2016-17 NBA Preview: Boston Celtics
Man, it feels good to have basketball back. This is low-key the best time of year for sports: we're in the thick of the NFL season, the NBA season just tipped off, and the World Series is under way. I really don't care about baseball but hey, figured I'd throw that in too. Anyways, what a terrible first night for the NBA after two absolute blowouts; these games weren't even remotely close either; the Cavs and Spurs beat the breaks off of the Knicks and Warriors, respectively. Although the Spurs and Warriors game wasn't even close, it was still a good matchup of the two best teams in the West. My question for the NBA is who the hell decided to have the Cavs play the damn Knicks on opening night? A team that didn't make the playoffs last year, will be lucky to get the 8th seed this year, and leads the league in washed up players vs the defending champs? No thanks.
I would have accepted the Raptors or even the Pacers, but the team that the Cavs really should have faced off against is my Boston Celtics. The only thing that feels better about having the NBA back is having Gang Green back in the national spotlight again. After the KG and Pierce trade in 2013, Celtics fans have been through some lean years, but have continuously improved their record each year under the leadership of Brad Stevens. Stevens, the best young coach in the league and arguably a top 5 coach period, has built an infectious culture that veterans around the league are taking notice of. The Celtics play unselfish, effort-filled basketball that is anchored by their stingy defense. Teams hate to play against the C's because they go hard every game, and effort isn't consistently there for all 30 teams. Whether it's First-Team All NBA SG Avery Bradley randomly picking up full court, or Marcus Smart diving on the floor for loose balls, you're going to have to earn a W when you play Boston.
This shift in culture coupled with a growing nucleus of young, talented players has free agents thinking twice about signing with the Celtics. The city has traditionally struggled to sign any notable free agents, in large part due to the weather and racial tensions, but times have changed. After a valiant effort to sign Kevin Durant, which included a visit from Tom Brady himself, the C's got the next best free agent prize in Al Horford. Horford's impact will be immense, and has already been easily noticeable in preseason games. He's a pick and roll/pop master, and has the ability to make the right pass and stretch the floor from the 3 point arc. On defense, he's a huge upgrade over Sullinger, who couldn't hedge on pick and rolls to save his life (which resulted in his dip in playing time in the playoffs, and eventual departure for Toronto). Adding him to a team that already won 48 games last season has Vegas and the "experts" all on the Celtics bandwagon coming into this season. But with huge expectations for the first time since Stevens has taken over, how will this young team react?
This season for the Celtics is all about taking the next step forward. Everyone knows that their ceiling right now is making it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but any Boston native can tell you that it's about rings in this city. If you think Trader Danny is done, you're wrong. He still has the Nets' draft picks over the next two years, and still has young, promising players on team-friendly contracts. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if we saw an in season blockbuster trade. But as a fan, I also wouldn't mind the draft and develop approach, especially with the 2017 draft class looking the strongest it has in years. A lot of questions will be answered for the C's this year. Will Horford's addition get them over the hump? Can IT4 receive another All-Star nod or is he a one hit wonder? Will 3rd overall pick Jaylen Brown prove the doubters wrong? Will it be Marcus Smart or Terry Rozier who takes that next leap and eats up Evan Turner's minutes? Can Brad Stevens win Coach of the Year? Will they swing a big time trade? Time will tell. But here's to a new season, and hopefully lots of Gino time.