Let’s make this one perfectly clear, the only reason the Celtics are this low on the list is because I absolutely, positively hate these guys. The reason they’re not any lower and closer to a team like Brooklyn? Welp, there’s a lot to like here from an actual objective basketball standpoint.
Any conversation about the Boston Celtics has to start with Brad Stevens who has quickly established himself as one of the game’s most talented young coaches. While I don’t doubt Stevens’ talent for a second I do wonder just how good he’s been and how much he’s benefited from an entire culture of basketball idiots like me regurgitating opinions like “Hey Brad Stevens is one of the game’s most talented young coaches!”. I mean, I don’t even watch Celtics games and I somehow know I’m expected to say how good this friggin’ guy is.
All that aside, it’s pretty hard to argue with results and the Celtics definitely outkicked their coverage last year, going 14-9 after acquiring Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline and bulling their way into a 7th seed playoff spot. Once there, they were obviously overmatched by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers, but they were decidedly frisky in the contest with a strong showing from their other mid-season acquisition Jae Crowder who was given the enviable task of guarding Lebron James. After a summer spent fortifying their frontcourt by eating David Lee’s salary and signing the big-time underrated Amir Johnson to a two-year $24 million deal, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the C’s improving and building on the late season success they had last year. Especially when you consider that Johnson should be able to contribute big time to the Celtics’ worst issue last year in protecting the rim.
Of course, the implicit cost of the 2015 playoff run was the loss of a lottery pick and the addition of yet another good-not-great player to a roster that has a logjam at almost every single position. I’M SORRY CAN WE STOP FOR A SECOND! That is a real-life picture of Terry Rozier and comes from a website that says his favorite food is spaghetti with ranch and sugar. I CAN’T MAKE THIS SHIT UP!! Pundits point to this exact problem (the overabundance of decent talent, not the spaghetti with ranch) with the Celtics, saying their desire to be competitive has kept them from hitting a real superstar draft pick (Don’t sleep on Marcus Smart this year!) and putting them in the much dreaded NBA no man’s land of solid competency. To that retort, I’d say the Celtics made the playoffs last year, remain on the upswing, and that whole conversation is irrelevant to this ranking anyway. Maybe I’ll do another deep dive if it brings Rabin back in for some clicks. Besides, where are the Sixers anyway? 3 more years away?? 4??? #Trustthegoddamnprocess.
The abundance of those good-not-great players will certainly give Stevens a fun challenge in allocating minutes and calling out the ideal rotations for a given situation. And again, while people treat this as a detriment (and maybe it is in the long-run, with not giving young guys significant minutes) this is going to be super-benefifcial during the regular season where the Celtics can stay fresh and attack opponents with their youth and energy. Look for these guys to definitely improve on their record from last year, though the only real guys I want to see on the floor remain Crowder and Smart, as everyone else seems to be relegated to some kind of specialist/situation-dependent skillset role.
One more time back to Stevens, though, because I think it’s impossible to overstate how wide open this Eastern Conference is. Pencil in the Cavs and the Bulls obviously for high seeds, although I think its more than likely that both of these squads stumble out of the gate or decide to rest players with an eye towards the postseason. After that, the second tier of Washington/Milwaukee/Toronto/Atlanta are fairly strong regression candidates, all of which could be absolutely torpedoed by an injury to a key player. I’m not saying it’s likely, but the possibility is certainly there for the C’s to snag homecourt advantage and host a playoff series. And if they do, I am all the way in on baby-faced Brad.