The Boston Celtics have been a headline-stealing organization over the past several years, for better or for worse. From the improbable Eastern Conference Finals run to the Isaiah Thomas trade to the Kyrie Irving fiasco, the Celtics have remained a hot topic in the NBA world. Now, with a new season on the horizon, Boston will field a new-look roster. Setting realistic expectations for the new Boston Celtics is the key to measuring the success of the franchise moving forward.
Expectations for the 2019-20 Boston Celtics
Evaluating the Roster
The Boston Celtics are still a young team. Though they’ve made the Eastern Conference Finals twice in the last three years, several key pieces of those teams are now gone. Kemba Walker is the new face of the franchise in the wake of Irving’s departure, though Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown may challenge that assumption. The East is as strong as it has been in years, and Boston may not be up to the challenge of winning it just yet.
In the era of social media, 24-hour news cycles, and instant gratification, the art of patience has been lost. For this team, though, patience will be a virtue.
Here's the Celtics training camp roster: pic.twitter.com/o2NsU7Lg6M
— Nicole Yang (@nicolecyang) September 30, 2019
There is existing chemistry between the young trio of Tatum, Brown, and Marcus Smart, but new faces will take time to integrate into the lineup. Walker is a team-centric point guard, but will surely have to adjust to the pieces around him. If he can return to All-Star form, Gordon Hayward will be the wildcard for the team. Robert Williams will undoubtedly see an increased role for the first time in his young career. Rookies Romeo Langford, Carsen Edwards, and Grant Williams have yet to see the floor in the NBA.
In other words, it will take time for this team to gel. Outside of the presumed starters, though, there is minimal experience on the roster. Seasoned veteran Al Horford is no longer in the locker room. NBA Champion Aron Baynes is now on the Phoenix Suns. Enes Kanter is a welcomed sight in the wake of those departures but is certainly no replacement for the void they left. Celtic fans may be glad Irving is gone, but he had more Finals experience than anyone else on the squad.
Boston Celtics vs. the East
The Eastern Conference is as good as ever. Though Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard ventured out West after a one-year stint in the conference, the field is still tough. Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will be on a revenge tour after his Milwaukee Bucks were outed in the ECF last season. The Philadelphia 76ers are an ever-improving squad that has the talent for a Finals run. The Indiana Pacers will be back in the mix with the return of Victor Oladipo. The Brooklyn Nets, even without Kevin Durant, will be a legitimate threat.
The Boston Celtics fall somewhere in that mix, but exactly where remains to be seen.
Even with the East improving, though, the Celtics should absolutely be a playoff team. With veterans in Walker and Hayward and a young core of Tatum, Brown, and Smart, there is no excuse to not finish in the top-eight in the conference. The difference in hosting a first-round matchup and going on the road, though, will be up to the performance of the newcomers. This young team will have to learn quickly to stay afloat in the race for a top-four seed.
A season ago, it was “championship or bust” for the Celtics. Well, they busted. This year, setting realistic expectations is the key to measuring success after the fact. If last season was a failure because of a second-round bounce, then perhaps the bar should be lowered. It should, in reality, due to the ever-changing nature of the NBA and all the free agency reshuffling that occurred this summer.
So, where does the bar go?
Making the playoffs is a must. A failure to reach the postseason is absolutely unacceptable for a team with as much talent as the Celtics. However, with the East as good as it is, it may be a bit unrealistic to expect the team to emerge as a favorite once they make the playoffs. Being hopeful and optimistic is great, but being realistic is just as important.
Ultimately, the ceiling for this team could be an appearance in the NBA Finals, though it would be a brutal uphill battle. A more realistic cap would be the Eastern Conference Finals, but even that takes a combination of luck and skill that only four of 30 teams end up with any given year.
Perhaps the perfect measuring stick for the 2019-20 Celtics is the 2018-19 Celtics. A season ago, the team was as “Jekyll and Hyde” as any team in the league. Their inconsistencies bled into the postseason, leading to a disappointing finish. If the Celtics can find a true identity and embrace it, that’s an improvement. Winning 50 games (compared to 49 a season ago), is an improvement. Making the second round of the playoffs and turning in a competitive outing, even with another second-round loss, would be an improvement.
Thus is the key to setting expectations for the 2019-20 Celtics. This season is not about winning it all. The new season is based around improvement from last season as the young core continues to grow into a future contender. And that future may be nearer than many expect.
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