Tomorrow on October 17, 2017 the Boston Celtics tip off their season against the reigning Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Of course they beat the Celtics in a quick 5 game series during the Eastern Conference Finals. Frankly the series wasn't even close and the Celtics stole game 4 because Lebron had one of his worst playoff performances in a long time. That caused them to make some big changes during the offseason. They traded the number 1 overall pick for a future first and the 3rd overall pick, which they took Jayson Tatum with, they signed Gordon Hayward who should have made an All-NBA team last year, they traded Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris to help clear cap space for Hayward (miss you Avery), and to end the summer they traded for Kyrie Irving in a blockbuster trade that cost them Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the 2018 Brooklyn pick. That was a long list of moves and that wasn't even all of what happened this past summer. The point is that the Celtics had some serious turnover with their roster and only returned 4 players from last year's team. Usually this does not help a team's title chances because developing team chemistry and getting a team to execute the scheme properly can take time and doesn't always click in one season. There are still some exceptions to that rule, for example the 2008 Celtics won the championship after a roster overhaul and the 2011 Heat made it to the Finals after a very similar transition. There's a reason I could only come up with two teams and there may be some I'm overlooking, but the point is that it's rare. However, I believe the 2017-2018 Boston Celtics will be the next team on that list. Now I want to preface this by saying I do not think the Celtics have a chance at actually beating the Warriors in the NBA Finals, just that they'll make it there.
This take is very hypocritical of me because I've been one of the people saying the Celtics were a few years off from actually contending, but things have changed drastically and for the better in my opinion. I still stand by what I said at the time which is that the team as it was last year was still a few years and pieces from actually contending. Now we have some of those pieces and changed the makeup of our rival.
One of those pieces was Gordon Hayward whose addition was obviously massive. Out of every transaction he was the biggest gain. Trust me, I loved Jae Crowder and still do, but Gordon Hayward is a pretty big upgrade over him. Out of all the players on this year's roster he had the best season last year and got snubbed from the All-NBA third team. He provides a secondary scoring option and is also another good ball handler. Not to mention he is also very good on defense which seems to go under the wayside when his name is mentioned. He helps solidify a big 3 of him, Horford, and Kyrie that consists of all extremely talented offensive players. They all can score from multiple ranges and are talented passers. They are helping instill a mindset of passing in this team that is delightful to see. I know it was the preseason, but the offense looked amazing when those guys were on the floor together and I expect that to be the case more and more as the season progresses. There could be some growing pains at the beginning of the year, but by the end of the year they should be looking like one of the best teams. One of the members of the big 3 that can really make that happen is Kyrie Irving. I know I just said that Hayward was the best player last season but Kyrie Irving will be the best player this season. He will score the most points on the team and I believe he will elevate his passing now that he's out of Lebron's shadow. He is now in system that will revolve around him heavily and it should help him develop as a star. He is close to entering the prime of his career and we are lucky enough to have him during that time.
Along with the formation of our big 3 the Celtics also added some players that make their depth better. They drafted Jayson Tatum who is already looking like a highly-skilled offensive player at the age of 19. They added Marcus morris who is an upgrade over Kelly Olynyk in just about every aspect. They added Aaron Baynes who is a big man about the size of all of Australia and he can also defend well inside and rebound at a high rate. They still have Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier to solidify that bench along with other newcomers like Guerschon Yabusele, Daniel Theis, Semi Ojeleye, Shane Larkin, and Abdel Nader. They now have a roster full of athletic guys that can play different positions. That brings me to my main point.
The Celtics changed but it was the right change. The NBA is changing and you either change with it or you lose. The Celtics changed with it by becoming a team full of athletic guys that can play different positions at any given time. That is necessary because we see more and more "small ball" lineups after how successful the Warriors have been. Even your big men have to be able to space the floor with their shooting and be athletic enough to cover a lot of space. The Celtics recognized that and now their team reflects that. Al Horford is as close to perfect as it gets in terms of a small ball big man. He is not a good rebounder but he's an elite passer and his ability to hit 3's spaces the floor. Marcus Morris is another big guy who isn't a great rebounder but can score in multiple ways and also space the floor. Jayson Tatum, who will play a little power forward this year, is another tall guy that can space the floor. Everyone on this team besides Baynes has the ability to make a 3 and a few do it at a high level. Knocking down 3's against a team like the Cavs is extremely important because you either have to stop Lebron or keep up with them offensively, and we aren't stopping Lebron.
A main reason why I believe the Celtics will beat them is that the Cavs roster changed in a bad way. It feels like they got older and added some guys who don't really fit what they do . The Cavs style of play has always been to surround Lebron with catch and shoot players that he can kick out too once he penetrates the defense. It's proven to be successful for them, but it might not be anymore. Now that they traded away Kyrie for an injured Isaiah Thomas they are left with Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade as their starting backcourt. Both of these guys are terrible on catch-and-shoot 3's and it could cause problems for that offense. The Cavs rely on spacing to be elite on offense and if those guys are out there drawing no attention from defenders on the perimieer then that will be an issue. Now Isaiah Thomas will come back at some point but that doesn't mean Wade wont be out there killing space. Rose will still be playing a good amount even when Thomas comes back. Another bad change for the Cavs is that they got older. Dwyane Wade is pretty old now and not the player he once was, the same goes for Derrick Rose and also Jeff Green who stinks. That could lead to guys breaking down towards the end of the season. Everyone knows Derrick Rose's history with injuries and Dwyane Wade's hasn't been great recently either. Then you also have Isaiah Thomas who takes a beating with his stye of play and has a hip injury that most guys don't fully recover from. Worst case scenario is that two or all of them goes down, the best case is that only one does. Not only did they get older and worse at shooting, but they got even worse on defense. Their worst defensive player is obviously Isaiah Thomas and that is a huge advantage for the Celtics. It's not like Kyrie is good on defense, but Isaiah is so bad that he almost can't be out there at times because the opposing team devises a gameplan to abuse his mismatch every possession. That can be avoided if you have another good guard defender but the Cavs don't. JR Smith is their best guard defender and he is just ok. Ok is not enough against Kyrie Irving who dropped 50 on a top 5 perimeter defender in Avery Bradley . Kyrie will go off during that series and there is nothing the Cavs can do about it. Isaiah is the worst defender, but Love is pretty damn bad himself. A Cavs lineup with IT, Wade, and Love on the floor is a disaster defensively and would benefit the Celtics tremendously.
Now I'm not going to sit here and act like the Celtics should be the favorite. As long as Lebron is in the East whatever team he is on will be the favorite and thats how it should be. But this Celtics team has some serious potential that I think will result in a Finals appearance.