at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford were gone in free agency, and in their stead were Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter.
Needless to say: Expectations for Boston heading into 2019-20 won’t be remotely the same. But maybe that’s a good thing?
The Celtics found major success two seasons ago once Irving and multiple other vital players went down with injury in the playoffs (and before that, too), and they took the role of scrappy underdogs. Perhaps that’s this team’s niche, and how they’re best set up to succeed.
Either way, we’re about to find out.
STAYING: Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Semi Ojeleye, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis, Brad Wanamaker and Robert Williams.
ADDED: Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Tacko Fall (UCF), Javonte Green (Ulm), Enes Kanter (Portland), Romeo Langford (Indiana University), Vincent Poirier (Baskonia), Kemba Walker (Charlotte), Tremont Waters (LSU) and Grant Williams (Tennessee).
GONE: Aron Baynes (Phoenix), PJ Dozier (Denver), Jonathan Gibson, Al Horford (Philadelphia), RJ Hunter (Turk Telekom), Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn), Marcus Morris (New York), Terry Rozier (Charlotte) and Guerschon Yabusele (Nanjing).
STRENGTHS: They were able to bounce back from losing Irving by signing Walker, a nearly like-for-like swap … Both are All-Star talents and Walker will be much less of a headache in the locker room … Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have All-Star potential, even if they haven’t quite reached it yet … Tatum is still merely 21 and Brown just 22 … They still have plenty of time to get there, and the motivation to after how poorly their respective 2018-19 campaigns went … If their roster is at its peak, there aren’t many top-to-bottom teams in the East outside of the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks … Gordon Hayward is a strong candidate for a bounce-back season … He flashed moments in the preseason where he looked like his old self … Marcus Smart is an elite sixth man … Brad Stevens is still a good head coach, even if his aura took a hit last season.
WEAKNESSES: Replacing Horford’s production will be impossible with their current frontcourt … His blend of playmaking, shooting and defense, in particular, are quite rare attributes for a center … Boston’s 2019-20 big men had a combined 15 starts last season … Tatum took a step back last season after looking like a future All-NBAer as a rookie … How will he respond in his third year? … He averaged 13 points in the preseason on 13 nightly field-goal attempts … That looks like much of the same as his 2018-19 season … After Walker, their point-guard rotation is pretty thin … Carsen Edwards had moments of brilliance in preseason, but he’ll have to prove it when the games matter before he can be considered reliable … They have a lot of inconsistent shooters.
PREDICTION: 2nd in the Atlantic Division, 3rd in the Eastern Conference.