This has been one of the busiest offseasons of recent memory and not just for Boston who replaced most of their roster. All around the league, GM’s have been making moves and doing deals to build the type of teams that might be able to compete with the stacked Golden State Warriors’ roster.
Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony have formed a new superteam in Oklohoma City to make up for the one that the franchise squandered. While in Cleveland, LeBron James has invited his old banana boat buddy Dwyane Wade to join Kevin Love, Isaiah Thomas, and Derrick Rose as the Cavaliers try to make up for the loss of Kyrie Irving from their Big Three.
We’ve also seen Chris Paul join James Harden in Houston, Jimmy Butler join the Timberwolves youth-heavy lineup and the Philadelphia 76ers’ long, painful “process” finally reaping results in the way of a workable starting lineup of top-tier draft picks.
But, as you may have heard, the Celtics made some moves of their own this offseason. Signing Gordon Hayward to a max contract and acquiring Kyrie Irving in a deal that should see him stay a Celtic for at least the next two seasons.
The one-and-done superteams
Looking at the contract situation, it’s interesting to note that both Cleveland and OKC essentially have a one year expiry date on their so-called superteams. For the Cavs, LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade could all enter Free Agency at the end of this season. While for OKC, even with Russell Westbrook finally signing a multi-year deal, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony still have player options allowing them to opt-out at the end of this season making both of them serious flight risks when Free Agency comes. What’s more, both teams are well and truly over the salary cap, paying out big now with little thought for their respective futures.
Both franchises have also invested heavily in veteran star power while their youth movements seem stagnant. The #netspick wrested away from Boston should act as some insurance for the Cavs but OKC seems to have no such backup plan, relying almost entirely on Westbrook meaning that if they lose Anthony and George to free agency, they will have to rebuild around an ageing Westbrook. Either way Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony are both players that are past their prime, so the Cavs and the Thunder will have to hope that old dogs can learn new tricks or this season is going to be a costly step backward.
Conversely the Celtics have put together a formidable core of Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, and Al Horford. Hayward and Irving are just hitting their prime basketball years and Al Horford is at that sweet spot for a veteran where he might have slowed a step but makes up for it with savvy and know-how. Hayward just signed a max contract, tying him to Boston for the foreseeable future. Horford is only in year two of his max contract and Kyrie is under a good value contract for this season and the next. Plus the Celtics have a ton of guys under rookie-scale contracts including Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, helping to further free up cap space while adding high-level talent to their roster.
Cleveland and OKC both have to hope that their veterans can re-find their form and gel quickly in new lineups and environments. The Celtics have taken the much safer bet of hoping for further development from young, talented players who are in their prime basketball years.
On the other end of the spectrum teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and to a lesser extent the Minnesota Timberwolves have gone in a different direction to the ageing rosters of Cleveland and OKC. For Philly, years of bottoming out have finally delivered what they hope will be a lineup worth waiting for featuring Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid and a host of high-ranked prospects. Yet Philadelphia’s reliance on mostly untested talent will likely leave them a step behind where they want to be in the much-maligned Process.
Meanwhile, Minnesota are banking on the player-coach superteam of Thibs and Butler rekindling whatever chemistry they had in Chicago and adding to a core of young talent. Alongside former teammate Taj Gibson, new recruit Jeff Teague and a rookie cast featuring Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota might not be a superteam but they’ve certainly put together an interesting combination. With some complementary pieces in place around Butler and a steady coaching strategy a team that features a blend of talent, experience and youth like Minnesota could be one to watch out for this season.
The Celtics core, however, should be able to outplay anything Minnesota or Philadelphia can put on the floor. Whereas Philadelphia and Minnesota both need their young players to take big steps up, the Celtics have proven competitors like Irving and Hayward developing alongside fresh talent placing the franchise in a uniquely enviable position.
The Golden State shaped elephant in the room
Of course most of the big trades and signings that have happened this season have been inspired by one thing; the sheer dominance of the Golden State Warriors. The All-Star Warriors cast has the whole league shaken and scrambling for a way to dethrone the NBA champions.
Unlike the sure to be short-lived superteams burgeoning around the league now, the Warriors have set themselves up for the long-term. All of Golden State’s key pieces are locked into contracts for the next few seasons – a scary and sobering thought for any basketball fan outside the Bay Area.
But with a talented core of players entering their prime years, a slew of highly touted prospects, and a strong, roundly admired coaching system and culture in place the Celtics are in prime position to strike if the golden age of Golden State begins to wane.
While other teams have all but mortgaged their futures to compete at a high level the Celtics are banking on their own development. It’s optimistic but far from implausible to think that one of the Celtics’ current crop of rookies could turn into a real difference maker. If any of the Celtics talented prospects, like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart or any of the other incoming rookies develop into top-tier NBA players they’ll join an existing core of Hayward, Irving and Horford further bolstering the Celtics superteam for the future.
Plus the Celtics haven’t exactly emptied their coffers this offseason. The Celtics still own the Lakers 2018 Draft pick and the Sacramento Kings’ 2019 pick. Giving Ainge a potential trade chip and a possible insurance policy.
Obviously as a Boston fan, I like the Celtics chances, but as a basketball fan I’m just excited to see what happens. The sheer depth of talent in the modern NBA means that there are teams all over the league fielding multiple All-Stars and even more potential All-Stars just waiting for their breakout season.
This season should be exciting to watch but when it comes to the long term the Celtics have set themselves up better than almost any franchise in the league. The Celtics have ensured they’ll remain relevant this season, next season and even the one after that – long after most of the so-called superteams have crumbled. So when the dust settles and all is said and done the Celtics might just be the only superteam left standing.