At the start of the 2018 NBA season, we all strolled into the movie theater, ready to see a rated "R" movie. A lineup that was stacked with veteran all stars Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford. There were also the rising stars of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier. Finally, we had the thumpers in Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, and Aron Baynes. The mix of this roster just screamed for a title contention and the chase for banner 18 felt like it could be achieved this year. I grabbed the popcorn, sipped on a drink and watched as the screen said “viewer discretion advised”. Well, turns out this movie absolutely bombed and was not what anybody hoped for. Tension was evident in the Celtics locker room all year long. Kyrie Irving was an absolute head case, Gordon Hayward looked like an esports player deciding to try basketball for the first time, and the bench did not produce with any sort of consistency. This Celtics team finished the regular season with 49 wins, which led to them grabbing the 4th seed in the eastern conference. After a first round sweep of the Pacers, things began to look better. That was until Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks took charge and stomped this team into their graves in five games.
The news doesn’t get better. Longtime trade target Anthony Davis gets shipped off to the hated rivals of LA. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford decide that they want out of Boston and the entire Twitter verse has a universal celebration that the Boston Celtics are falling apart as an organization. There have been bold takes that a team like the Brooklyn Nets are now in better organizational shape than the Celtics, which is down right stupid. There is still a ton of talent on this team. It's just going to look a bit different.
The 2019 season will not be Rated R for the Celtics, like it was heading into 2018. This will be more of a TV Y-7 team. This is for ages 7 and up. Let the young guys play baby! We are going to see a Celtics team led by the young stars of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. This will be the first full year where they will be the primary options on the team. We can finally let these birds fly. Not to mention, Gordon Hayward will have a full offseason to get his confidence back. He has been reported by many around the team to be in the gym 6 days a week.
Though the losses of Irving and Horford will lessen the talent from this team, it allows the Celtics some flexibility. I’ve always feared that this team would be stuck in a situation where they would have no way to make changes on the roster due to Al Horford’s $30 million dollar option or if they were to extend him. Once the news came out that he would decline his player option and take his talents elsewhere, I breathed a sigh of relief. Don’t get me wrong. I love Al Horford as a player and feel that he was a perfect example of what a Celtic should be. He was a very good player and an even better guy, but it is time to move on. I give Danny Ainge a lot of credit here. He could’ve given Horford a three year extension worth around $20 million per year. Instead, he decided that cap flexibility will be more important. Not to mention that a Horford extension would be paying him a significant amount of money up until his age 37 season. There are even reports that Horford has an offer of $100 million out there. Now, the Celtics have some options and flexibility to reshape this roster.
With the NBA draft tomorrow night, the Celtics have some decisions that need to be made quick. The team has three picks in the first round, (numbers 14, 20, and 22). It doesn’t seem like the Celtics want to use all three of these picks, which means that they need a trade partner. With needs now at point guard and center, the Celtics need to get creative. They could trade up in the draft and select their point guard of the future in either Darius Garland or Coby White or they could package those picks and acquire a player that is already on an NBA roster, like a Clint Capela, Kevin Love, Mike Conley, or Jrue Holiday. These options are not jaw dropping, but they do fill holes on the team. If the Celtics keep at least two of the picks, then I would target guys like Bol Bol, Kevin Porter Jr., Romeo Langford, and Jaxson Hayes.
Also, by letting go of Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier, then the team will have about $28 million dollars in cap room, which could almost get them a max free agent. Maybe Danny Ainge tries to sign restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell or just decides to bring Morris and Rozier back for another go around. He can also bring back former Celtics point guards Isaiah Thomas and Rajon Rondo to one year deals, which would most certainly please the fans. It would be a fun idea to see those two return to green, but I don't know how Rondo will gel with the players and coaching staff, as well as Thomas regaining some sort of consistency on the court. These additions would most likely be stop gaps. Don't get too crazy here. Just because the Celtics could possibly have $28 million dollars in cap space, doesn't mean that they are just going to spend it all at once and hurt their future payroll. Maybe Danny Ainge will take on a couple of big expiring contracts, along with some more first round picks to gain more firepower for the next available superstar. You also have to consider a Brown and Tatum extension at some point too. Brown will be a restricted free agent at the end of next year and Tatum will be one after the 2021 season. By extending them and having the contract of Hayward off the books by then, this team will still maintain some flexibility to add to the roster.
This team has a ton of options and it will be fun to see what direction they go in. I love roster building and feel that this will be an entertaining offseason for sure. I don’t think that there should be any panic at all. Get ready to see a motivated Celtics team in 2019 that will look to get back to the grit and grind of being the underdog. I don't see this as a complete rebuild, like many are calling it to be. My definition of a rebuild is starting from scratch. This is not the case in the slightest. The core of this team has already been established, which makes it more of a retooling of parts.
The news hasn’t been bright in recent days, but the future still shows light. There will most likely be more news within the next week.