This could be it folks. At this point, the Celtics can simply work on signing the paperwork in the correct order, hold press conferences for the new guys, and call it a summer. Sure, there’s always a chance another trade could happen and there’s still a chance that the team could sign another free agent to a minimum contract. But barring any of that, we’ve got a roster to take into training camp.
Let’s take a look at how it shapes up.
All Star Level Core: Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Gordon Hayward
Back in the day 3 All Stars would be a championship contending core. These days you might need closer to 4 or 5 (or more?) to compete with the Warriors. With that said, this is a really, really great core to start with. They play unique roles so there’s little duplication in their efforts and they each fit beautifully into Brad Stevens’ system.
I remain convinced that one of the reasons that Thomas made the leap from fringe All Star to MVP candidate was the presence and compatibility of Al Horford. Hayward seems like the next natural progression as a guy that won’t take anything away from Thomas and in fact fits in perfectly next to him. If anything, the team still relied too heavily on Isaiah to carry the load offensively and Hayward will be able to take over from time to time himself.
I’m excited to see this core on the court together.
Solid supporting vets: Jae Crowder, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes
A team with championship aspirations needs to have solid (but cheap) veterans filling out the rotation and these guys are some of the best non-rookie-deal bargains in basketball.
Crowder, Morris, and Baynes are all tough guys that will be counted on to give LeBron James a difficult time driving down the lane. (Insert obligatory comment here about nobody being able to “stop” LeBron)
Crowder and Morris can both still stretch the floor and provide Stevens maximum flexibility. Baynes isn’t the only answer to the team’s rebounding woes, and he might not be a great matchup for some teams, but he’ll help when he’s in there.
High upside rotation guys: Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum
Eventually the Celtics would like to add another star or two to the All Star core mentioned up above. They have some pretty high upside guys in this group (though to different levels and in different ways).
We kind of know what we have in Smart at this point, but if he ever figures out how to shoot better (yes, this is a recorded message, taped in 2015 that will be played on repeat forever and ever) he could have star potential. Terry Rozier needs to figure out how to get the ball in the basket more often as well, but the team likes him a lot for a reason.
The two guys with perhaps the highest upside are Jaylen and Jayson, the self-nicknamed “7-Eleven” duo (because they are open all night?). Tatum is getting Paul Pierce comparisons and I’m still trying to come up with a good comp for Brown (Reggie Lewis?) but both are still so young and neither can be counted on to be core pieces this year. In a year or two though... we’ll see.
Additional “bites at the apple”: Ante Zizic, Guerschon Yabusele, Demetrius Jackson, Semi Ojeleye, Daniel Theis, Abdel Nader
The end of the bench is always fascinating to basketball nerds like me and you (and yes, if you are reading this blog this late in July you qualify, welcome to the family). A lot of times you see older veterans, one-dimensional specialists, overpaid albatross contracts, and guys just trying to hang on in the league.
The Celtics don’t have any bad contracts and have a very versatile roster, so they look ready to roll with a very young group of bench players. Late first rounders and early 2nd rounders are generally a roll of the dice. Some of them pan out and many of them don’t. If any one or two of these guys develops into a solid rotation player, the Celtics will have struck gold.
Zizic hasn’t looked great in summer league but there’s still a lot he could do to help once he catches up to the speed of the NBA game. He reminds me of a big hitting baseball prospect that tore through the minors but struggles in Spring Training. Give him some time. I’m still excited to see what Yabu looks like on the court, but I don’t know at all where to set my expectations on him. Ojeleye has looked fantastic in Summer League but I don’t know yet if that will continue against NBA vets.
If nothing else, they are fresh legs that can give Stevens even more options with his lineups as well as a backup plan in case of injuries.
Note: This assumes that they waive Jordan Mickey this week (to sign Hayward) and I’m anticipating a training camp battle for the last roster spot between Demetrius Jackson and Abdel Nader. But I could be wrong and I know nothing about Theis, so we’ll see.
Two-way contracts: Kadeem Allen, Jabari Bird
This year the CBA allows for something called “two-way contracts” that will allow the Celtics more flexibility to keep players under team control while developing them with the Maine Red Claws. I’m guessing Allen and Bird will be the Celtics first experiment with that plan.
Still lots of questions:
So, what’s the starting lineup? What’s the closing lineup? Who gets the most minutes at certain positions? Do positions even matter much anymore? Are we still a star player away from contending? Who’s the most likely to be dangled in trade talks in February?
We’ll cover all these topics and more this summer. That’s what we do here. Hope you’ll join us!