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Boston Celtics season preview: The rich get healthier

The Boston Celtics are a championship team that just hasn’t won their championship yet.

Boston Celtics Media Day Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics are a championship team that just hasn’t won their championship yet. That’s not a guarantee of course. The Warriors and a few other teams will have a big say in who actually gets to hoist the trophy, but the Celtics are on that short list and they have a lot going for them this year.

They aren’t just immensely talented and well coached. They have the kind of experience that only a couple of deep runs in the playoffs can provide. They also have the burning drive of a team that came up short and knew that they could have done more ...if only.

Team Name: Boston Celtics

Last Year’s Record: 55-27

Key Losses: Greg Monroe, Shane Larkin

Key Additions: Robert Williams III, Brad Wanamaker

1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?

You’ve heard the cliche “what do you get the man who has everything?” This is a case of “what do you add to a team that seems to have it all?” The obvious answer is health. Injuries robbed this team of a chance at the NBA Finals. Now, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are back on the court and participating without limitations in training camp.

The main drama of the off season was Marcus Smart’s restricted free agency. The market limited his options but it seems that everyone got a deal that they could be happy with. The same could be said (with much less drama) for Aron Baynes, who re-signed as well.

Robert Williams III fell into the Celtics lap near the end of the first round. He’s the kind of high upside, low risk gamble that a team in Boston’s position can take a chance on. They have the environment and culture that can maximize a young man’s potential.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

Where do I start? (Hmmm. What would Brad Stevens do? Ah, yes.) Start with defense. The Celtics have an elite defense anchored by one of the best defensive bigs in the league in Al Horford. Marcus Smart creates havoc in the best way possible. But the effectiveness goes well beyond the contributions of a few individuals. Coach Stevens has them on a string, hedging, covering, flashing, recovering, switching, doubling, each tailored to the situation and opponent.

Oh, and they should be pretty good on offense as well. Versatility will be the name of the game with this group. There’s so many ways they can score. Ball movement or isolation. Pick and roll or drive and kick. Long 3’s or backdoor alley-oops. Ankle breaking drives or touch passes. They’re going to make art and the full pallet of colors is available to them.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

Um, they work too hard and care too much? About the only thing that people have been pointing to is the fact that the Celtics have too much depth. I guess the theory is that there aren’t enough minutes to keep everyone happy.

Of course they also have Brad Stevens who knows a thing or two about managing minutes, keeping people fresh for the playoffs, and getting his players to buy into his philosophy of continual progress. Besides, winning tends to keep people’s spirits high.

4. What are the goals for this team?

Just to get better every day. Right, Brad? Yeah, whatever. We know the goal has never changed but this is the first time in a long time when it has seemed a lot closer to reality.

5. Will Kyrie Irving’s impending free agency be a distraction?

Based on Kyrie’s latest comments, I don’t think so.

Anything can happen a year from now. The NBA is weird like that and Kyrie is a weird guy. But I don’t know what other positive signs you could ask for with this situation. It will be a story all year because that’s how these things go, but personally I’m not worried about it.

6. Will the team make a move to avoid the luxury tax this year?

As it stands right now, the Celtics are over the luxury tax by just under $4 million. The team will most likely be over the tax again the next two years which would trigger the dreaded “repeater tax” penalties. They can avoid that fate (or at least push it out a few years) by making moves to get under the tax this year. They are close, so it does make sense that they would at least explore that avenue.

On the other hand, there’s more to consider than just dollars and cents. The Celtics have an opportunity to win a title this year and making any move that hinders that would be questionable at best from an opportunity cost perspective.

So the team will weigh the pros and cons and if the team can make a move that reduces salary without sacrificing impactful talent, don’t be surprised if Ainge makes a move by the deadline.

For more reading on this subject, please see the following articles:

7. What is Terry Rozier’s role on this team?

Based on last season (in particular the playoffs) Terry Rozier would be a starting guard on most rosters across the NBA. This team is so good that he’s likely to begin games off the bench (and there may be times when he’s not even the first guard off the bench).

So what is he to this team? A glorified insurance policy to Kyrie Irving’s free agency? A trade chip? An embarrassment of riches?

Perhaps all of the above, but in an age where super-teams reign supreme, he’s a weapon in Brad’s arsenal to employ when and where he’s needed. A lot of attention will go to the starters, but Terry is not one to go unnoticed.

8. Just how good can Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown be?

Really, really, really good. I had to add this question because I couldn’t believe that I made it this far without mentioning Tatum or Brown by name.

On just about any other team, either Tatum or Brown would be the main attraction. The number one story, and source of hope for the future. Yet on the Celtics, based on body of work alone, they are both behind at least 3 players in terms of importance to winning.

That could very well change this season. In as much as these things can be measured and tracked, it would surprise exactly no one to see Tatum take a lead position on this team. He’s that good (already) and Jaylen Brown isn’t that far behind him either.

Put another way, I could see this team evolving around Irving and Tatum leading the way on offense with the rest of the presumed starters (Brown, Hayward, Horford) playing very productive complimentary roles. Each of those three has leading man skills, but enough flexibility and malleability to provide what the team needs.

9. Who will be the finishing five?

It depends. Having all this depth is a wonderful problem to have and it will be fascinating to see how Stevens works it all out.

I would expect the finishing lineup to be a game by game decision based on health, rest, circumstance, and opponent. You might see Aron Baynes closing out some nights next to Al Horford. You might see Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, or perhaps even Marcus Morris (depending on matchups) finishing out a game. Of course if any of them are in the last lineup, then one of Brown, Tatum, or Hayward will not be on the floor.

Pearls will be clutched and talk shows will be buzzing, but at the end of the day it is a math problem. There are too many finishing quality players to let them all close out every game.

10. What storyline are we sleeping on?

Personally I think it is Daniel Theis. He’s not going to make headlines or fill up the box scores. He was only the 3rd most important injury last season (4th if you count Marcus Smart’s hand). He might be the 10th or 11th guy in the rotation.

But he fills a role that is unique on this team. He’s got energy, bounce, and even some range from deep. A lot of teams would love to have a guy like him in their big man rotation and he should be effective off the bench. It is possible that his role will be taken over by Robert Williams III by the end of the year, but not before Theis has paid his dues and helped this team win basketball games.

Bonus: Bold prediction

Marcus Smart - Finals MVP

(I’m speaking this into existence.)

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