It seems simple enough. The Celtics replaced Kyrie Irving and Al Horford with Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter. Overall a step back on paper, right?
To answer that, let me give you another equation. Young, talented team coming off an Eastern Conference Championship adding Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. That’s an obvious Finals contender, right?
As you can see, these things don’t always add up in a neat and tidy equation.
To begin with, the Celtics lost more than just Kyrie and Horford. Also gone are Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, and Aron Baynes. That’s quite a lot of production on both ends of the floor. On the other hand, there’s a lot of ...strong personalities in that group as well. Sometimes good pieces don’t fit perfectly with other pieces and they aren’t flexible enough to adjust accordingly.
Will this year’s team fit better? That’s really hard to say without leaning too heavily on the small sample size of the preseason. After all, the upside of this squad is relying on career years (or bounce-back years) from guys that were part of the team and at least part of the problem last season.
Still, growth and development aren’t necessarily linear things. Sometimes you need to fail in order to learn how to succeed. Some lessons are hard but all too often they are the more valuable ones to learn from. Each player was humbled in some way last season and a lot will depend on how they respond to that.
It is worth noting as well that Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and even Gordon Hayward should see a bump up in their usage based on the shots that Horford, Morris, and Rozier are leaving behind.
Danny Ainge, either by design or chance, surrounded that group with high character, team first, coachable players. It starts from the new lead guard Kemba Walker, who actually wins awards for being a good teammate. Stylistically he’s a bit of a mix between Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving. So it will be interesting to see what kind of offense Coach Stevens implements with Kemba playing quarterback.
Then there’s the rookie class which everyone is raving about for their hard work and toughness. Those guys won’t be fighting the starters for shots but they aren’t afraid to step up when called upon. Of course they are still rookies, so beware of leaning on them too much on a consistent basis.
Nobody yet knows how the center rotation is going to work itself out just yet, but at least the coaching staff has a lot of different options to experiment with.
It is tempting to look at the list of names from last year’s squad vs. this year’s team and do a “tale of the tape” side by side comparison. But that analysis leaves out so many determining factors.
“Chemistry” is perhaps an overused and over-hyped term when it is used as code for “getting along off the court.” But on court chemistry is vitally important to the success of a team. Brad Stevens led teams are usually pretty good at achieving a high level of cohesiveness on the court, but somehow they got off track last year. How well the pieces fit together will determine how far this team can go this year. There’s no math equation that can predict that.