The Celtics head into this season with elite talent, but can Brad Stevens turn Boston into a legitimate NBA title contender?
Losing Gordon Hayward in free agency is a blow to the Celtics, but it won’t change the expectations in Boston for the 2020-21 season. Fans in Beantown still expect Brad Stevens to fashion this talented roster into legitimate title contenders. Anything less than a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals will be viewed as a disappointment.
To turn those deep playoff dreams into reality the Celtics will need young players to step up. Stevens and his staff will also need a few veterans to punch above their weight. Read on to discover the five big questions Boston must answer heading into the regular season.
1. Will Jayson Tatum take the leap to become an MVP candidate?
There’s a legitimate argument to be made that Tatum already played at something close to an MVP level last season. There aren’t many guys in the league who manage to average 23.4 points per game with his level of efficiency. Throw in the seven boards he averaged a season ago and it’s easy to understand why he’s already this team’s best player.
If he wants to ascend to the rare air of MVPs he needs to improve his playmaking ability. Kemba Walker’s early-season injury issues are going to force Tatum out of his comfort zone to begin the year. He isn’t going to suddenly turn into Magic Johnson with the ball in his hands, but upping his assist average from three to somewhere around five or six per night is an attainable goal.
The end product is that Tatum will take a meaningful step forward, but it’s one season too early for him to be a serious MVP candidate. His game isn’t quite well-rounded enough for that sort of accolade.
2. Who should the Celtics have on their radar with that largest trade exception in NBA history?
Danny Ainge is not the sort of executive who lets trade exceptions expire. That certainly won’t’ be the case with the largest one in league history.
Uncertainty about Walker’s knee makes point guard the correct position for the Celtics to address. There will be murmurs about needing to upgrade the center position, but guards are just more important in the modern NBA.
The problem for Boston is that elite point guards aren’t often made available on the open market. That makes it very likely that the Celtics will have to settle for someone in a lower tier. The odds are against the team using the entirety of that trade exception to acquire a superstar point guard.
Instead, someone like Spencer Dinwiddie should be the baseline expectation for Celtics fans. He won’t be the sexiest name the franchise is linked to with their massive trade exception, but he could be good enough to push the Celtics over the top in the East.
3. Will Tristan Thompson ultimately make Celtics fans forget about those Myles Turner rumors?
Giving Thompson a multi-year deal at the full mid-level exception will prove to be a mistake. In his prime, he was the rare center who could credibly switch and guard perimeter players. Unfortunately for the Celtics, he’s now past his athletic prime. He can be a useful starter, but he’s not going to be a difference-maker in the postseason.
That’s why Celtics fans will continue to be confused with their team’s decision to pass on Turner in a potential sign-and-trade deal for Hayward. He would have been a perfect fit for Boston on both ends of the floor. It will go down as a mistake for Ainge and his front office.
4. Payton Pritchard and Robert Williams III will go together like and ?
The answer here is oil and water. Williams is a big that needs to play alongside a premier pick-and-roll operator to make his rim runs a valuable weapon for the Celtics. In sharp contrast, Pritchard is a point guard who will help his team by spacing the floor with his perimeter shooting ability.
Pritchard will face a dogfight to earn minutes at the point guard spot. He has a strong chance of winning that fight due to his ability to stretch the floor. Williams will continue to be a bench player who goes in and out of Stevens’ rotation. The acquisition of Thompson does him no favors.
The two players might be friends off the court, but playing them together this season will only make sense in garbage time.
5. What kind of chess piece would Jaylen Brown be?
Shoutout to the makers of “King’s Gambit” for making this a more appealing question in 2020. Brown is certainly a cerebral player who can thrive playing such a thoughtful game. He might like to be a King, but he’s not going to accede to such heights with the Celtics.
Instead, consider Brown one of the best bishops in the game. His cutting ability makes him perfectly suited to move diagonally across the floor. His shooting ability also helps him be a useful player spotting up in the corner. Brown is a crucial cog for the Celtics, but Tatum remains the King.