The Celtics season from hell is over and an off-season of change shook the NBA landscape. The amount of impact players who switched teams in the last few months is staggering. The entire landscape of the NBA has changed and we are now looking at a more wide-open field than we’ve seen in years.
- Kyrie Irving: Most obviously to Celtics fans (and non-Celtics fans) is the loss of Kyrie Irving. For two years, Kyrie was a whirling dervish on the parquet floor. He’s a basketball wizard and he’s one of the most talented players to ever grace a Celtics uniform. It’s just a shame he couldn’t wear it a bit longer. The stars never aligned for Kyrie and the Celtics. The beginning of his tenure saw the Gordon Hayward injury and an injury of his own going into the playoffs. Coming back this past year proved more difficult than anyone (including me) could have predicted. Obviously all this resulted (or maybe it never mattered?) in Kyrie going to the Brooklyn Nets furthur enraging Celtics fans. I will admit, my perception of Kyrie has changed. I went from wanting every single colorway of his shoes to wanting to destroy the jersey and shirts I purchased during his tenure. However, as the dust has settled, I’m over it. If a player doesn’t want to be in Boston, they shouldn’t. Time will tell what his legacy becomes but one thing’s certain for Celtics fans…Kyrie Irving is not walking through that door.
- Al Horford: This one hurt….and in no small part because of where he ended up: dreaded Philadelphia; to pair perfectly with Joel Embiid. Not in a million years did I picture Al Horford leaving the Celtics. I thought we as a fanbase had sold him on Boston forever. This to me, is like Ray Allen leaving for the Heat….but at least Jesus Shuttlesworth brought us a ‘ship in ’08. It feels like Big Al left when the going got tough and I guess who can blame him. Suddenly, he was looking at a roster of people younger than him with no discernible go-to star (in Kyrie’s wake) and looking back on a season which seemed miserable for not only him but the team as a whole. I don’t begrudge Horford a new start, I just can’t believe it’s in Philly. Having said all that, Horford was the rock and the foundation of these Celtics teams the last three years. He’s the most versatile 2-way big in the NBA and the hole he’s left with the Celtics is one that won’t be filled easily or for awhile.
- Kemba Walker: Out of the shadows, Kemba Walker steps up to save our franchise and the fledgling young core that Danny Ainge has constructed. It’s no secret that the young guys need some help . Tatum isn’t yet ready to carry the offensive load and Jaylen Brown has shown himself to be a capable NBA player but hasn’t taken that next step to all-star status. Kemba Walker will now step into the role we thought Kyrie would play of mentoring the young guys and leading by example. My expectations for Kemba go as follows: fit into the Celtics culture without losing yourself as a player, foster the growth of the young players around you to better facilitate success and finally: to lead this team. I think the leadership aspect will be the biggest difference compared to Kyrie. Charlotte always played hard with Kemba on the floor and it’s something I expect to see out of the young, impressionable C’s this year. I’m excited for the Kemba Walker era but I’m even more excited for our first Cardiac Kemba moment in the Boston Garden.
- Enes Kanter: I have to be 100% honest here… Enes Kanter was the last big man I expected the Celtics to sign. I know him as a slow-footed defender with an elite set of offensive moves on the block. It’s not that I don’t like Kanter or it’s not like I haven’t seen him enough, it’s just that I haven’t noticed him whenever he is on the court. That being said, Kanter has already endeared himself to Celtics fans via social media and soundbites and I think his play will reflect that. I know he is a man of conviction and one who stands up for what he believes in and those are values that are held in high esteem among Celtics fans. I expect Kanter to perform to the best of his abilities and to be very effective in his role under Brad Stevens. However, I do expect myself to scream at the TV whenever he misses a defensive rotation.
- The Jays: Jayson Tatum & Jaylen Brown: I’m putting these two into “Key Additions” for this reason: this is when we see who they really are. The Kyrie/Horford umbrella is gone. Yes, Kemba is going to take most of the load this season but these two young guys have to step up and show the NBA why Danny Ainge deemed them untouchable during trade talks. As Celtics fans, we’ve missed out on some great free agents and trade scenarios simply because these two were untouchable. It’s time for the NBA to see why…
I like this team. I think we are going to be a tough, hard-nosed unit. I think we may struggle defensively but I know the effort will always be there. Offensively, I see us as a team predicated on ball movement and I see a more cohesive unit a la the Isaiah Thomas-led Celtics teams of the Brad Stevens era. I also think Gordon Hayward will be better.
Last year, expectations killed us more than anything but that’s the nature of sports. Put up or shut up. All I’m hoping for this season is a strong-willed, energetic team that is happy to be out there. Kemba should have a career year under Brad Stevens and I expect Kanter to perform above his pay grade as well. As noted above, I expect Jaylen and Jayson to both take the necessary steps towards NBA stardom and I expect Gordon Hayward to get his game back to that same threshold. Beyond that, I won’t predict or expect anything else. Philly will be good, Milwaukee will be better and I still think Toronto is in the mix. The Celtics will have to fight tooth and nail to be in the conversation with those teams and I could hope for nothing better. It’s time to get back to Celtics basketball, time to prove doubters wrong and time to exceed expectations once again. I’ve still got my C’s up and I can’t wait to see how this team handles the wars to come…
C’s up til infinity….
ps: see you in a couple months for a more comprehensive season preview…