Did the Celtics take a “major step back” this offseason?
David Aldridge of The Athletic recently compared each NBA team’s offseason. He was particularly unimpressed with the Boston Celtics’ summer moves, suggesting the team “took a “major step back.”
That assertion, however, depends on a few factors. Let’s break things down.
Replacing Al Horford
Much of Aldridge’s worry for the Celtics is the fallout from losing Al Horford to the rival Philadelphia 76ers.
“Unfortunately, Boston didn’t find a replacement for Horford, who’s done all the dirty work defensively for the Cs the last three years, and who was beyond clutch offensively,” Aldridge said.
It’s hard to refute the above; what Horford offered the Celtics simply doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. At the same time, however, Aldridge may be overlooking the possibilities Boston has down low.
Playing center by committee is less than ideal, but it will offer the Celtics new offensive flexibility. Boston is loaded with athletic, stretchy wing players, perhaps the rarest commodity in the NBA. For Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward to comfortably coexist, they’ll need to occupy some of the space originally held by Horford and the now departed Aron Baynes. (No, Baynes isn’t dead, but he is on the Suns. I stand by my word choice.)
Perhaps Boston will flourish with a bit more space on the open court. A traditional big man is a dying breed in the NBA anyway. Maybe concerns over the Celtics’ options down low are missing the point entirely.
That said, how the C’s defend the Eastern Conference’s two most potent players - Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetonkounmpo - remains to be seen. Losing Horford on those grounds alone is rather daunting. That said, Horford just turned 33 this summer and has a history of knee problems. His status as an elite defender may be waning.
When was the step back taken?
Another concern with Aldridge’s assessment of the Celtics offseason is more of a semantic one. It seems fair to say that Boston took a step back during the regular season, and this summer was just president of basketball operations Danny Ainge’s attempts to pick up the pieces.
Entering the 2018-19 season, the Celtics were honest title contenders, the class of the Eastern Conference. With Kyrie Irving at the helm and a bounty of veterans and ringers behind him, Boston was destined for great things.
How the wheels came off is unimportant; much has been written about the subject. But if reports that Ainge believed Irving was gone as early as March, and that Uncle Drew may have had eyes for New York City even in December, well, the whole experiment was doomed to fail. Somewhere in that time the Celtics lost their superstar, and perhaps a shot at Anthony Davis in the process. From there,retaining Horford at his new salary wouldn’t have made sense for a team as prudent as the Celtics.
As a result, Boston’s front office had a new “Plan A” for the summer: Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter. That wasn’t the “step back,” however. That was a pivot from the step back that was taken over the course of the regular season. The Celtics didn’t regress this summer. No, the damage was done many months ago.
It’s also possible that Boston will be able to out-perform last season’s team. Kemba Walker is set to thrive under Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. The C’s will have difficult decisions ahead over Jaylen Brown and the team’s remaining future trade assets. But this team is still bursting at the seams with talent. Expect the Celtics to be hungry, cohesive, and punchy.