Slowly but surely the NBA Season is approaching. This past offseason was the quietest one there has been in Boston in quite some time. The team brought in no marquee free agents, trader Danny swung no deals, and the roster has essentially only two new faces.
Remaining stagnant was likely the best move for Boston as the impending returns of All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will be more than enough for a team who nearly made the finals last year without them.
Despite the lack of player movement there are still questions and uncertainty surrounding Boston going into this season.
- What is the rotation going to look like this season with everyone back?
Brad Stevens has a difficult job entering the new season. Boston is obviously loaded with talent, but beyond that they have nine players on the roster who could make a case for being in the starting lineup.
First things first, the starting lineup should be the same as it was on opening night last year: Kyrie Irving-Jaylen Brown-Jayson Tatum-Gordon Hayward-Al Horford. That is the Celtics best, most versatile, and most talented lineup.
Beyond that Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, and Aron Baynes could all make reasonable cases to start (the first two more so than the latter two). Stevens job is to find enough minutes to keep all these guys happy.
Smart and Baynes should be fine. Baynes is happy in any role and wants to win and Smart has embraced his do it all sixth man position in Boston. It is Roizer and Morris who will feel the minutes crunch the hardest after they both got so many playoff minutes.
Per basketball reference, Rozier averaged 36.6 minutes per game in the postseason last year while Morris had 29.6. Neither of them will reach that mark per game this coming season. This is my best guess at how Steven’s will divide his minutes:
PG – Irving 28 mpg, Rozier 24 mpg
SG – Jaylen Brown 26 mpg, Marcus Smart 28 mpg
SF – Jayson Tatum 26 pmg, Marcus Morris 18 mpg
PF – Gordon Hayward 25 mpg, Daniel Theis 14 mpg
C – Al Horford 28 mpg, Aron Baynes 14 mpg
That rotation leaves 9 minutes unaccounted for in the rotation. Those nine minutes could be used on a deeper bench guy such as Semi Ojeleye, Jabar Bird, or Brad Wanamaker, or they could be simply stretched to one of those 10 in the rotation.
The good news for Boston is their depth will allow them to rest guys and the team should be playing in a lot of blowouts which will spread minutes out. Hayward has a low number as I imagine he will be brought along slowly.
It would be surprising if anyone on the team averaged 30 minutes a game. Irving, Horford, and Smart should be amongst the lead for the highest average, but keep in mind these numbers are just that – averages.
The starters minutes may seem low, but in a tight game they would like all creep into the 30-35 minute mark with Rozier and Smart playing the most behind them.
2. Can we expect anything out of Robert Williams?
The short answer to this question is no. Do not expect to see much, if anything at all from Boston’s first round pick in this summer’s draft. As most know by now the former Texas A&M big man’s career got off to a rocky start in Boston with his missed flight.
Williams will likely spend the majority of this season in the G-League. Williams has all the physical tools imaginable, so he will benefit from getting run in down there and learning how to be a pro with Al Horford and Aron Baynes in practice.
Of the five guys who make up the very back of the Celtics bench, Williams is probably last on the list of guys with a chance to make a contribution. Jabari Bird, Semi Ojeleye, Guerschon Yabusele, and Brad Wanamaker would all likely have their number called before the big man.
If Williams is seen at any point this year getting play time during significant minutes the team has likely had some injury issues. Otherwise, consider this a development year for the new big man.
3. Will Terry Rozier accept a bench role?
The past couple of months have been nothing but positive for “Scary Terry.” He played wonderfully in the postseason, created his own personal brand, and now has been dominating summer with workout videos and guest appearances on various shows.
Any player who can Facetime their GM during the draft and get him to reveal the draft pick before he’s been selected is probably a safe bet to stick around on a roster. However, the Rozier case is interesting.
After playing so well down the stretch last year and helping carry the Celtics on that long playoff run Rozier will be moving back to the bench. While he has been open in saying that is not an issue and he will receive ample playing time, there is potential for things to sour.
It’s one thing to say there will be no issues, but it’s another thing for that to actually play out. If all pans out perfectly Rozier will adjust with no problem and he could be a leading contender for sixth man of the year.
On the other hand, if things don’t go so well he could be on the way out. Rozier is in the last year of his rookie deal and while Boston possess his bird rights, it is hard to imagine a scenario where they retain Rozier and Irving after just extending Marcus Smart.
There’s no easy answer to the Rozier question. If he accepts his role and plays well, he’ll stick around and then he is looking at a nice payday elsewhere in the offseason or potentially re-upping with Boston depending on what Kyrie Irving does.
If things go south, Rozier could be dangled at the trade deadline to avoid losing him for nothing in the summer. Also, keep an eye on New Orleans, if the team struggles down there a certain All-Star big man might be available for the right price come February. That’s a package that could involve Rozier.
4. Are the Finals a lock?
Up until July 17, it appeared the Celtics were a near virtual lock to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals next June. Then, the Kawhi Leonard trade happened and now the MVP candidate will (likely) be suiting up for Raptors next year.
Boston remains a tier above the Philadelphia 76ers after Philly failed to make any big improvements this offseason, but now the Raptors have put themselves on par with the Celtics.
If Leonard does indeed play, has the right mindset, and returns to his form of the past the Raptors are a threat to Boston in the East.
Leonard is a legit Top 5 player in the league and Toronto has a roster around him that includes one of the best, if not the best bench unit, and they can match up with Boston physically.
Kyle Lowry, O.G. Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Danny Green are all bulldog defenders who can play defense and knock down threes (the book is still out on Siakam in that regard). The Raptors are the best bet to knock Boston off of the one seed and to push them deep in a playoff series.
If this Celtics stays healthy they still have a very real shot of reaching the Finals, but if these Raptors become what they have the potential to be, look out.
5. Is Kyrie staying or leaving?
Now we’ve reached the million dollar question. Is Kyrie Irving–the 26-year-old star, movie producer/actor, and self proclaimed flat earth enthusiast–going to resign and keep his talents in Boston?
Irving refusing to sign a new deal prior to this season is not an alarming sign, it’s smart. He would be leaving a whole lot of money on the table if he had resigned now.
Irving has things made in Boston. He’s the star of the team, he has incredibly high level talent around him, he has a stable coach and management, and his team is set to contend for the foreseeable future.
Still, there is no telling what is on the mind of Kyrie. My gut tells me he stays, but the NBA is impossible to predict these days as far as player movement goes.
The first things that would help with Irving staying is having a strong 2018-2019 season, and that is what Boston has shifted their attention to now.
Follow Daniel on Twitter @dpriest3