With Kyrie Irving reportedly asking for a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers the Eastern Conference could be left wide open, and the Celtics are in a perfect position to take control.
Going into this season the Celtics have the talent, they have the system, but perhaps more importantly they have the identity needed to make a real run at the NBA Finals.
Continuity and Change
The last few seasons have seen an underrated Celtics squad outperform expectations as they went from scrappy underdogs to the first seed in their conference and became a team to be respected, if not feared. Scrambling for every loose ball, hustling on every possession and playing with grit and drive the Celtics squad of the last few seasons played above their talent level and earned the respect of the league.
Yet this offseason the Celtics have seen substantial changes to their roster. Long-serving stalwarts like Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk are gone. While the team also lost beloved locker room guys and important rotation players in Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Gerald Green and Tyler Zeller. The Celtics have also let go of once hopeful rookies such as James Young, Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson.
Incoming to Boston are grizzled veterans out of Detroit Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris as well as All-Star free agent recruit Gordon Hayward. Meanwhile the Celtics youth movement has also kicked into high gear with fresh talent coming into the roster by way of Jayson Tatum, Ante Zizic, Guerschon Yabusele, Abdel Nader, Semi Ojeleye and euro imports Theis and Larkin.
While there have been a lot of personnel changes in Boston during the Stevens era, this offseason may have seen some of the most significant shifts in the team’s composition as the Celtics squad of the future has truly started to take shape.
So with the mass exodus of long-serving Celtics including some key contributors, and a new batch of free agents and rookies on their way to Boston, the Celtics will have a very different team going into this season. But what does this mean for the Celtics hard-fought for identity?
New dogs, old tricks
While there is a whole host of new talent flooding into Boston the organisation has gone out of their way to find guys who fit the system and play the right way.
Obviously Gordon Hayward was the key recruit this offseason and he brings with him a familiarity with Stevens’ system from his time playing under Coach Brad back in Butler. Celticsblog staff have already discussed how great a fit Hayward is for the Celtics roster, and shown how he could slot in perfectly to Avery Bradley’s vacated position.
Meanwhile Baynes and Morris add some edge and attitude to the Celtics lineup as well as helping in key areas of need such as rebounding and physical toughness. Plus the Celtics current batch of rookies has also been extremely impressive with many of the young players looking like they could quickly become key contributors, and that’s not to mention the improvements we could see among the Celtics second and third year players.
So while the Celtics may have seen a lot of turnaround this offseason Danny and co. have gone to painstaking efforts to fill in the gaps while managing to also upgrade at a few positions. This canny manoeuvring from Boston’s front office should allow the Celtics to significantly change up their rotations without having to change who they are as a team.
Chemistry could be the Celtics secret weapon
With the recent news coming out of Cleveland the moves made by the Celtics to shore up their roster while maintaining a strong sense of identity could prove all-important. Even super-teams are susceptible to splitting apart at the seams due to issues of chemistry and identity.
But the Celtics have built a roster around more than just a desire to win, they’ve built a team around an ideal of who they want to be. Unlike Cleveland and perhaps other super-teams around the league, the Celtics are bigger than one or two or even three players, they’re past that. This team is about playing the right way, playing for each other and playing together.
The Celtics will always be the Celtics. Fastbreak basketball and hustle-driven defense didn’t come to Boston because of Brad Stevens, it’s been a part of the Celtics mystique since the time of Bill Russell. But Danny and Brad have found guys who have bought into what Boston has to offer and built a team identity around the franchise’s gloried past and their desire to push for an equally glorious future.
Identity doesn’t show up on any stat sheet and chemistry can be hard to measure. But they can prove to be the difference between a team that falls apart and a team that achieves greatness.