The off-season is basically over, free agency came and went, and the Boston Celtics look…different.
Kemba Walker is gone, now in a Knicks uniform. So is Evan Fournier. Kemba was traded to OKC and then bought out before signing a 2-year 16-million-dollar deal. Fournier cashed in on his Olympics performance and signed for $18M/year. Al Horford came back from OKC and a $16M trade exception came in Fournier’s place.
Tristan Thompson is also gone, not that I am complaining, but he is. Josh Richardson joined in his place. Then with the move I am most excited about this off-season, Dennis Schroeder signed for the MLE. Yes, he struggled in the playoffs, but he is a strong defender and can create shots for the offense.
In Summer League Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith looked like they took the steps necessary to be legitimate role players on this team. Meanwhile, some others like Carsen Edwards looked a bit lost and like cut candidates.
Jaylen Needs to Run the Show
So, now that the rundown is over, let’s get to the prediction and previewing. Now I want to remind everyone that I am not a soothsayer, so I cannot see the future, but I can give my best guess as to how things will go based on stats, moves, and good old-fashioned gut feelings.
First things first, we are very much a playoff team. So, ya know, relax a bit. The Jays will get us there and I think they will take another step, particularly Jaylen Brown.
Here is my biased opinion, Jaylen Brown is the best player on the Boston Celtics. Yup, said it, own it, and I will die on this hill. Jaylen is the two-way force that you need in this league to succeed. However, Jayson Tatum is right there with him and the two of them together create the most fearsome 1-2 punch 25 and under in the league.
I believe that Jaylen will have the ball in his hands a bit more in a playmaking capacity this season and will be able to deliver the goods. Jayson will be the primary scorer, but Jaylen will take that all-around role and allow JT to go for potentially 30 this season. I truly believe that for the Celtics to maximize their potential Jaylen needs to ease off the trigger a little and focus on passing and setting up the offense.
What Should the Lineup Look Like?
Outside of the Jay’s here is how I believe the roles should break down for the Celtics. Robert Williams III should be the starting Center. This is a young guy with DPOY upside, remember he had 9 blocks in the playoffs in a single game! His verticality and physicality is nothing short of a deterrent near the rim, and his dunks are THUNDEROUS. He is the high-energy guy that pairs perfectly with Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard.
Now, I am of the mindset that maybe starting Payton Pritchard is the best move, and bringing Dennis off the bench for that high-impact scoring would be beneficial. The Celtics need someone to ensure the offense doesn’t die when Jayson and Jaylen are off the floor, Schroeder specializes in that. I know he wants to start, but he thrives off the bench.
Payton Pritchard is nothing short of a sniper, and man does the kid love to launch from deep. I think having someone like that in your starting lineup can be a really great way of opening up lanes for the Jay’s. Look at what Duncan Robinson has done for Miami. You are afraid of him, he can and will rip your heart out with deep threes, and that is the role I envision for Payton Pritchard. BOMBS AWAY!!!
Schroeder, Horford, and Nesmith (another three-point maven) would make Boston’s bench one of the better running units in the league. Add in Josh Richardson and another player (maybe Jabari Parker?) and this unit could be the energizer that irritates other teams as the stars rest.
Now, I have to say a lot of this rests on a very specific thing happening. Ime Udoka has to stop Marcus Smart. I know he signed an extension, but he cannot continue to think he is a score-first guy in this league. Fresh off of a season where he shot 33% from deep and 39% from the field, Marcus Smart needs to get back to being the guy that he thrives as. A defensive stalwart whose energy and fire cause opposing teams to lose sleep.
No more pulling from 35 feet because you hit your last 3. Also, no more 15 shot attempt games. Oh, and no more playing like you average 25. Be the defensive player you know you are, facilitate, and hit a shot when open. This is the best version of Marcus Smart. Believe me, the Boston Celtics didn’t pay you for your scoring. Leadership and defense, two things Marcus does as well as anyone.
A New Era is Coming…
Now, as far as trades this season, don’t get your hopes up. I don’t think many, if any, are coming. That TPE is being saved. For who? Well, Bradley Beal. Yup, mark it down, Bradley Beal is going to come to Boston next off-season and form a big 3 with Tatum and Brown. This will be accomplished by a sign-and-trade that includes Horford, Smart, probably a few picks, and the $16M TPE. Beal is going to sign for the max, probably around 40 million, so the Celtics are going to need to get to that number to get him. Horford has 10 million guaranteed, so now they have 30 million to cover. Smart will make 17 next year, now they have 13 to cover. Enter the TPE and you have the salaries matched. Throw in a few lightly protected picks and that seems like a deal to me.
Remember, if Beal wants out he is an unrestricted free agent, the Wizards can’t stop him. So getting something is better than nothing.
This season will be better than last. Look for the Boston Celtics to outduel the Knicks, 76ers, and pretty much every other Eastern Conference team, not names Brooklyn and Milwaukee. Miami is a solid contender now with Lowry, but he is getting up there and the tires are going to come off eventually. Chicago got better, but their lack of 3 point shooting will be their downfall. Ben Simmons still can’t shoot and now he isn’t happy, so that’s a problem. Overall, I think this Celtics team is better, deeper, and more cohesive than last year’s. The Jays will be All-Stars again, Marcus Smart will re-enter the DPOY conversation, and Rob Williams has the potential to join him. Schroeder could be Sixth Man of the Year if he comes off the bench. Lots of potential here, and expect Udoka to deliver a better product than Brad Stevens did.
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