Fresh start, turn the page, clean slate, new year, so on and so forth. The Celtics players and staff have reiterated those messages in various forms since the moment Celtics Media Day. Last year’s underwhelming, and frankly depressing season left a bad taste in the collective mouths of the organization, and to put it simply, they’ve moved on. Understandable.
The early-season themes are in stark contrast to last season’s; team chemistry is at an all-time high, Gordon Hayward is actually 100% back, and most importantly, nobody is expecting this team to win 67 games and be a lock for the Finals. And that is exactly how it should be, given the obvious drop-off in talent and depth due to the welcomed departure of Kyrie Irving and the un-welcomed departure of Al Horford.
Kemba Walker is a viable replacement for Irving, and he’s sure to see a jump in production from his Charlotte years with the Brad Stevens Point Guard Effect. Losing Horford, along with Aron Baynes, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Morris left a lot of holes in the rotation to be filled. But what the team loses in production, it gains in fun.
All I ask of my fellow Celtics fans and followers is this; PLEASE do not burden this team with the same expectations as last year.
Yeah, Danny Ainge turned Kyrie and Terry into Kemba and got two draft-night steals in Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards. Regardless, the frontcourt is not going to be good with Enes Kanter as the best center, especially defensively. Nothing against our corny-but-fairly-likable big man, but one of the reasons Portland couldn’t do a thing against Golden State in the Western Conference Finals last year was because Kanter was almost unplayable. He is too slow-footed to keep up with smaller, quicker centers, and his back-to-the-basket, post-playing style is rapidly fading out of the NBA. His only plus-skill is rebounding, and even that is one of the least-important skillsets to have. Rebounding requires skill, but great rebounding just requires a lot of effort.
I didn’t mean to slander Kanter like that, but here we are. I assume he begins the year in the starting lineup, with French rookie Vincent Poirier, Timelord, and Daniel Theis behind him, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Poirier or Timelord prove themselves and move into the starting five at some point in the season. With those two, you don’t get the offense that Kanter has the potential to give, but you’re sure as hell getting some defense.
Poirier is on record saying he likes to do “the dirty job,” and Timelord is perhaps the world’s greatest leaper. The quality of the team’s frontcourt depth will hinge heavily on whether or not Poirier and Timelord are serviceable centers, because if not, it could get real ugly on defense. Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye, and Williams are all good wing defenders, but Stevens’ system is more complete with a defensive savant at center, much like Horford was. Nobody will be able to fill that leadership role on defense right away, or at all this season, but it will be imperative that his loss is made up for.
(7’6″ internet sensation Tacko Fall could also be on the Celtics during the regular season, but it’s not a guarantee as of right now due to his Exhibit 10 contract so I won’t mention him in this blog in fear of getting my/our hopes up.)
There have been rumblings coming out of training camp that Hayward has looked like the best player on the team; this is a good thing. Lofty expectations would ruin the fun for this team of high-character individuals with such promising talent, but if Hayward reverts back to Salt Lake City Gordon, that bar can definitely be raised. A wing rotation of Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Brown is lethal offensively.
Him not being fully healed and not playing at an all-star level last season was probably the #1 reason why the Celtics sucked. He stayed in Boston this entire summer, rehabbed, worked, and now there’s nothing but extremely high praise for him. Brad Stevens, who is known not to hype up his own team, has said multiple times how impressed he is by Hayward so far. Kanter said he’s going to “shock the world.”
One can only put so much stock into training camp player and coach-speak, but they definitely weren’t this confident last year. And that says a lot. If the rumors are true, and Boston gets an All-star-caliber year from Hayward, they could make some noise in a league that’s more wide-open than it’s been in years.
I’ve said my piece about the frontcourt, the wings, and last but not least; the guards. I’ll start with Kemba.
Kemba Walker is really good and it’s well-documented. He was an all-NBA third-teamer last year. A starter on the All-star team. Celtics fans have been salivating over his lightning-quick handles and drives to the hoop. I don’t want to beat a dead horse with him, so I finish with this; I’m pretty glad he’s on the team.
Something that has been severely understated this off-season was the re-signing of Brad Wanamaker. Wanamaker was always solid in his very-limited minutes last season, and he should be bumped up to the backup point guard spot this season. Edwards looks to be a good young player, but Wanamaker’s steadiness and consistency is is needed on a second unit that is bereft of scoring and playmaking. Putting the weight on Edwards to be the primary creator when Kemba is resting right off the bat just doesn’t seem like a good idea to me; it’s high-risk, high-reward in a situation where it doesn’t really need to be. Start out the year with the veteran taking over for Kemba, and go from that based off of Edwards’ performance.
Things around the Celtics are different from last year in literally every way possible. The team being fun to watch is probably the most significant. As a fan base, we basically lost a season to all the dramatic hearsay that surrounded them last year. Now, we have a chance to truly enjoy basketball. The Celtics probably will not be great; but they don’t have to be great to be fun. And darn it, I wanna have fun when I watch basketball again.
P.S. Happy National Tac(k)o Day.
P.S.S. the perfect taco would have chorizo, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and hot sauce, preferably Sriracha. ‘Round these parts, WE STAN SRIRACHA.
By Chase Whitney