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What are the biggest storylines entering Celtics training camp?

Almost every player on the Celtics carries an intriguing storyline into next month’s media day.

2022 Boston Celtics Media Day Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

A relatively calm runway to training camp hit some turbulence over the past week when Gary Washburn suggested that Malcolm Brogdon was angry with the Celtics following the nixed trade that would’ve sent him to the Clippers.

After almost the entirety of Boston’s roster returned to Boston in recent weeks, Brogdon appears absent. It’s not necessarily a sign that anything’s wrong, but all eyes and ears will now be focused on his health and disposition once camp officially opens in less than two weeks.

All things considered, that pales in comparison to other dilemmas around the East. The 76ers don’t seem to know whether James Harden will show up, and if he does, how hard he’ll try. Giannis Antetokounmpo sent multiple signals that the clock could be ticking on his time in Milwaukee. Miami will begin their preseason without Damian Lillard after losing important contributors in Gabe Vincent and Max Strus. In Cleveland, Donovan Mitchell’s uncertain future looms large.

The Celtics can focus more on the short-term given their roster status, but to win it all, almost every player on the roster needs to answer one important question.

Boston Celtics v Denver Nuggets Photo by Ethan Mito/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images

Can Jayson Tatum win MVP this year?

Almost a prerequisite to championship contention, Tatum emerged as an early favorite last season, averaging 30.5 points per game on 48% shooting through 25 games. He fell to 45.9% efficiency for the rest of the season, eventually falling behind the three big men finalists. Playmaking, defensive impact and consistency remain hurdles to reaching their echelon, but those goals are all within reach.

Will all the ‘left hand’ jokes drive Jaylen Brown to improve?

Speaking at Brown’s record extension announcement, Joe Mazzulla believed that a difficult East Finals performance will drive him heading into a new season. Brown carries key weaknesses into the final year of his current deal, but more strides in scoring, shooting and connecting alongside Tatum in an all-time offense should outweigh them. The pair trained together late in the summer. Brown teased a defensive focus and a stronger physique on social media coming into this year. Another All-NBA year and Finals push would end the criticism.

Does Derrick White need to replace Marcus Smart?

He doesn’t have to, but we’ll find out whether White’s actual production falls closer to the tentativeness and shooting struggles of his first year, or the All-Star level play on both ends he flashed for much of last season. White has already proved enough for Boston to feel comfortable with moving on from Smart and is eligible for an extension this fall, too. His trainer believes he can become more vocal as the Celtics’ leadership dynamic evolves.

How healthy will Kristaps Porzingis be this season?

The newly acquired big man comes to training camp following a 4-6 week shutdown for plantar fasciitis, an ominous start for a player rarely healthy throughout his career. Without consistent health, the Celtics will struggle to fully benefit from adding him and won’t have as much time for their best players to gel. I’m also curious how he’ll adapt to a smaller usage rate.

Will we see the fruits of Robert Williams’ healthy offseason and training?

One summer ago, he showed back up in Boston with a sore knee and needed surgery. This year, he needs to show up in the best shape of his life ready to take steps forward offensively that’ll carry him to an unquestioned starting role. His summer workout videos flashing a jump shot turned some heads. He’ll happily accept a bench role, but the Celtics need to find out if he’s capable of more.

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Will Al Horford embrace and succeed in a bench role?

The veteran big man came off the bench seven times in Philadelphia, five in Atlanta, 11 at the University of Florida and never with the Celtics. If Williams III takes his expected leap, Horford could start with the second unit to limit his minutes and allow him to play the four alongside either center. Horford voiced his preference to start in 2021, but Porzingis didn’t play here then. Many stars have voiced the difficulty of taking that step back and Horford’s ability to space the floor, pass and overall proven reliability over Williams III maintain a case for him to start. From what I’ve heard inside the organization — it’s undecided.

What’s up with Malcolm Brogdon?

Brogdon is one of two players, alongside White, not yet back in Boston ahead of camp next month. It might mean nothing, but Gary Washburn and Ramona Shelburne both noted lingering disdain followed his playoff injury and the nearly completed traded that would have sent him to LA. Brogdon didn’t undergo surgery, and nobody knows how healthy he’ll be this fall. He won Sixth Man of the Year last year, but noted the difficulty of coming off the bench deeper in to the regular season and playoffs. Boston needs him with Smart gone.

Can Payton Pritchard thrive in a backup role?

PP shot 40% from three to start his career while flashing on-ball bench scoring skills and defensive punch despite his height. Some amount of the front office’s willingness to trade Smart had to stem from confidence in Pritchard’s ability to return to the rotation. It’s make-or-break time for Pritchard in Boston ahead of extension eligibility or his restricted free agency.

Can Oshaue Brissett mirror Grant Williams’ impact?

Boston didn’t play Grant Williams every night late last season, and Horford effectively fills that role now. If the Celtics go small with three wings, Brissett’s blend of defensive and shooting success at the four could closely align with the impact Williams once provided. Last year, shooting regression and other players rising above him in Indiana’s rotation led to an inconsistent role and that’s possible here, too. He’s a swing player, but offering a second-year player option indicates the Celtics view him as more than a deep backup.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Miami Heat v Boston Celtics Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

Can Sam Hauser hold off competitors for playing time?

Sam Hauser held up defensively and shot 41.8% from three last year, a massive success for an undrafted find, but his inability to crack the playoff rotation doesn’t help his case.

Can Svi Mykhailiuk crack the rotation?

A worse shooter and defender than Hauser, Mykhailiuk is potentially a more versatile player. Does he have any role on this team?

Will Luke Kornet hold up if a big man misses time?

Similar to Hauser, Kornet was a regular season success who didn’t factor into the playoff picture. He’s less equipped to spell Horford than he is the team’s rim protector. It’s not surprising Neemias Queta entered the picture to push for back-end center minutes, but Kornet’s feel for offense remains trustworthy and he fits the team’s drop scheme. Expect him to stay.

2023 NBA Summer League - Boston Celtics v Orlando Magic Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Will rookie Jordan Walsh play at all?

My gut tells me he spends most of the season in Maine. Summer League showed, surprisingly, NBA defensive principles and speed could become his biggest hurdle to impacting the team Year 1 rather than his offense, but if he can hover around the 40% mark from behind the arc in the preseason, the rookie might just get some mean.

Will Dalano Banton make the team?

He should stay in Boston as an interesting second draft development project. His status becomes more interesting if a guard in front of him goes down and the Celtics end up relying on him for some minutes. Banton’s presence intrigues me most as a long former Raptor who played in Toronto’s zone and got repetitions in that defense in Summer League. Could the Celtics sneak in some zone lineups this year?

Can any two-way players carve a path to the 15th roster spot?

This fall could perhaps be the last chance for J.D. Davison to break through to the pros in Boston. Jay Scrubb scored great in Summer League and showed some defensive upside. Queta gives Maine’s roster a rim-runner and Boston an emergency center who can play both ends. The Celtics largely haven’t gotten NBA production out of this part of the roster. Will that change?

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