The 2021-22 Boston Celtics are a workforce trying to shed some baggage. Within the wake of final season’s unrest, the workforce has been retooling. Danny Ainge has stepped away, and in his place, Brad Stevens moved from the sideline to the entrance workplace to tackle the accountability of guiding the workforce ahead. The upcoming season seems like a transitionary one — extra about taking inventory of what they’ve than making an actual push for speedy success — and because of this, expectations for this workforce have been set just a little decrease than they’ve in latest seasons.
The toughest a part of retooling is already out of the way in which. The Celtics have an simple famous person in Jayson Tatum who’s only a few small steps away from the MVP dialog, and a complementary All-Star in Jaylen Brown who may make a problem for All-NBA consideration within the very close to future. Each nice NBA workforce is constructed round expertise like this. Once we have a look at the season in entrance of us, although, the query is whether or not the remaining items are in place to make it doable for the workforce to search out speedy success and ideally Banner 18. What sort of circumstances could be essential to allow the 2021-22 Celtics to surpass what most at the moment imagine they’re able to and contending for a championship?
The case for the Celtics exceeding their expectations this yr begins with a glance again finally season, and that is the simplest a part of the equation. Nearly every part that would have gone incorrect for final yr’s Celtics did go incorrect. They led the league by a sizeable margin in video games missed by gamers on their roster, and people missed video games have been usually vital ones, too. There have been COVID scares for Tatum, Robert Williams, Tristan Thompson, Evan Fournier and Romeo Langford, in addition to important damage points for Williams, Brown, Marcus Sensible and Kemba Walker. For the season, the participant to log probably the most sport appearances was rookie Payton Pritchard.
The Celtics aren’t going to be fully wholesome subsequent season. With a season so long as the NBA’s, each workforce will wrestle with accidents in some unspecified time in the future or one other. That’s simply a part of the sport. Final season’s well being points have been notably excessive, nevertheless, and issues may need appeared fairly a bit extra optimistic with even common damage luck. You can moderately argue that even when the Celtics merely introduced again final yr’s roster with minimal adjustments, they’d nonetheless be a good wager to outperform their 2020-21 document simply based mostly on well being alone.
The Celtics did not run again the identical roster from final season, nevertheless. Brad Stevens has hit the bottom operating in his new function because the workforce’s President of Basketball Operations, making plenty of offers geared toward ushering the Celtics into a brand new period. Whereas most of his choices have been made with a watch on future monetary flexibility, there may be some potential upside to the roster because it stands proper now, and that’s the place our analysis of the 2021-22 Celtics actually will get shifting.
The dialogue begins with Al Horford’s return to Boston, two seasons after departing for Philadelphia in the summertime of 2019. The Celtics introduced the previous All-Star again in a commerce with Oklahoma Metropolis in alternate for Kemba Walker and his burdensome contract. It’s a transfer meant to unclutter the workforce’s books — Horford is cheaper than Walker, and his contract ends a yr sooner — nevertheless it’s one that would additionally pay some dividends this season if issues break good.
In a vacuum, Horford isn’t as beneficial of a participant as Walker. The flexibility to self-create scoring alternatives and lead an offense will all the time be a premium talent within the NBA, and that’s one thing that Horford doesn’t provide. His efficiency in Philadelphia additionally did little to encourage, although his match on that roster was awkward, to say the final. Whereas he appeared reinvigorated in his transient stint with the Thunder final season — spry sufficient for the workforce to close him down for the yr to help their tanking efforts — when he takes the courtroom for the Celtics this October, he’ll be 35 years outdated and never have appeared in an NBA sport in practically seven months.
That stated, there’s a dialogue available about whether or not Horford — or at the least, the idealized model of Horford — may be a greater match for this roster than what we noticed from Walker final yr. As Walker continued to wrestle with a nagging knee damage and Tatum and Brown continued to blossom into top-tier quantity scorers in their very own proper, his goal on the roster grew to become considerably unclear.
Horford might fill some gaps that Walker couldn’t. Whereas what he has left within the tank defensively stays to be seen, his offensive skillset is one which shouldn’t diminish too harshly resulting from age. He supplies respectable ground spacing on the heart place that the Celtics haven’t fairly discovered since he left, having knocked down threes at an efficient clip for the previous six season of his profession. Horford can also be a superb passer, nonetheless among the many finest at his place, and the Boston offense has historically appeared far more streamlined with an efficient passer like Horford or Robert Williams manning the 5.
The acquisition with the extra clear-cut impression on the upcoming season is their most up-to-date one: former Lakers guard Dennis Schröder. It’s been a tumultuous summer season for the 27-year-old since turning down a now-infamous, four-year, $84 million extension on the finish of March. On account of uninspiring play within the Western Convention Playoffs and, extra considerably, a very busy free company market that noticed cap house evaporate quickly, Schröder discovered himself the odd man out amongst notable free agent names earlier than inking a one-year take care of Boston for simply $5.9 million.
Schröder isn’t an ideal participant, however the league’s indifference in direction of him this offseason was too excessive. He’s a 6’3” playmaking guard who can strain the rim, create his personal shot (although the three-ball might want to enhance) and supply regular protection. To amass his skillset for simply the Taxpayer Mid-Degree Exception of $5.9 million is an absolute discount. Now, he and the Celtics have a mutually helpful relationship. Schröder will get a possibility to rebuild his worth on a visual stage with a possible playoff workforce, whereas the Celtics fill a significant gap at guard for a remarkably low value, with out compromising their prized monetary flexibility subsequent summer season.
Their different reclamation challenge, Josh Richardson, will think about as effectively. Richardson has a group of expertise that, taken all collectively, appear extremely intriguing in concept. He’s a protracted, rangy combo guard/ahead who can deal with the ball a bit, create just a little little bit of offense, knock down threes at a good clip and — most significantly — present versatile and impactful protection. The issue is that he’s by no means appeared to place all these expertise collectively on the similar time, and that’s the puzzle that Udoka must resolve to unlock his ceiling on this workforce.
Then there’s the youth motion, recent off of an invigorating Summer season League run. Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith went to Las Vegas and largely performed precisely in addition to you hope to see from sophomore first spherical draft picks, and now each appear slotted in as vital rotation contributors for the approaching season. Nesmith’s development is of specific curiosity; the Celtics don’t have an off-ball risk of the identical caliber as his theoretical ceiling in the intervening time.
The case in opposition to Boston exceeding expectations this season might merely be the convention itself. This can be the strongest crop of Jap Convention contenders in a while. Aside from presumably Philadelphia, the highest six seeds within the convention final season all have an inexpensive case for coming again higher this season, with a brand new playoff hopeful additionally rising in Chicago. It’s going to be a troublesome street to the highest of the East this yr.
In speaking by way of all these variables, although, you can begin to color an image of a 2021-22 Celtics roster that outperforms expectations. It could be one thing like an eightieth percentile consequence, however the Celtics have a possible pathway to house courtroom benefit within the first spherical of the playoffs, if no more. With two bona fide stars in Tatum and Brown, the window is all the time open; with some luck, this workforce may actually climb by way of.