Season Preview: Eastern Conference Challengers- Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics had a troubled year in 2018/19, Tatum struggled, stars were injured and Kyrie's off court troubles brought a negative aura to the entire team. They made the playoffs but after sweeping the Indiana Pacers, they were dismantled 4-1 by Giannis & the Bucks.
It has been an interesting off season for the Celtics, as expected Kyrie Irving signed with the Brooklyn Nets but they brought in all-star point guard Kemba Walker to replace him and in the process they hopefully got rid of last seasons negativity. They also acquired center Enes Kanter, who signed a two year contract. Kanter is a decent scorer of the ball and will provide a big impact defensively, which they will need after losing Al Horford to Philly. Their main draft pick up was Carsen Edwards, who they picked up in the Horford trade, after he was selected by Philadelphia. Edwards starred in the summer league and has also impressed in preseason and could prove to be a very valuable asset off the bench in his rookie season in Boston.
Loss of their linchpin:
While Kyrie was the franchise player over the last couple of seasons, Al Horford was the linchpin of the Celtics team. The power forward kept this Celtics team ticking with his big defensive efforts and efficient scoring night after night. I think it shocked everyone in the NBA when it was announced that he would be signing with another team, let alone their eastern conference rivals, Philadelphia. The 33 year old has proven to be a quality player and the ultimate team-mate in his time in the NBA and he is going to leave a large hole in the Celtics organisation which they will need to fill if they are to challenge this season.
Hayward and Tatum connection:
A big upside for Boston will be the return of Gordan Hayward, the small forward struggled after returning from a horrible broken leg in 2017 but after a near full season & off-season the Celtics will be expecting to see the all-star they signed from Utah. Hayward will likely be paired alongside Jayson Tatum in the front court and will get big minutes every game in which the Celtics will need him to make good scoring and defensive contributions. Tatum will be starting small forward and now that Kyrie is no more in Boston, he will be seen as the main scorer for this team. Tatum had a difficult second season but the Celtics have all the faith in the world in this kid and believe he is this franchises future. This season he will be taking more shots and the Celtics will need him to make big points if they are to challenge for the Eastern Conference title.
The Jaylen Brown Conundrum:
Another talented youngster in Boston is Jaylen Brown but the 22 year old guard may see his future outside of Boston. The shooting guard who will enter free agency next summer, has rejected a number of extension offers from the Celtics in the hopes of receiving a more lucrative, long term contract. You can understand why Brown is pushing the Celtics after losing his starting place to Marcus Smart last season after starting 70 games in 2017/18. But we now look to what happens next? If the Celtics cannot agree a contract with Brown will they look to trade his contract away or keep him and hope they can agree a deal. We will have to wait and see on that but Brown is a very talented young player and alongside Tatum was expected to lead this franchise for the next 10 years. An unfortunate situation but one the Celtics will need to sort out quickly to stop off-court problems affecting the entire team like last season.
Kemba in for Kyrie:
The Celtics were able to replace Kyrie Irving with a fellow all-star point guard but Kemba will need to adapt his game to fit into this Celtics team. Walker has always been a sole-star in a struggling franchise and would always look to score before passing but I believe the Celtics management would have made it clear that he will need to look for passes and share the ball with the likes of Tatum and Hayward if he is going to succeed in Boston. Kemba was a huge pick-up for the Celtics and they will need him to show his all-star quality from the first tip-off to challenge the likes of Philly & Milwaukee.
The Celtics are the most successful team in NBA history and despite losing Al Horford and Kyrie Irving are still in a great position to have a great season. They will hope to be challenging for top spot but with the power and talent of the Sixers and Bucks, third or fourth spot may be more realistic but when it comes to play off time nobody will want to face this Boston team.
Season Prediction: 53-29-3rd place in the East
See the Celtics first game of the 2019/20 season against the Philadelphia 76ers live on Sky Sports @12:30 on Thursday morning.