I've always been a "what's next?" kind of guy, so (as you can tell) I'm a bit eager to get on to the offseason and see what changes the front office has in store for this franchise. But that doesn't mean I can't stop and smell the roses once in a while. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to take some time and look back a the season that was and enjoy the positive season that we just had.
I figure this is a great time for me to continue one of my favorite traditions: looking back at what I said at the start of the season and making fun of my former self for his foolishness.
Here's a link to my preview from October. Feel free to read it in its full glory but I'll quote some of the highlights here.
Amir Johnson is a great pickup because he does all the things that coaches love and he fills the need of paint protector on defense.
Johnson finished stronger than he started. I think he had to get used to the system, and there are rumblings that he had some injuries to work through during the year. All in all a solid addition, but not as much of a difference maker as I might have hoped.
Gerald Wallace was traded for David Lee. That's a no-brainer kind of deal that (baring injury or other complications) gives the Celtics a year of actual production that they wouldn't have gotten from Wallace. Both are positive locker room veterans, but only one of them is capable of playing competitive NBA basketball at this point and Lee proved that he could very valuable in the NBA Finals a few months ago.
Well, about that.... I guess it was a good gamble. There was a better chance of Lee contributing than Wallace, and if they had made a deal at the deadline, Lee's deal would have matched a larger salary than Wallace would have. But in the end, Lee was a bad fit for this team, and he was benched and eventually let go. Oh well.
Defense and depth should be this team's calling cards for the immediate future.
Check and check. They once again played great defense and Brad Stevens utilized his deep bench - sometimes to the team's detriment.
Stevens is going to have his work cut out for him getting all the qualified players enough playing time, and that doesn't even take into account any of the rookies that might make a surprise push to get into the rotation.
It seems like it wasn't until he made the decision to shorten the bench (bye, bey Lee) that the team started to gel. The rookies (and James Young) all had a chance to prove their worth for stretches at a time - usually when the injury bug bit the team. Rozier and Hunter had ups and downs, Mickey looked raw but talented, and Young, ...well, he looked about the same.
Speaking of Stevens, he might be the single most important member of the Celtics and our brightest star.
Brad continues to be the most important piece of the puzzle. Though it should be noted that Isaiah Thomas stepped up bigtime in the "brightest star" category this year. Which brings me to...
This is a team full of good-not-great players. Some of them have the potential to be great, and some could even make a leap this year to get into that conversation. But until they prove otherwise, the team is lacking a superstar to lead them to a potential title.
This statement is only partially true now. I think Isaiah Thomas has established himself as a star. Perhaps not on the level of the game's elite, but not far off it either. He's not enough to lead us to a banner, but few stars can do that alone anyway.
There are a few guys that have those star qualities within them (Isaiah Thomas might be the closest to achieving that status). But right now there's just no single player that you can point to and say "that's our star." Which is why I'm convinced that Danny Ainge is going to make a move for someone like that sooner or later.
Nope. Not yet at least. I'm sure Danny tried hard at the deadline, but he just didn't find a deal he liked. He did, however, seem to have the air of a guy that had set the table for a deal or two to happen in the summer. So stay tuned.
Another concern I have is on offense in general.
"Oh my prophetic soul."
This team could be dominant on defense but may find itself struggling on offense unless a lot of players make improvements in their game. As a team they need to shoot better from the outside which would space the floor better.
Well, unfortunately I nailed that one. The Celtics shot just 33.5% from downtown this season, good for third-to-last place in the league. Still, they kept launching away, taking 26.1 per game, good for 11th most in the league. My kingdom for a few good shooters.
What are the goals for this team? Development and improvement.
I'd say that most members of the team improved in one way or another.
We need to see what we've got in Marcus Smart, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder, Tyler Zeller, James Young, and maybe Perry Jones III. Even some of the veterans on the team (like Bradley and Turner) could improve aspects of their game.
Smart improved in most respects. He even looked to be improving his jumpshot with some hot mid-season shooting, but that failed him late in the year. However, he proved in the postseason that he's a gamer who will simply not back down to any challenge, and he's a good man to have on your side.
Sully improved as well, establishing himself as a solid rotation guy who got more consistent. The Hawks were a poor matchup for him, and he may or may not be part of the team's long term plans, but I really do think he improved this year.
Olynyk established himself as the shooter that we hoped he would be. Zeller was the odd man out in the rotation but was good in certain matchups, and he wouldn't be a bad guy to bring back depending on the price.
Jae Crowder developed into the heart and soul of this team. He was the best two-way player on the team and might have been the team MVP, all things considered. An ankle injury severely limited him late in the year and into the playoffs though.
Perry Jones III was waived, and James Young might not be far behind him this offseason if the team needs a roster spot.
Bradley re-established his reputation as one of the game's best defenders and continued his offensive development. Evan Turner really found his groove in the offense and earned himself a hefty payday on the eve of his free agency.
If you want a more tangible goal, I'd say winning a first round playoff series would be a good start.
Sadly, this wasn't meant to be. The Hawks were a tough first-round matchup, and if the team had been paired with the Hornets, Pacers, or even the Heat, I think they might still be playing now. Or maybe not, we'll never know.
I guess I just don't see the next superstar becoming available mid-season.
Well, so much for the reverse jinx.
So we may have to continue to slowly build through the draft and development and hope that next superstar player emerges from within.
I guess I'll give myself partial credit since Isaiah Thomas emerged as a star. But we still need another star or a superstar, and I'm not entirely sure that the draft will deliver that.
For now, Brad Stevens and his deep, flexible squad of overachievers is going to do whatever damage they can this season and continue along the path of progress.
Now, for some self-critiques and criticisms.
- Isaiah Thomas feels like an afterthought in my preview. At the time there was still a prevailing notion (that I held) that he was better off being a 6th man. Whoops.
- I didn't talk about the small-ball lineups that were successful last year and turned out to be an advantage this year.
- Jonas Jerebko says "Hi" and wonders why he wasn't mentioned at all.
- Hey, how about having the guts to make a win-total prediction?
Well, I guess I did make this soft-prediction on Twitter, but I'm not sure if it should really count.
ok, I'll say it - I could see 50 wins for the Celtics this year— CelticsBlog (@celticsblog) October 14, 2015
I feel like I was thinking in the 47-48 range, but I can't find any written documentation supporting that claim. Next year I promise I'll be more deliberate.
Feel free to add your own critiques and thoughts. Or even better, share some of your own preseason thoughts and explain why you were right or wrong.