In my last column, I stared into the heart of darkness and envisioned the worst case scenario for the Boston Celtics. To balance things out, I would like to turn to the light side today. So dare to dream with me as I whistle along to The Life of Brian’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
Remember all that preseason hype about a potential 60 win season? Well, if they win all the rest of their games, they would finish with 61 wins! All would be forgiven.
Ok, let’s back up. Sixty wins would have be 73% winning percentage. Well if you take out the first 20 games, the Celtics have a 27-11 record which is good for 71% since then. They have 24 games left and if they maintain that pace they’ll pick up 17 more wins and finish at 54 wins. Better to struggle early and finish strong than the other way around. Amiright?
Kyrie Irving is likely going to be back in the lineup after the All Star break (where he’s had some time to rub elbows with some of the league’s elite). Al Horford has already started looking stronger and while Stevens will be managing his minutes, he’s still the straw that stirs the Celtics’ drink.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both seem to have shaken most of the early season struggles off and have been playing well of late. And speaking of looking good lately, have you seen Gordon Hayward flying through the lane with no fear and knocking down 3-pointers?
The Celtics have just so much talent and depth. It took a little longer to fit the puzzle pieces together but when it is clicking, it is scary good. Brad Stevens’ teams generally tend to get better as the season progresses so it wouldn’t be hard to imagine this team clicking on all cylinders down the stretch.
The top of the East is strong and each of the top contenders made changes at the deadline which will take some time adjusting to.
Let’s not bury the lede here. The best case is Banner 18. Always. Now how can we get there?
Let’s start here: Brad Stevens is a really, really good coach. (Yes, he deserves his own share of blame for some of the struggles but I wouldn’t trade him for any coach right now.) The entire regular season has been one big experiment and a wonderful data-gathering exercise for Brad. Give him a seven game series and an opportunity to exploit matchups with the most talent he’s ever had on a roster and things could go very well indeed.
Al Horford and Aron Baynes are just the kind of kryptonite that turns Joel Embiid into a guy that complains about the refs. Nobody slows down Giannis for long, but a locked in Celtics squad can provide enough speed bumps to knock off the Bucks for a 2nd straight year. The Raptors are back with a new star, but they have yet to prove anything of significance in the playoffs.
They say that role players struggle on the road in the playoffs. This is where I point out that some of the Celtics bench players were (very successful) starters in the playoffs last season.
And of course if we’re looking at the best case scenario, I’ll also point out that the Celtics match up with the Warriors as well as anyone and they seem to be the team that Golden State respects the most. Get this team into The Finals and anything can happen. Yes, even a championship.
There are so many ways this offseason could go right for Boston, in part because Danny Ainge has compiled an excellent hoard of assets to work with.
The most talked about scenario is the one where the Celtics trade for Anthony Davis. If fortune favors Boston, they might even be able to acquire him without giving up Jayson Tatum. The resulting core group of Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, and Anthony Davis would be a championship foundation for years to come. I’d be cool with that, but it isn’t my ideal scenario.
Another theory out there is that Kevin Durant could maneuver himself to Boston in an opt-in and trade deal similar to the one Chris Paul did to the Rockets. I wouldn’t be mad at that either.
However, if you want me ideal scenario, you’ll have to remember the section above where I laid out the path to the NBA championship. If the team wins the title this year, it will be because everything came together perfectly. How could you break up that squad as they are fully realizing their potential?
Close your eyes and imagine Irving slicing through defenders, kicking it out to Gordon Hayward who uses an Al Horford screen to attack the paint. Horford and Tatum spread the floor which gives Gordon the space to drop a pocket pass to Jaylen Brown who tomahawk dunks on two defenders.
Think about it. Gordon Hayward at full capacity. Jayson Tatum ready for his first All Star season. Jaylen Brown in attack mode. Marcus Smart fulfilling his destiny as the soul of a championship squad. Al Horford aging gracefully and tutoring Robert Williams along the way. At the head of it all is Kyrie Irving signed to a long-term deal and living his best life.
All those draft picks could be used to replace players that move on to new teams, either through the draft or free agency.
Everyone talks about how you need to have elite stars to win championships. Well what if the Celtics already have those guys on the squad right now? Wouldn’t that be the best case scenario?
I don’t know how realistic any of this is, but isn’t it fun to think about?
(Next up, I try to find common ground between the best and worst-case scenarios.)