In a best case scenario, Kyrie Irving will turn into an MVP candidate, Gordon Hayward will be a perfect complementary superstar, Al Horford will be the glue that keeps everything together, and both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will be ready faster than anyone expected. The team will have perfect health and zoom past a struggling Cleveland Cavs team on their way to the Finals. They upset the Warriors and shock the world by adding their 18th banner.
Sounds great to me, and if I close my eyes and allow myself to daydream, I can float in that suspended reality for hours at a time. Then cold reality hits and I have to at least admit that things don’t usually go that well.
It is worth noting here that things fell into place pretty much perfectly in 2008. There are some similarities between the two teams (three stars, reliance on young players and a few well placed vets), but this year’s team is a lot younger and a lot less proven than that collection of future Hall of Famers.
Generally speaking, things don’t go perfectly. As we look ahead to the coming season, you have to account for some downside. Said another way, each team has a certain amount of risk built into their plan. Managing that risk is a big part of Danny Ainge’s job.
Clearly injuries can happen to anyone at any time. That’s the nature of sport in general. The team can hire the best people and initiate a newly integrated training and medical staff, but at the end of the day, injuries happen.
The team reduced some of that risk by dealing away a player that has an existing hip injury. They have three star players that have missed various amounts of time in the past for one thing or another, but (knock on wood) all are currently healthy and ready to start training camp at full speed.
Another type of risk is team fit and chemistry. The Celtics have taken a big gamble on these elements by turning over so much of the roster. Gone are most of the faces that built this team’s identity in the last couple of years. It seems like Irving and Hayward are eager to play with each other and Al Horford seemingly could fit next to anyone. Still, we have to see it play out before anyone can consider it a success.
An additional risk to consider is reliance upon youth. The Celtics roster is now much more top heavy than it was in the past. There are fewer veterans and more rookies and young players that figure to play a role in the rotation. How far along has Jaylen Brown progressed from his rookie campaign? How quickly can Jayson Tatum become productive? Who will step up from the rest of the rookie crew (Ojeleye, Nader, Yabusele, Theis)?
A calling card of last year’s team was the gritty second units that had some experience, knew how to grind their way into turnovers, hang onto leads, and get key buckets. Though they weren’t an offensive powerhouse, they fed into the identity that Boston created. That will be missed.
However, there was inherent risk in standing pat as well. Not only would the team be faced with an uncertain health situation with Isaiah Thomas. They also would have had Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart hitting free agency at the same time. Drafting Markelle Fultz was the safer bet by consensus standards and trading down includes some risk as well.
There are some risks that are worth taking because the upside could be worth it. Especially when you consider that next year isn’t the only end game. Perhaps things won’t fall perfectly into place this season. That’s fine because the core is built around stars entering their prime and young players with loads of potential. So, in theory, they’ll have another shot at it next year, and the next year, and so forth.
There will always be risk for every team, but the Celtics have done what they can to manage and shift that risk the best they can.