Will the new look Boston Celtics drown in their own inexperience, or will they rise to the surface as a dominant force in the Eastern Conference?
After a tempestuous offseason, the Celtics will only have six players from the previous season’s team returning. Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Jae Crowder, Al Horford, and star point guard Isaiah Thomas will all be back. Meanwhile, aside from the obvious addition of blockbuster free agent Gordon Hayward, the Celtics have added seminal pieces like Marcus Morris, Guerschon Yabusele and rookie sensation Jayson Tatum. All of which brings a variety of skills that the Celtics will desperately need if they plan on supplanting the Cavaliers as the Eastern Conference’s premier attraction.
However, it’s equally fair to theorize that the Celtics’ sudden surge of talent could hinder the team, most notably because of how instrumental familiarity became in the Celtics success. The core rotation of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart and Al Horford had become the Celtics blueprint to success — balancing the better parts of explosive scoring, floor spacing, and perimeter defense. Now though, with the loss of Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder’s perceived demotion in the wake of Hayward’s arrival, the Celtics defense will inevitably suffer a sharp decline from year’s past. So it’s only natural that Celtics fans are left wondering how coach Brad Stevens can make up for the loss of his best defender, plus moving the team’s second best defensive starter to the bench.
In reality, the answer lies in the team’s flexibility at shooting guard and small forward. With proven veterans like Hayward and to a lesser extent Crowder, alongside young talents like Brown and Tatum, the Celtics have been blessed with a range of lineups to accentuate the talent of their two stars — Hayward and Thomas.
Brown showed incredible promise on the defensive end in his rookie season, and as his role expands with the team, the added exposure can only benefit his development. Throw in someone like Tatum, who proved himself to be a promising two-way star over the course of the Summer League, and everyone’s favorite wildcard Marcus Smart, and you can begin to decipher heavily specialized lineups two centering around Hayward and Thomas when they don’t share the court together.
With all of that said however, one problem still remains, and that’s cohesion. Only six returning players means that more than half of the roster is new, and a considerable amount of those players will certainly be looking for expanded roles in his upcoming season. Whether that be imports from the Motor City, Marcus Morris or Aron Baynes, highly anticipated overseas wonders like the aforementioned Yabusele and Ante Zizic, or even Tatum. All will be looking for legitimate roles in the Celtics rotation, not to mention all-star Gordon Hayward, or previously established Celtics like Thomas, Smart, Crowder, Brown and Horford. That’s 11 players, who depending on the circumstances, could all garner considerable play time. However, regardless of whether or not the Celtics take a marginal dive and drop a few more games than the season prior, the 2017-18 season will be nothing short of exhilarating for Celtics fans. Championship aspirations or not.