After going to the Eastern Conference finals last May and getting beaten badly by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics decided to revamp their roster this offseason.
Now that the dust has settled, we are in a world where Marcus Smart is the longest tenured Boston Celtic. Despite the turnover, expectations are very high for Boston and as the season draws closer the hype continues to grow.
However, it may be time to pump the breaks on thinking Boston will jump out to a quick start. With so much roster turnover the lack of continuity is going to be apparent to start the season.
Just look at the starting lineup for starters. Kyrie Irving is new to the team, Jaylen Brown (my guess for starting 2) is only going into his second year after a rookie year that saw limited minutes, Gordon Hayward is new, and Aaron Baynes is new. That leaves only Al Horford as the steadying presence.
The Celtics are going to win a lot of games because of pure talent. Kyrie is one of the most clutch players in the league and Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving are all-stars.
Check out the first 20 games of the season the Celtics face teams such as Cleveland, Milwaukee (twice), San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Toronto, Golden State, and Miami two times.
That’s a slew of difficult opponents to start the season. My fear with these level teams in the early going is a lack of late game execution.
Sure against the Knicks and Kings of the world the Celtics will get by on their pure talent but when it comes to teams at a higher level Boston is going to hurt early in the season.
Remember when Isaiah Thomas arrived and there was debate for the better part of a year over whether or not he could be a fourth quarter go to guy. He solved that last season but now he’s gone and that sort of question is going to arise again.
Do the Celtics turn to Kyrie? Hayward? or even Horford, we know Brad Stevens has a tendency to go with the non-traditional option late in games (see Evan Turner back in 2014-2015).
The problem for Coach Stevens is going to be both managing egos and configuring lineups. We know Irving is going to want the ball, but so to will Hayward and maybe even Horford.
It is no stretch to envision a scenario where we see the Celtics stumble out to something such as an 11-9 start. Now, this won’t mean the end of the world by any stretch but a slow start would not go over well with the fans and media.
A slow start shouldn’t be attributed to anyone specific, it is simply a function of what the Celtics decided to do this offseason. They decided to give away some of their future assets in hopes of getting better now in the immediate future.
A slow start would not be a cause for concern in any way. It has been typical in the Brad Stevens era for the Celtics to come out after the all star break and look like a much better team.
Look for February or March to be the time we start to see the Celtics morph into what they are truly going to be as a unit. Hopefully by that time we have a clear vision of a starting 5 and a bench unit that clearly knows their rolls.
Overall, I just think we need to understand that the transition in the early part of the season is not going to be easy. The Celtics are counting on huge contributions from young players, specifically Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
Also, they are hoping to get consistent back up point guard production from third year pro Terry Rozier. We may even see rookie Semi Ojeleye counted on to be a big body off the bench.
Essentially it’s a mixed bag of unproven youngsters and veterans like Marcus Morris and Aaron Baynes who don’t yet have clearly defined roles. The start will be a lot of trial and error.
A lot of lineup changes, experimenting, and strategy will be tried out. The Celtics lost their defensive identity this offseason with the departures of Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley.
Marcus Smart will play a big role in re-establishing the defense. I don’t anticipate offense being an issue, other than the late game execution that I talked about.
A slow start is not an expectation by any means but just know if it happens it wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen. The Celtics will be just fine and by the end of the season the chemistry should be humming and they will be near the top of the East once more.