Celtics season preview: Can they persevere and get back to the Finals?

Celtics season preview: Can they persevere and get back to the Finals?

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Celtics season preview: Can they persevere and get back to the Finals?

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The Celtics were lost during the 2020-21 season and their .500 level play continued into the first third of the 2021-22 season. That all changed when 2022 struck and they went on several lengthy winning steaks with many blowout victories. They finished with the best defensive rating in the league and had the best net rating since the end of December 2021.

This team is now battle-tested after making it all the way to the Finals and should have plenty of experience, confidence, and continuity to contend over the next several seasons. However, they’ve already been hit with major injuries and the fallout from the Ime Udoka suspension could become a distraction on and off the court. This core has overcome many challenges in the past and this season could be one of their toughest yet, especially in a much more loaded Eastern Conference.

Below, check out our season preview for the 2022-23 Celtics.

Roster changes

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Returning: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Al Horford, Robert Williams III, Derrick White, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, Luke Kornet, Sam Hauser

Additions: Malcolm Brogdon (Indiana), Danilo Gallinari (San Antonio), Blake Griffin (Brooklyn), JD Davison (Alabama), Mfiondu Kabengele (Rio Grande Valley Vipers), Jake Layman (Minnesota), Justin Jackson (Texas Legends), Noah Vonleh (Shanghai Sharks), Luka Samanic (Westchester Knicks)

Subtractions: Daniel Theis (Indiana), Aaron Nesmith (Indiana), Nik Stauskas, Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan, Matt Ryan, Brodric Thomas

Strengths

Jaylen Brown talking with Jayson Tatum

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

*Top-tier defense… From the point the Celtics started rolling last season, their defensive rating was in a tier of it’s own: nearly 4 points lower than the team with the 2nd best defensive rating. They have every type of valuable defensive personnel on their roster from strong guards who can get over screens, to versatile wings who can switch, and rim protectors with good help defensive instincts. They retained their core rotation so other than potential natural regression, they should remain a top defensive team.

* Two All-Star wing players… The Celtics have two of the best players from a position that is scarce and teams would pay a premium for. Tatum and Brown both create their own shots while also being able to create for others and can defend multiple positions at a high level. Just one of them are capable of raising a team’s ceiling to higher levels, and the Celtics have two of them. While they may not have significant more room to grow, it’s the extra 1 percent they need to gain on the little things to help the Celtics close the gap between being a Finals team and a champion.

*High-level playmaking… Boston has cycled through many point guards over the years like Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, and Kemba Walker. They went into last season without a traditional point guard and their inability to create for others attributed to their slow start. Fortunately, the Celtics roster is filled with plus passers up and down the roster and they were able to compensate for not having that pass first guard with a good flowing half court offense. Now they also added Brogdon to the mix who projects to be their top playmaker in a bench role, which can help preserve their starters’ minutes and keep them fresher for the playoffs.

Weaknesses

Ime Udoka and Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

*Ime Udoka suspension… It feels like a good chance that Udoka has coached his last game for the Celtics. Though not having Udoka coaching could alone set the team back this season, the whole situation could negatively cloud the roster and organization. They are entering uncharted territory considering how unprecedented this situation is in the NBA. This is another hurdle the Celtics will have to overcome going forward.

*Bad injury luck… The Celtics already have two major injuries to manage with Gallinari and Williams III. Gallinari was going to bring more lineup optionality with his shooting and stretch ability. Having Williams III unavailable is more of a long-term concern considering how often he misses time with injuries, but his absence will be felt this season. Grant Williams will probably be more relied upon now with their frontcourt looking like and he could be poised for a breakout season.

*Light front court… The Celtics’ center rotation was already looking thin before the Williams III injury. They’ve added Griffin and re-signed Kornet and are currently trying out multiple big men for a roster spot. Even when Williams III returns, the Celtics are probably going to need to stagger him and Horford more frequently and play Grant Williams at center a fair amount. They are going to need some reinforcements down low so Horford can stay fresh for the playoffs.

Depth chart

Celtics 2022-23 Depth Chart by Dionysis Aravantinos

Celtics 2022-23 Depth Chart by Dionysis Aravantinos

Possible moves

Danlo Gallinari rebounding the ball

(Photo by Aris Messinis – Pool/Getty Images)

The Celtics currently have 13 players on standard contracts on the roster and must get to at least 14 before the season starts. It seems like a good bet that one of the players they signed for training camp make the roster, especially with them already being so deep into the luxury tax. They are currently projected with a $52.1 million payment, but it will be at least $59 million once they get to 14.

They are likely to be without Gallinari for most of the season, if not all of it. They can apply for a Disabled Player Exception worth half his salary ($3.2 million), but they already have plenty of trade exceptions worth more, including one worth $6.9 million. With the uncertainty of his availability for this season and his effectiveness when he returns after tearing his ACL, the Celtics could look to trade him for an available player around the trade deadline. He will become trade-eligible starting on December 15.

If the luxury tax isn’t a concern, as owner Wyc Grousbeck seems to indicate, then they could make aggressive moves to improve the team while significantly increasing their payroll. That could include acquiring players with their trade exceptions or consolidating players with smaller salaries like Gallinari for more expensive players. The Celtics can trade a maximum of three first-round picks in 2025, 2027, and 2029, and five second-round picks to improve their offers.

Salaries

Prediction

2nd in the Atlantic division, 3rd in the Eastern Conference (as voted by the HoopsHype staff)

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