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It’s time for Banner 18

After trading for Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are primed to raise Banner 18 with the most talented roster in the Brad Stevens era.

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s time for Banner 18.

The Boston Celtics haven’t had a parade and raised a banner in over 15 years. That’s a long time. For perspective, my daughter is 13 and has never seen the Celtics win a title.

So, yeah, it’s time.

The pieces have felt like they were in place before. The 2018-19 Celtics were loaded…on paper. Some Boston fans even suggested they might win 75 games and roll to a title. They fell more than a little bit short of those lofty expectations.

Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

In 2020, the pandemic wrecked a season that was just finding its footing. Yet, in the bubble, it felt like the Celtics were right there. But injuries to Kemba Walker (he never got right again), Gordon Hayward (again) and the Miami Heat ruined that season, too.

2020-21 was a reset that everyone in green needed. Brad Stevens stepped up to the front office and begin remaking the roster.

The 2022 NBA Finals were right there for the taking. Sadly, the Celtic weren’t quite ready to excel on the sport’s biggest stage. But they were right there. So close, yet so far.

Last season started out as a mess, and finished with the team a Jayson Tatum sprained ankle from maybe making history. That 0-3 deficit to Miami was thiiiiiiiiiiiis close to being overcome. Alas, another season ended deep into the spring, but not into the summer. Another year of coming up short.

It’s time for Banner 18.

These Celtics are loaded, but it feels different than the 2018-19 team. That team had too many guys. And too many of those guys were in weird places. Vets like Hayward and Kyrie Irving were looking to re-establish themselves at the top of the hierarchy. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were precocious youngsters who played huge roles the season before. Why should they take a step back for guys who weren’t even around for the previous year’s run? Marcus Morris was…well…Marcus Morris.

NBA: Preseason-Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

This Boston team has the best top-six of my lifetime, outside of the 1985-1986 Celtics. That team will always stand alone atop the greatest Celtics teams of my life. But this group could move into the neighborhood. Maybe they don’t have the house on the lakefront, but they’re at least lakefront adjacent.

That’s heady territory, but that’s where we’re at. This team should be that good.

Jayson Tatum is a full-blown superstar. He’s an MVP candidate without having played a game yet. There are no more questions if he can be the best guy on a title team. We know he can be. The question: Will he be?

Jaylen Brown got paid, and fairly so. He earned his supermax contract extension. Brown is as good of a number two as there is in the league. And on at least 20 other teams, if not more, he’d be the number one guy. Brown is a star all of his own making and he’s earned everything he’s gotten.

Al Horford is still around and still doing his thing. In many ways, Horford has never done his thing better, because he’s evolved and grown what his thing is. This season, the Celtics may need him to lead a little louder, but Horford remains the rock. He’s a foundational piece that will lift everyone around him.

Derrick White returns to do all of the little big stuff. You need a block at the rim in transition? White is there. You need a clutch steal? White has you covered. Need someone to get in the lane for a clutch floater? White can do that too. When a big play needs to be made out of nowhere, it’s going to be Derrick White who makes it.

Then, we have the new guys. The castoff former stars. The guys whose former teams thought they could do a little bit better, short- or long-term, by replacing them with someone else. Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis are happy to be in Boston, but they don’t have chips on their shoulders. They’ve got boulders on those shoulders.

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Holiday wanted to retire with the Milwaukee Bucks. He was open about that. Instead, he was traded because the Bucks could get Damian Lillard. Life is like that in the NBA. But now Holiday finds himself with the Celtics. And those Bucks are in his way. You don’t think he’d like to show Milwaukee that they made a mistake by outplaying Lillard when it matters most?

And for those who might have forgotten, in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, Holiday made Lillard’s life hell. Holiday’s New Orleans Pelicans swept Lillard’s Portland Trail Blazers. Dame Time never came, as Lillard averaged just 18.5 points on 35% shooting from the field and 30% from three. By the end of the series, Lillard couldn’t even get a quality look off, never mind actually making a shot.

As for Porzingis, he’s the pivot, both metaphorically and in reality. He’s going to be the anchor for the backline of the Celtics defense. Look for him to be deployed in the roamer role where Rob Williams was so successful. Porzingis will also operate heavily in drop coverages, where his size allows him to both close down space, while protecting the rim.

On offense, Porzingis adds a deep spacing element. That’ll be key to pull opposing bigs from the paint, which opens up driving lanes for the ballhandlers. Porzingis has also been much better about punishing switches. He no longer tries to force things and to put smalls in the goal by backing them down. Instead, Porzingis is now content to get to about 12-15 feet from the basket and then to turn and shoot over a smaller defender.

But we all know all of that. The real question: Will Porzingis stay heathy? Most importantly, will he be healthy and will he hold up in April, May and June? That’s all that really matters.

Could the wheels come off for this group? Of course. There are worlds where injuries and somewhat of a lack of depth sink the team. Those seem to be overstated, but they are still valid concerns.

What if Holiday and Porzingis, never less than their team’s number two option, can’t adjust to being the third and fourth options? Someone has to go to the bench that is a real starter in the NBA. It’s easy to say all the right things in October. It’s harder to say the right things after a three-game losing streak in January. Egos are going to have to be put aside, and that’s never a sure thing until it is.

The Celtics could get off to a bumpy start. They have a lot of stuff to figure out. Even the vaunted Big 3 Miami Heat were only 9-8 a month into the season. Boston could have some similar growing pains out of the gate.

But you know what? Who cares?

It’s time for Banner 18.

For every worry, there’s a counter. Worried about an injury to a key player? Well, there are six starters on this team. They’ll be fine.

Boston Celtics All Access Practice Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

Worried about depth? Beyond having a sixth starter coming off the bench (which is awesome), the rest of the guys are classic role players. They fill the prototypes of what title teams bring off the bench. There are shooters (Sam Hauser, Svi Mykhailiuk) there’s a playmaking scoring guard (Payton Pritchard), there are the junkyard dog battlers (Lamar Stevens, Oshae Brissett) and they have the lovable goofball who is actually better than he gets credit for (Luke Kornet).

What if they get off to a slow start? Who cares! The 2022 Finals Celtics were under .500 in late-January. No one wins a title in December. Well, unless it’s the new NBA Cup in the In-Season Tournament! (Required plug!)

What if Joe Mazzulla isn’t the guy? Fair, but he figured out a lot last season. And Boston was still one of the league’s best teams, despite his inexperience and occasional stumbles. And this year he had more than a day to prepare to be the head coach. And, finally, he’s got some good assistants on the bench to help manage a long season.

What if they need more depth? Brad Stevens will figure it out. He has so far. And ownership is as all-in as they’ve ever been. If Stevens needs to add some more salary to get the team over the top, that greenlight is glowing brighter than ever.

It’s time for Banner 18.

This group banged their head against the doors for six seasons. For six years, we watched the same core players try. We gleefully cheered their success, bemoaned their failures and sadly admitted something had to change.

Stevens swallowed hard and made those changes. We miss Marcus Smart and Rob Williams. It won’t be the same without them. But you have to give to get in the NBA.

That giving and getting has everything set up for a Finals run. Title windows are shorter than ever in the NBA. You have to take advantage when you can. Otherwise, who knows what changes will have to be made next?

It’s time for Banner 18.

No more excuses for this group. They have the experience. They have the star power. They have the functional depth. They have the ability to tweak the roster as the season goes along.

One year from now, we should be getting all misty-eyed on ring night. We should plan to stand and cheer as this group puts themselves in the rafters forever. A part of Celtics lore for all time. Nothing less should be expected. Just get it done.

It’s time for Banner 18.

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