Celtics Display Integrity by Not Tanking

As the tie-breaker and Eastern Conference standings became clearer the past few weeks, there were really only two scenarios for the Celtics: 2nd or 3rd place in the conference. That alone is a masterful feat given how the first two months of the season went for the green. Most predicted they would finish between 4th and 7th in the conference and wouldn’t really be competing for the top 3 spots. After half the season, those predictions didn’t feel too far off as the Cs held a .500 team record. Luckily for the fans (and Ime Udoka), the Cs finished the season hotter than anyone in the NBA with a 51-31 overall record. Sitting with a few games remaining, the media surmised that the Cs had two choices: to win and take 2nd, potentially setting up a tough 1st round matchup with the 7-seed Brooklyn Nets (if they win the play-in game) or to tank and guarantee a 1st round series against the extremely beatable 6-seed Chicago Bulls. The Celtics chose to believe in themselves and pounded the Memphis Grizzlies in the final regular season game to secure 2nd in the Eastern Conference.

While I didn’t expect the Cs to tank, it’s not uncommon in the NBA for teams to rest stars knowing that the players on the court are going to have a tough time winning. Coaches hide behind the “rest day” or “maintenance day” mantra in those scenarios and while sometimes I’m sure it’s legitimate, it doesn’t feel great as a fan. Udoka, and probably Brad Stevens, made the right decision in my opinion to put their best team on the floor to try and win #51. Trying to control for a specific situation that isn’t even guaranteed is not a great approach.

You can run from teams, and they don’t even end up being there. What we concluded was: Let’s do what we do and let the chips fall where they may.

Celtics Head Coach Ime Udoka before Sunday’s regular season finale

This Celtics team isn’t, and shouldn’t be, afraid of anyone. Yes, the Nets would be a tougher matchup than the Bulls, but if this C’s team is so worried about a first round opponent that they would consider tanking to move down, then they have already lost. The play on the court matches the aspirations of this group: a deep playoff run. They’ve beaten the best teams in the NBA during this 2nd half stretch and based on all the coach and player comments after the game, they don’t care who is in front of them. If they really want to be playing into June, then they will need to beat some of the best teams in the league and frankly a higher seed could be more beneficial down the road. An easier path isn’t necessarily the best path.

The Cs performance against the Grizzlies in game #82 was perfectly representative. Memphis is 2nd in the Western Conference and a formidable opponent, despite their make-shift lineup with nothing to play for. The green didn’t take them lightly and rode a 72-pt first half performance to a 139-110 victory. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 49 points, while Al Horford dropped 13 on 75% shooting (6-8) and Daniel Theis had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. The Cs were able to bring 9 guys off the bench, all playing 5+ minutes and contributing with points, which was exactly what you want to see in the final game of the season. The loss of Time Lord, aka Robert Williams III, for at least some part of the playoffs isn’t ideal, but there is a lot to like about this team. They have depth, veteran leaders and a heart to match.

Now that the regular season is over, the Celtics have a full week to get some rest and prep for their first round opponent. On Tuesday night, we’ll know if it’s the Brooklyn Nets or the Cleveland Cavaliers and that winner will come to the TD Garden next Sunday as the Celtics tip-off what they hope will be a long and fruitful playoff run. Regardless of the outcome, the team’s decision to go out and play hard rather than tank is the right move in my book.

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.