Quick Takes #3: The Celtics are off to a strong start this offseason, and here’s why

Happy summer everyone! I’ve been pretty busy with school over the last couple of months, which explains the lack of content recently. However, with summer here, there’s plenty to look forward to on this website starting today.

The NBA playoffs are beginning to wind down as the conference finals are set. Meanwhile most teams, including the Celtics, have moved onto next season. The Celtics have already been busy, as Danny Ainge stepped down making way for former head coach Brad Stevens to take his job. Stevens has began searching for Boston’s new head coach and in the meantime he has made his first trade: dealing Kemba Walker, a 1st round pick, and a 2025 2nd round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Al Horford (who returns to the team after leaving in 2019), Moses Brown, and a 2023 2nd round pick.

Initially, I was very confused by these moves. Back in February I wrote about why the Celtics should hold onto Kemba Walker. It turns out that it was too early to judge at that point, when Walker had only played 6 games on the season. It has since become clear that Walker is not the player he used to be, as his knee injury continues to linger. Besides, he didn’t even want to be in Boston anymore. What made me skeptical of the move at first is that I felt like the Celtics settled for an underwhelming return package just to get Walker out of Boston as quickly as possible. Horford and another big man don’t seem like much in exchange for Walker and a draft pick downgrade. However, if you look beyond the surface, this is a good trade for the Celtics.

First of all, it’s important to remember the fact that Walker is no longer a superstar player. It would have taken a package deal with Marcus Smart and possibly others to get a superstar player back in a Kemba Walker deal. With Walker gone, the Celtics have flexibility. They can move Smart or Payton Pritchard into the starting point guard role and fill other positions, or they can go looking for a new point guard in free agency. While Walker isn’t a superstar player anymore, he was on a “supermax” contract. With his contract off of the Celtics payroll, the team has money to make significant moves in free agency. I think they should use the money they have to look for a true third option behind the duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Notable free agents this offseason include veterans like Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, and Kyle Lowry.

It does suck to give up a 1st round pick, but it’s rare that a player drafted 16th overall ends up contributing much in the short term, and the Celtics have had a lot of failed first round picks in the years since they drafted Tatum and Brown. Pritchard and Robert Williams have been our best first rounders since then, and neither of them are even regular starters just yet. With the right moves, this is a team that can win now. They invested in the long term when they drafted Tatum and Brown. Now it’s time to invest in the short term. Horford may not be what he used to be, but the additions of Horford and Moses Brown make an immediate difference for our power forward/center depth.

As for the Brad Stevens move, some people have criticized it, and I was a bit shocked at first, but I like it. Stevens was a good head coach, but the players didn’t seem to listen to him anymore. This role allows Stevens to use the basketball knowledge he has without having to interact directly with the players as much. In addition, I think Stevens’ first trade in this role is a sign that he is willing to be aggressive this offseason. Danny Ainge used to be aggressive as well, but has gotten complacent in recent years. Once the Celtics had the firepower to at least make the Eastern Conference Finals, he settled for what the team already had. This year was a wake up call that as time passed, the Celtics needed to make some changes not only to win a championship, but even to win a playoff series. Stevens is willing to execute those changes. It seems he is also prioritizing a head coach that will get along well with the players, and that’s just what this team needs. The players need to have a good connection with the staff, or Boston will become an undesirable system to be a part of. We’ve already seen Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker grow to resent this system. That cannot happen with Tatum, Brown, or any new key players the team signs.

Comment with your thoughts on the Celtics offseason so far, and who you think they should target in free agency.

NBA 2018-19 Predictions: Year of the Celtics

Welcome to my NBA 2018-19 predictions, where I will make my conference standings predictions as well as playoff predictions.  The Celtics made it very far last year, and that was with Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving hurt.  With the full squad healthy and Jayson Tatum bound for a huge year, could this be the year when they finally make the NBA Finals and beat the Warriors?  Read below to find out what I think.

Eastern Conference

Playoff Teams

  1. Image result for celtics logo Boston Celtics (60-22)
  2. Image result for wizards logo Washington Wizards (52-30)
  3. Image result for raptors logo Toronto Raptors (51-31)
  4. Related image Detroit Pistons (49-33)
  5. Image result for cleveland cavaliers logo Cleveland Cavaliers (47-35)
  6. Related image Milwaukee Bucks (46-36)
  7. Related image Charlotte Hornets (46-36)
  8. Related image Philadelphia 76ers (44-38)

I think this is the year for the east and the west to begin to look more balanced.  The Celtics have a championship-caliber starting 5 that can take this team very far.  I feel that despite Toronto’s addition of Kawhi Leonard, the Wizards, not the Raptors will be the #2 seed behind Boston.  After the signing of Dwight Howard, they filled their only major hole: center.  Their back court is stacked between John Wall and Bradley Beal.  The Raptors should also be in the mix, as well as the Pistons.  I think the acquisition of Blake Griffin is really going to impact Detroit this year, as Andre Drummond and Griffin make for a dynamic duo that leads the Pistons to a comfortable playoff berth under new head coach Dwane Casey.  Detroit lacks the depth of a championship contender, but they have what it takes to make a playoff run.

Most people immediately think that since LeBron James is gone, the Cavaliers are going to suck.  But I don’t think lack of talent was the problem with LeBron’s supporting cast.  I feel that the team relied way too heavily on LeBron James.  Expect Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and their teammates to lead the Cavs to a decent season.  You may be wondering, where are the Sixers?  I don’t think Philly will repeat what they had going last year.  I tend to trust veterans more than youngsters, but I don’t yet trust Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to lead the Sixers to two straight Top 4 seeds.  They may prove me very wrong this year, but I’m just not comfortable predicting that yet.  The Sixers will make the playoffs with a low-end seed, alongside the Bucks (Greek Freak and their young roster will bring them back to the playoffs), and the Hornets (I think this is the year for this young squad to finally breakthrough).

I do not have the Pacers, a popular pick to earn a Top-4 seed, making the playoffs, and I will explain why below.

Non-Playoff Teams

9. Image result for knicks logo New York Knicks (42-40)                                                                                             

10. Related image Chicago Bulls (41-41)

11. Image result for heat logo Miami Heat (41-41)

12. Related image Brooklyn Nets (37-45)

13. Image result for pacers logo Indiana Pacers (28-54)

14. Image result for orlando magic logo Orlando Magic (27-55)

15. Related image Atlanta Hawks (10-72)

I think this is the year that the Knicks (due to the return of Kristaps Porzingis) and the Bulls (due to a strong off-season) will go from the basement of the league to average teams that just miss the playoffs.  The Heat, who have a decent roster, but nothing that really stands out, are in the same situation.  The Nets should also get closer to that as their young core emerges.  Below those four teams, I have the Indiana Pacers.  I don’t see Victor Oladipo leading this team by himself like he did when he was traded last year.  I can’t see what he has around him that can lead to contention.  Bojan Bogdanovic and Oladipo are not enough to bring this team back to the playoffs, and I see the aforementioned teams as far more playoff-prepared.  I was shocked when they made the playoffs last year even.

I still see the Magic and Hawks finishing in the basement of the East, below Indiana.  Orlando had a versatile young core developing, but the losses of Oladipo and Elfrid Payton set them back.  The Hawks had a rough season in 2017-18, and they didn’t really do much to improve for this year.  They’re not rebuilding, but they don’t have any contending pieces either.  It’s time to go full rebuild for the Hawks, and I don’t expect much at all from them this year.

Western Conference

Playoff Teams

  1. Related image Golden State Warriors (66-16)
  2. Related image San Antonio Spurs (55-27)
  3. Related image Houston Rockets (54-28)
  4. Image result for thunder logo Oklahoma City Thunder (53-29)
  5. Related image Portland Trail Blazers (51-31)
  6. Image result for timberwolves logo Minnesota Timberwolves (48-34)
  7. Image result for lakers logo Los Angeles Lakers (45-37)
  8. Related image Dallas Mavericks (43-39)

The Warriors may have added a star center, DeMarcus Cousins this off-season, but I could see them regress mildly after losing a good amount of bench depth.  After Golden State, I have the Spurs.  I think they will benefit largely from the acquistion of DeMar DeRozan.  With a healthy core, they will be in the running for a high playoff seed.  The Rockets and Thunder will put up a fight for the second seed as well.  Houston has most of what they had going last year, and they added another key piece in Carmelo Anthony.  The duo of Paul George and Russell Westbrook will boost the Thunder this year alongside off-season acquistions Dennis Schroder and Nerlens Noel.

The Blazers lack the front court talent to contend for a title, but the back court duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum should be enough to get them into the playoffs again.  I thought at first that this might be the year when the Timberwolves emerge as a title contender, but with Jimmy Butler leaving, I don’t see more than a low end playoff seed as this team will lack a true star.  I don’t think the Lakers will see much more than that either.  What key pieces around LeBron James that will help them contend?  When LeBron was in Cleveland, he had Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving alongside him, at least up until last year.  His signing with LA was a great personal move, but he shouldn’t expect to make it back to the NBA Finals just yet.  I have the Mavericks in the final Western Conference playoff seed.  With the additions of rookie Luka Doncic and veteran center DeAndre Jordan, they should at least contend for a back end playoff seed.

Non-Playoff Teams

9. Related image Memphis Grizzlies (42-40)

10. Related image New Orleans Pelicans (37-45)

11. Image result for jazz logo Utah Jazz (34-48)

12. Related image Phoenix Suns (31-51)

13. Image result for kings logo Sacramento Kings (23-59)

14. Image result for nuggets logo Denver Nuggets (15-67)

15. Image result for clippers logo Los Angeles Clippers (12-70)

Despite a weak 2017-18, the Grizzlies still have the same core from their playoff contention days.  I could see them making a run at a low end playoff seed.  Expect regression from the Pelicans with DeMarcus Cousins gone, but new acquistions in Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle will keep this team in the hunt for the playoffs.  With teams like the Mavericks and Lakers on the rise, I could see the Jazz slip a little bit this year.  They still have the same core from their run of playoff contention though, so they won’t be absolutely atrocious.

The Suns and Kings will improve slightly as the young talent begins to work in their favor, leaving the Nuggets and Clippers in the basement of the West.  Denver lost a lot in the off-season despite adding veteran Isaiah Thomas.  With a lot of the former basement dwellers of the Western Conference rising, Denver could regress significantly.  That leaves the Clippers, who will regress further with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin gone.  They are left with an aging, declining core, and will need to go full rebuild after this season.

The Playoffs

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Here is my projected bracket for the NBA 2019 Playoffs.  In the first round, I have all home teams winning.  The top half of the Eastern Conference bracket is a lot stronger than the bottom half.  I see the Celtics, Raptors, Wizards, and Pistons moving on with ease, but don’t be surprised if the Bucks upset the Raptors.

In the West, I have the Spurs continuing their bounce back from a rough 2017-18 with an impressive series win over LeBron James and the Lakers.  The Rockets and Warriors will win more easily.  It could be close between Oklahoma City and Portland, but the Thunder have far better front court talent, and that will work in their favor.

The Pistons may be my dark horse in the East this season, but I cannot see them beating this stacked Celtics squad in 7.  I also see this as the end for the Wizards, as Kawhi Leonard leads the Raptors past Washington’s all-pro back court duo.  In the West, I do see the Spurs’ magical run ending when they take on the 2017-18 Western Conference regular season champion Houston Rockets, who have not lost much since their 2017-18 dominance.  Golden State should take down the Thunder with ease.

In the Conference Finals, I have the Warriors and Celtics winning.  The Rockets couldn’t top Golden State last year, and now that the Warriors have added DeMarcus Cousins, I cannot see it happening this year.  The Celtics will have a close series against Toronto, but I think their young talent and dominant starting 5 will help them advance.

Now, we have the match-up we’ve been waiting for.  The dynasty (the Warriors) takes on the rising challenger (the Celtics).  This is bound to be one of the best playoff series’ in recent history.  But who will finish the job?  The Warriors may have a star-studded starting 5, but I see their lack of a bench hurting them here.  I think this is the year that the Golden State dynasty will be overthrown.  The Boston Celtics will win the NBA Finals in 2019, starting a new dynasty.

Who do you have going all the way in the NBA?  Comment with your thoughts below, and stay tuned for more Celtics and NBA coverage soon.