The Boston Celtics went 48-34 last season. They lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Atlanta Hawks after six hard-fought games, failing to advance past that point of the postseason for the second-consecutive year.
Boston has much to accomplish before establishing itself as the clear-cut second-best team in the Eastern Conference, basically. Jae Crowder, though, believes the Celtics – who caught the summer’s second-biggest free agency fish in Al Horford – are on the verge of doing just that.
The 26-year-old forward recently told Tom Westerholm of MassLive.com that the Cleveland Cavaliers are the only team in the East better than Boston.
“My guys were telling me that Bleacher Report says we’ll win 59 games,” Crowder said. “That’s a lot of wins, but I want to get past the first round of the playoffs. Two seasons in a row getting swept” (Note: The Celtics lost in six games this past year) “that’s my goal to be honest with you. I think our ceiling is the Eastern Conference Finals. Toronto is not a team we’re worried about. I think Cleveland is the top team. That’s what it comes down to.”
It’s far too early to say for certain whether Crowder’s assessment is accurate.
The Celtics, Hawks, and Indiana Pacers each made significant additions to their roster this summer, while the Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, and even Milwaukee Bucks could potentially make major improvements given their collective youth. Questions abound about the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, while the Charlotte Hornets lost some critical depth after re-signing Nic Batum and Marvin Williams to big-money contracts.
The only thing we really know about the East right now is that Cleveland sits alone at the top. Boston is among several teams that will be fighting tooth and nail to emerge as the most legitimate challenger to LeBron James and company, and maybe has the best chance among them at doing so. Horford is eons better than any big man who played for the Celtics last season, obviously, and Brad Stevens can count on continued development from youngsters like Marcus Smart and Summer League star Terry Rozier. Crowder may not be done refining the rough edges of his game, either.
But for him to submit that Boston is only worried about the Cavaliers is definitely premature, and counts as bulletin-board material for Toronto and other Eastern Conference teams with hopes of having the chance to dethrone the two-time defending champions. Not that we’re upset at Crowder’s brash confidence, though. After all, the league could always use some new rivalries.