The Boston Celtics’ season came to an unfortunate end as they lost to the Miami Heat 125-113 in Game six of the Eastern Conference Finals. After a long, exciting, nerve-racking, and fun bubble experience, it’s time for the Celtics to shift their focus towards the offseason. What direction does the team decide to move in? Who is coming back next year? What new faces join the fun?
What Do The Boston Celtics Do This Offseason?
What Went Wrong for Boston This Series?
After being knocked off by the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, it is clear where the difference lied between the two teams. While Boston possessed more star power in the combination of Kemba Walker–Jayson Tatum–Jaylen Brown–Marcus Smart–Gordon Hayward, it was not enough to match the fire power provided by Miami and their insanely deep lineup. Miami was constructed to halt Boston at nearly every corner. Their rotation from top-to-bottom was filled with an overwhelming amount of weapons from three-point shooting, rim protection, perimeter defense, and everything else in between.
Get A Bench
Boston enjoyed a very lengthy playoff run, and how they were able to do so with a bench constructed like theirs is remarkable. However, it wasn’t enough to kick it into the next gear. A bench unit consisting of Brad Wanamaker, Robert Williams, Enes Kanter, and Grant Williams, despite having a few bright spots, is not championship material.
So, on Boston’s to-do list needs to be to find some bench support. This season, the Celtics ranked 29th in the league in bench points per game at 28.5 PPG. Ideally, if they can land an elite shooter off the bench, it would do wonders for this squad, as it was essentially what killed them. If Boston can reel in a bench shooter, such as Joe Harris, who is an unrestricted free agent, then that alone is a massive upgrade for Boston heading into next season. Harris is due for approximately $12 million this offseason, so Boston would require a bit of shuffling, but the point stands. Get some help off the bench.
Let’s Get Crazy
Speaking of bench scoring, if Boston wanted to get really crazy, they could make another move to kick their scoring production up a notch. Assuming Brad Wanamaker does not return next season, as he is an unrestricted free agent, then Boston will need to find a point guard to fill in and assume minutes while Kemba Walker sits. It may be a gamble, but it just might work. Danny Ainge should pick up the phone and dial for Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas, 31, hasn’t quite been the same player he was since he left Boston in 2017. He enjoyed a relatively strong season on a depleted Washington Wizards team this season before being dealt to the Los Angeles Clippers, who immediately bought him out. In 40 games this season, Thomas shot a career high 41% from three-point on 4.7 attempts per game. While it may not be the prettiest suggestion, Boston needs vets, and it needs bench scoring. Thomas brings both of the needs to the table.
Is there a real likelihood about this? Probably not. Would it help the Celtics. I don’t know, probably? But is it an upgrade over a bench unit led by Brad Wanamaker, offensively, yes. It brings in a veteran scorer with playoff experience and a known closer. While his days playing at that elite level may be behind him, there’s a hole in Boston that Thomas could step in and fill.
What Is the Issue at Center?
Celtics fans have heard it all season. They need to go get a “true center”. While the team’s star power on the wings and at the guards was enough to win, the clear need for a strong, quality big man was there. It was an issue all season, no matter how much I supported Daniel Theis.
Winning with a 6’8 center just isn’t plausible. Theis is an underrated defender and a key player in the rotation, but the team needs an upgrade. The potential is there for Robert Williams to step in and assume a larger role next season, but the team should explore the market for an outside hire.
Let’s get even MORE crazy. Enter DeMarcus Cousins.
While one might immediately turn their head at the possibility. Take a look at it from this standpoint. Enes Kanter ate up $5 million from the Celtics this season. He has a player option to return next season, but Boston needs to consider another route, especially with someone like Boogie on the market.
Kanter is a large body, but a liability on defense, Daniel Theis shows heart, but he’s undersized and can’t stay in the game to save his life. Robert Williams has serious potential and shows great flashes, but the Celtics need someone with both combined size, strength, and touch, and few other candidates on the market fit the bill like Boogie.
The last two contracts that Cousins took on were for the veteran minimum, and since he hasn’t play in over a year, he should not be an issue price-wise. The risk-reward scale weighs in favor of reward for that alone. While he unfortunately went down with an ACL tear, it does not spell the end of Cousins’ career and teams will be actively pursuing him. The fit for him in Boston is there. After tearing his Achilles, he returned and was entered into the dominant Warriors lineup, and still managed to be effective, posting 16 and 8 in 30 games. How is that not going to translate to Boston, where the hole is bigger than it was in Golden State OR Los Angeles?
What Is Next for the Core?
Think back to last season. On paper, the Celtics were a championship favorite. With a roster consisting of Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, a returning Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Morris, among others. That is a LOADED roster, and they flopped. A second-round beating by the Bucks spelled the end of that run. The Celtics swapped out Kyrie, Al, Rozier, Morris, and Aron Baynes, and brought in Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter. From the moment Walker signed on the dotted line, night and day, the energy in the organization flipped.
There was cohesion, even before the season started. Despite the team underperforming, Boston had four representatives on Team USA in the FIBA World Cup (Kemba, Tatum, Brown, Smart), and they spent the summer developing their chemistry, which we saw on display in the playoffs. But we’ll get to that.
Once Tatum signs on the dotted line for his max extension he is bound to receive from Boston, those four are the Celtics core for the next three, four, even five seasons. Think of where the team was at the start of the season, and where they ended. Expectations were lowered. After losing two All-Stars, many thought of Boston as a fringe team, maybe a fourth, fifth, or sixth seed team. That wasn’t the case.
This team revived Celtics’ basketball. They adapted to the “addition by subtraction” concept and it led to All-star and All-NBA level production from Tatum, Brown got near All-Star level, Gordon had the strongest season since his days in Utah, and Smart became an elite two-way threat with a strong three-point shot.
In a season like we’ve never seen before, this team had a series of ups-and-downs. They’ve endured numerous roster injuries, overtime thrillers, late-game collapses, comeback victories, blown leads, and everything in between.
To call this season as a whole a failure is extremely unfair and outright wrong. By definition, a conference final appearance a year after a second-round elimination is progress in an of itself. But last season’s roster was not stable, not cohesive, and not locked in. This team is. They are building, not rebuilding.
Start with the young stars. What other team can say the have a 23 and 22 year old with that has reached the conference final more times in their careers than having missed it altogether? Brown and Tatum have grown into elite two-way threats that are to be taken seriously by the entire league. Tatum enjoyed All-Star and All-NBA recognition this season, and it’s not going to be long until Brown receives the same recognition, maybe as soon as next season.
In addition, those that are calling for Brad Stevens to be fired are not aware of the disfunction that will come with that move. There are around twenty teams in the league that would FIRE their own coach just to hire Stevens on their team. Yes, he isn’t perfect, and one would wish he’d develop more of an edge to light a fire when the team stalls as much as they did in the playoffs. But it is his headstrong, calm, and collected manner that makes him one of the best coaches in the league. He has his work cut out for him, but his job should be secured, because he is a much better option than many others across the league.
Is any of this likely to happen? Probably not. It would be pretty safe to expect much of this team back together next season, which isn’t exactly a failure, but Boston has it’s work cut out for them this offseason.
The team will be back next year. A reloaded Tatum and Brown, with more added to their stacked arsenals, along with a fully healthy Kemba and Hayward, is going to be a threat to the league. Put trust in Danny Ainge, trust in the system, and believe in the Celtics. The future is bright in Boston. A minor setback for a major comeback.