It was hard not to feel optimistic about the Boston Celtics at the conclusion of their 2017-18 campaign, even if it ended at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics had pushed a LeBron-led team to the brink without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, both of whom were slated to return by training camp in the fall.
Jayson Tatum was a revelation as a rookie, lighting it up from three-point range and providing a much-needed added dimension to the offense. Jaylen Brown took over as a primary scorer with Irving out and thrived in that role. Terry Rozier had stepped into the point guard void and played tremendous basketball in the playoffs. Al Horford and Marcus Smart were, well, Al Horford and Marcus Smart.
Add Kyrie and Hayward to that mix and, coupled with the fortunate departure of LeBron from the East, the Celtics were suddenly the favorites to reach the Finals, with some thinking 60 wins was a more than reasonable expectation. Kyrie spoke about re-signing at preseason fan events and all was right in Boston, as the team appeared to have played everything just right to have a squad capable of lording over the East in the present and future with their mixture of veterans and young talent.
Fast forward seven months and the Celtics enter the 2019 offseason facing a worst case scenario that is beyond anything anyone imagined back in September. Their young players failed to take positive steps forward and, in some cases, appeared to regress; Hayward was a shell of himself as he occupies an enormous portion of their cap sheet; and Irving appears on his way out of town after a miserable performance against the Bucks.