Note: The Tristan Thompson trade hasn’t been made official yet so some of this could become dated quickly, but I’m making the assumption that the rumored deal goes through without significant changes.
Seems like a good time for one of my favorite offseason traditions. Pulling out a pad of paper writing out the roster, and making wild guesses about how the team will fit together once they actually take the court together. For the purposes of this drill, I’m going to largely ignore the salaries and focus on the upcoming season only.
Let’s start with the moves that have been made thus far.
Outgoing: Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, Tristan Thompson, and Semi Ojeleye
Incoming: Josh Richardson, Al Horford, Kris Dunn, and Enes Kanter, Bruno Fernando
In and Out: Moses Brown
Given Kemba’s questionable health, these moves might be about break even on the court. The team will miss Evan’s shooting and Kemba’s occasional offensive outbursts but they will likely benefit from better defensive performances from Richardson, Horford, and Dunn.
Aside from those moves, this team is going to really rely upon internal growth. We’ve seen both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown add to their games each season and there’s no reason to believe they’ll level off. Then there’s a number of younger players that have shown various degrees of promise.
Robert Williams might have the highest upside. Payton Pritchard has already proven his worth in a rotation. Aaron Nesmith has shown promise as the kind of 3-and-D player that every team needs. Romeo Langford needs to stay healthy and Grant Williams needs to be more consistent, but both have a baseline level of talent worth investing in.
Marcus Smart might be the only guy on the team that kind of is what he is. And even he could be utilized in a different role by new head coach Ime Udoka.
So I’ll pause right here and list out what I see as the Celtics top 12:
Stars: Tatum, Brown
Vets: Smart, Horford, Richardson, Dunn, Kanter
Youth: Robert Williams, Pritchard, Nesmith, Langford, Grant Williams
Beyond that you get into the deep bench which (in a normal year) shouldn’t matter as much as it did last season but still needs to be built out just in case. This is still going to be in flux right up through training camp, so take with the appropriate grain of salt.
Jabari Parker seems like a perfectly fine, low cost guy that the team can count on for stretches of offensive production. I’m not sure if it is going to work out for Carsen Edwards here in Boston, but he’s still around on his rookie deal. Newcomer Bruno Fernando is here for now a well. Undrafted rookie sharpshooter Sam Hauser appears to be coming to town on a two way deal. We’ll see if the team brings over Yam Madar or even 2nd round pick Juhann Begarin. Not to mention anyone they think would be a good fit as another 2-way roster spot.
So is this team any good?
As always, the team will be as good as Tatum and Brown take them. They will need support from the rest of the cast, but the only way this team becomes a title favorite is if the Jays force their way into the All NBA conversation.
I fully expect this team to be better defensively. Smart and Richardson should slow down the flow of traffic into the paint better than Kemba and Fournier did last season. Al Horford has lost a step or two since we last saw him but his value was never in his athleticism. Robert Williams is known for his athleticism and is a year older and wiser.
What concerns me a bit is the offensive side of the ball. Ime Udoka is really going to have to stress ball movement if he wants to improve upon Brad’s 27th ranked assist numbers. The temptation will be to rely heavily on Tatum and Brown isolation plays and Marcus launching from long distance because there aren’t a lot of natural scorers on the team. Horford, Richardson, and even Rob Williams can be good ball-movers. Nesmith and Pritchard will be relied upon to stretch the floor.
All told that seems like a solid playoff team in the East but not likely in the class of the Bucks or Nets. Where they fall in that next group down depends a lot on how other teams come together. Frankly I could see this team finishing as high as 3rd if things blend together well or as low as 8th if the wheels fall off again.
Of course all of this could be premature if Brad Stevens decides to make more changes to the roster. But what else are we going to do but make predictions and debate the team endlessly?