2016-17 Record: 53-29
Players Added: Jayson Tatum (NBA Draft), Marcus Morris (trade), Gordon Hayward (free agent), Abdel Nader (free agent), Semi Ojeleye (free agent), Daniel Theis (free agent), Aron Baynes (free agent), Kadeem Allen (free agent), Guerschon Yabusele (free agent), Shane Larkin (free agent), Kyrie Irving (trade), Andrew White (free agent), L.J. Peak (free agent), Jabari Bird (free agent), Jonathan Holmes (free agent)
Players Lost: Gerald Green (free agent), Jonas Jerebko (free agent), Amir Johnson (free agent), Kelly Olynyk (free agent), James Young (free agent), Tyler Zeller (free agent), Avery Bradley (trade), Jordan Mickey (free agent), Demetrius Jackson (free agent), Jae Crowder (trade), Isaiah Thomas (trade), Ante Zizic (trade)
Projected Team MVP: Kyrie Irving
Welp, he has his own team now!
Irving requested a trade from Cleveland because he wanted to go somewhere where he’d be the guy. Not only did Boston decide that he could be the center of their franchise, they are going to give him every opportunity to succeed. He is surrounded by a bunch of dudes who have a defined spot in the Celtics’ pecking order — Hayward is the second option, Al Horford is the third, everyone else fills in a role.
But at the top is Irving. His ability to score and create without, for lack of a better phrase, worrying about not being “the man” on a team is gone. The Celtics will go as Irving goes. This is exactly what he wanted when he asked to get traded from Cleveland, and now it’s on him to make something out of this new opportunity.
Team X-Factor: Marcus Smart
Someone has to be the guy who lines up next to Irving and provides a defensive shot in the arm. Irving is not a defender, and odds are, he will never be a truly elite defender. This is fine as long as you can put someone next to him who can compensate for those issues on that end of the floor.
Enter Smart, who is similar to Draymond Green in that he seems like he gets a whole lot of joy out of manning dudes up on the defensive end of the floor. Can he shoot? Signs point to no, but if he can become a threat to hit shots, that’s a massive positive for Boston.
If not, he’s the kind of player who is perfectly fine getting his whenever the opportunity arises but focusing on rebounding, setting teammates up, and being a monster on defense. He is kind of the anti-Irving, which is something Boston could use this season. And if he struggles? Players like Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier are there to fill kind of similar roles.
Best Case Scenario: It’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavs lead the Celtics, 101-99, with 14 seconds left. Everyone clears out, and the entire left side of the floor belongs to Kyrie Irving. There’s just one problem: league MVP LeBron James is trying to check him.
The clock is ticking down. Irving tries a move, but can’t shake the best player in the world. He composes himself, tries again, and fails again. Then, with two seconds left, Irving hoists up a three.
Swish. Nothing but net. The crowd in Cleveland is silenced. No one can believe it, except for Irving, who has jumped onto the scorer’s table and is shushing the crowd. The Celtics beat the Cavs and move on the the Finals. Then they lose to the Warriors. But it doesn’t matter, they won the East and Irving got one on LeBron. Everyone else fills in their individual roles perfectly, and Irving brings them to an Eastern Conference title.
Worst Case Scenario: So one thing that hasn’t really been addressed is that Irving, Hayward, and Horford aren’t exactly stout defenders. They’ll be surrounded by a few guys who are pit bulls — Smart, Morris, Brown, Rozier, and Semi Ojeleye are all tough as nails — but there’s still plenty of questions that can be asked about how well this team will defend, especially at the rim.
What if the defense never clicks? What if Irving struggles with the spotlight on him and Hayward and Horford struggle to pick up the slack? What if the guys around them aren’t able to do what they need to do to supplement the team’s big three? What if this team, which went through a massive roster overhaul this offseason struggles to gel?
In a worst-case scenario, the team struggles for the first half and Horford, as the odd man out, is moved for $0.60 on the dollar. Boston never totally puts it together, especially on defense, but is still able to scrape together enough wins for the two seed. In the 2-7 series, a scrappy Sixers squad gives them everything they can handle. Either Boston loses or narrowly gets by before getting taken down in round two by the Wizards.