What are your expectations for the upcoming year and how have previous seasons shaped those expectations?
Jeff Clark: This team has been a bit of a rollercoaster in the last few years. On the macro level, they were overachievers for years, then massively underachieved last year. So I guess this year I’m cautiously optimistic that they’ll meet the general muted expectations that have them hovering at around 48-49 wins. I’m optimistic about Tatum, Brown, and even Hayward taking steps forward, but the defense concerns me.
Bobby Manning: If Team USA taught me anything so far, Kemba will be phenomenal. The offense should mesh better with that and the weight of Kyrie Irving lifted. That won’t save the team from its inevitable defensive regression. Even if the small ball lineup excels and they hide Enes Kanter perfectly, they’ll be hard pressed to match even last season’s defense. Marcus Smart will be exposed to bigger matchups and more wear. Al Horford’s loss will be felt immediately.
Jeremy Stevens: 48-49 wins is fair. They’ll find a way to be good in the regular season, but Horford leaving creates such a huge gap that I can’t immediately talk myself into them being a good playoff team unless Hayward or a rookie can really step up.
Bill Sy: I wrote a piece two years ago that Hayward could serve some time as the back up 4 to Horford. He’ll have to do it more now that Al’s gone. If that works out, we’re looking at 50+ easy. He won’t be able to do what Al did on the defensive end, but those points could be at least matched on offense.
Jeremy Stevens: They’re reliant on a lot of things going right if they’re going to be really good, which includes the Jays improving, Hayward being healthy, at least one young center being a consistent role player at the very least.
Their ceiling hasn’t changed much but the floor has been lowered considerably.
Bobby Manning: The greatest feather in Brad Steven’s cap would be matching the defensive altitude of the Horford teams. Those teams won so consistently, because defense carries nightly more smoothly than offense. I’m high on this team in the context of the east and genuinely enjoy the “good guy” brand they’re building. They could be the third or even second best team in the East, but Giannis will be tough to top on his revenge tour.
Simon Pollock: I have big expectations for the team’s mental toughness. To your point, Jeff, the 2019-2020 Boston Celtics do not carry the label of contender. However, I see this season as a major inflection point: can the players and coaches work together to get back to a place of never getting too high and never getting too low? Before last season, previous Celtics teams zen’d their way through 82 games and exceeded expectations because they appeared to care only about what they could control (incredible defense and some virtuoso play from Isaiah Thomas) and let everything else fall away.
I see that as an ability of Brad Stevens and staff to effectively convey a message and attitude and convince the team to buy into both. The Celtics aren’t going to be handed a clean slate after last year’s struggles. They have a locker room culture to rebuild. And while the team’s success will be widely measured by their ability to exceed the over-under set by Caesar’s, it’d be foolish to not listen closely to what players are saying about their experience. I want to believe that Stevens can regain control of the helm. And if he does so, I expect to hear players projecting confidence and happiness about playing in Boston in 2019-2020.
Bill Sy: But what do you guys think about what last season says about Brad Stevens’ ability to get above average vets to play together? Stevens has certainly overachieved with underdogs and they’ll have that same level of expectations next year with the fifth youngest roster in the league. Building culture is a little easier when you’re coaching a bunch of under-25ers, but do you guys see this season as a blip until Danny swings for another big move or step #1 into an extended stretch of development?
Jeremy Stevens: I think it’s nothing short of hysteria that people could watch Terry Rozier play the way he did, read about Kyrie acting the way he did, and somehow conclude “Brad Stevens, with his infinite wisdom and zen energies, should have fixed this problem long ago.”
Bill Sy: Fair, Look. I captain of the Good Ship Stevens, but until I see him coach a team of Stephen Jackson, Nate Robinson, and Royce White to a Big3 championship, I’m reserving judgement. Can he deal with basketball professionals that aren’t always going to buy into his rah rah, team-first mantra?