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Celtics outlook: What’s the worst that could happen?

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What would a worst case scenario look like for the Boston Celtics?

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics have been a high variability team all season long. Every team goes through ups and downs and every season has a bit of a roller-coaster feel to it. This season just seems to have a few more dips and stomach-dropping twists than most.

Because of that, it seems like there’s a wide range of possible outcomes to this season, both in the short term and long term. With so much variance it is difficult to wrap one’s brain around the possibilities. In situations like this, I like to push back and outline some boundaries based on the worst-case and best-case scenarios. These provide me with mental bookends.

I figured it would be a good idea to start with the worst case first, then move to the best case and finish off with some reasonable educated guesses based on my own biases. This is a broad and complex topic so I decided to break it up into 3 parts. As usual, feel free to play along in the comments section below.

One more disclaimer before we begin: I didn’t want to get too dark on this worst-case timeline because “worst” could mean everything from “everybody gets mono” to literal Armageddon. As we found out last year, injuries are obviously part of the game but they don’t always produce a worst-case result. But enough with the lead in. Let’s start the catharsis.

Regular Season

Kyrie Irving is currently nursing an injury that most people don’t seem all that concerned with. Let’s assume he returns after the All Star break and doesn’t miss significant time after that. Why is this worst-case? I’ll get to that later.

Gordon Hayward has played better lately and everyone wants the best for him. But what if his good games are the exception instead of his new normal? What if he has nagging physical issues or confidence issues that hold him back from being “himself?” What if he never recovers his optimal form?

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Go down the list of players on the roster and each of them has had their ups and downs. Marcus Smart is way above his career shooting averages. Jaylen Brown is just months removed from the worst stretch of basketball in his young career. Al Horford struggled early in the season (and Father Time is undefeated). Terry Rozier is Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates. Any number of them could regress or hit a slump at the wrong time.

We’ve already heard grumblings that younger teammates are frustrated at the long leash Brad Stevens gives Gordon. While winning cures a lot of issues and makes things “fun” again, a poorly timed losing streak could open old wounds. If the locker room starts to fracture or turn sour, it could lead to a relapse of the malaise and confusion from earlier in the year. In short, it could pull the rug out from under this season that started off with such high expectations.

Playoffs

Given the state of the Eastern Conference, the Celtics are going to make the playoffs even if they do limp through the rest of the regular season. At the top of the Conference the Bucks, Raptors, and 76ers are going to be very tough match ups in a seven game series. If the Celtics fail to earn a top-3 seed, they could be stuck facing one of those teams to open up the playoffs. Despite the team’s recent success against the Sixers, it wouldn’t be completely shocking to see any one of those teams bounce the Celtics out in the first round.

Last year nobody would have been shocked to see the Celtics eliminated early without Kyrie Irving. This year is a different story. Losing with a healthy Irving could prove to be franchise altering.

Offseason

Which brings us to Kyrie Irving’s free agency. The sum of all our fears is to see him walk away, taking with him any dreams of adding Anthony Davis. Or if you want to get super dark, maybe Danny Ainge trades for Davis anyway, giving up prime assets like Jayson Tatum and the Memphis pick. Then Davis plays out the year and leaves for Los Angeles in the summer.

New Orleans Pelicans v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Without Irving, Ainge might feel the need to match any offer for Rozier. Hayward and Horford (assuming he picks up his option) would represent over $63M on the cap sheet alone. Whichever young pieces are left on the team would become the sole hope for the future.

I guess I could keep going. Brad Stevens could be fired or take a college job. Danny Ainge could retire and Mike Zarren could take over the Pelicans. The owners could lose all their money on cryptocurrency and start slashing expenses. You get the idea.

In short, there would be great weeping and gnashing of teeth.

On that note... Have a nice day!

(I’ll have part two up soon - that has a happier ending.)


JIMMY TOSCANO & CHRIS GRENHAM WITH 2nd HALF PREVIEW: