Making Sense of the Celtics Roster

As the NBA preseason is upon us and the season begins in just a few short weeks, it’s a good time to make heads and tails of the Boston Celtics roster after an extremely busy offseason. Several key players have been shipped elsewhere and many new faces will be donning the green and gold for the first time in 2021. Let’s take an in-depth look at the Cs roster and make a prediction or two along the way.

One of the biggest impacts on the roster, although not surprising, was the exit of G Kemba Walker in a trade with the New York Knicks. He was joined earlier this offseason by former Celtic Evan Fournier and now on opening night, the Cs will have to face their former teammates at Madison Square Garden. Walker’s chronic knee issues made it difficult for him to ever have the impact on the Celtics everyone expected and it felt like he spent as much time not playing as he did suiting up. I had high hopes for his Cs tenure, but now he has a fresh start in the building he dominated as a member of the UConn Huskies.

With the absence of Kemba, the Celtics needed to add to their guard depth this offseason and they did by bringing in G Josh Richardson and G Dennis Schroder. Schroder is a fascinating get because he wrongly bet on his value on the open market and turned down a big option with the Los Angeles Lakers. His salary is a steal and I believe he will be motivated to prove himself and earn back the big money contract, which only helps the Cs. Richardson and Schroder join returnees G Marcus Smart, G Payton Pritchard, G/F Jaylen Brown, G/F Aaron Nesmith, and G/F Romeo Langford as backcourt players on the roster. The Cs also brought in young guards Theo Pinson and Garrison Mathews and 3-year veteran Ryan Arcidiacono, although I’m not sure if any of the latter group will make the roster.

In the front court, the Celtics parted ways with C/F Tristan Thompson who was generally a huge disappointment in his short time with the team. There weren’t a lot of career highlights while wearing the green jersey and with the rise of Robert Williams and the return of C/F Al Horford and C Enes Kanter, there wasn’t a spot for him on the roster. The Cs also brought in F Juancho Hernangomez who probably has the edge on a roster spot, while C/F Bruno Fernando, F Sam Hauser, and F Juwan Morgan will need to really compete to be on the final 15. The new guys join F Grant Williams and F Jayson Tatum as a pretty solid group. One storyline I’m interested in watching closely this year is whether Al Horford can return to form and be an important piece of the roster. He struggled significantly in Philadelphia, but by all accounts loves Boston and is really excited to be back.

While there are certainly mixed feelings on this Celtics roster, I think the X-factor addition this offseason was head coach Ime Udoka. By all accounts he is a well-respected coach who will want this team to be tough and fierce on the court like his personality and that identity could really help this team in 2021. I don’t know if the Celtics got markedly better on paper this offseason, but they have a bunch of guys that have the potential to lift this team in the standings and make them better than some think. A motivated Schroder can distribute the ball and Richardson can find his shot in order to compliment Brown and Tatum, while an improved front court can take some pressure off and make them a better team overall. If they can gain a toughness from Udoka, this team could have a really solid season.

Bold Prediction

5th Place in the Eastern Conference, 46-36

I think many analysts are too low on the Celtics this year. They certainly aren’t nearly as good as the top teams in the conference, the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks, and are at least a tick below the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks, but I think they can be better than the Philadelphia 76ers with their Ben Simmons drama. That puts them in the 5th spot in the Eastern Conference for me, although I actually think they could sneak into 4th if everything went perfectly (or things went poorly for other teams). On the flip side, I wouldn’t be shocked if they dropped to 7th or 8th, where many others have them pegged. There are so many X-factors that we have yet to see play out with several new pieces and a new coach, but why not be more optimistic at this point in the year?

Trader Brad Strikes Again

To say this offseason has been eventful for the Boston Celtics is an understatement. Beginning with the surprising promotion of Brad Stevens to GM following the retirement of Danny Ainge, there has been a roster rebuild and restructure including several trades and player moves. While there is obviously still time to make more changes, it’s time to take a glance at the new-look Celtics roster.

Guards

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The group of guards and guard depth looks quite different for the Celtics going into the 2021 season. The first big move of the offseason was to unload Kemba Walker’s salary with a 1st and 2nd round pick for Al Horford and Moses Brown. While it saved salary, it opened up a glaring hole at point guard. It appeared they were considering a PG replacement by bringing in fan favorite Kris Dunn, only to trade him away for Juan Hermangomez. The PG move in the middle of trading for and trading away Dunn was free agent Dennis Schroder. We all know the story by now, but Schroder bet on himself and turned down a big extension from the Los Angeles Lakers only to find no market and sign for peanuts in comparison with the Celtics. The value is definitely there for the almost 28-yr old PG.

As often as Walker was injured, they got worse at the PG this offseason. I anticipate they will use Schroder, along with Payton Pritchard as a ball handler, with some Marcus Smart mixed in. Pritchard could very well take the next step and be a strong NBA PG, but he’s yet mostly unproven and other than Summer League and Pro-Am games, hasn’t consistently shown he can handle NBA competition.

As far as the SG is concerned, the Celtics lost Evan Fournier and brought in Josh Richardson, which depending on which you prefer, is either a wash or a slight downgrade. Fournier didn’t play a ton last year for the Cs and appeared in just 42 games combined with Orlando, but he had his best year shooting the 3 (41%). Richardson is not as strong of a shooter in general and gives up 2 inches on Fournier. All-in-all, I think this group has gotten slightly worse, but with Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart untouched as the top guards, I’m not sure the difference is significant enough.

Forwards

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Where I think the Celtics improved this offseason is in the small/power forward spots. The Cs parted ways with Tristan Thompson after the season, who was mostly a flop during his tenure with the franchise. Brad brought in 2 really interesting pieces to fill out the forward depth. Bruno Fernando is an interesting wild card that I think could be fun to watch. He’s not going to score a ton, but could give you a spark off the bench as a small center or power forward.

Most recently Brad traded away Kris Dunn and Carsen Edwards to bolster this group by bringing in Juan Hernangomez. Brad dealt from a position of depth and excess to add to a position of need and Hernangomez should add depth at the 4 as a 6’9″ body who can shoot a bit when called upon. He’s not going to wow anyone or put up huge numbers, but he is a solid piece off the bench. He joins Grant Williams and Jabari Parker in the power forward group and becomes, with Fernando, the tallest of that group. I definitely think the Cs got better in their forward depth.

Centers

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For my money, this is by far the best improvement on the roster. Lacking any real center depth last year, the Cs need support behind the newly resigned Robert Williams III. The Celtics did just that by bringing back fan favorites Al Horford and Enes Kanter to stuff the paint and mentor Williams. Horford is 35 and how much he has left in the tank is TBD, but Kanter is a great change of pace off the bench. They both love being in Boston and at very least, it’s age and experience depth which can be super valuable.

On top of those two, Brad let Tacko Fall go and brought in another 7-footer in Luke Kornet. As sad as it was to watch Fall leave the Celtics, Kornet is probably an upgrade. The question becomes who actually ends up on the final roster and if all 4 guys have roster spots.

Overall

While it’s a bit difficult to see the final layout of the roster, especially considering I wouldn’t be shocked if trader Brad is still looking for deals, but I think overall the depth on this team is stronger than it was last year. There are still plenty of questions on the starting lineup and I think there are definitely drop-offs in talent in the backcourt, but improvements in the frontcourt. Let’s see what this team looks like when the season tips off in just under 7 weeks.