Last summer, the Celtics were coming off a 7-game Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Cavaliers despite lacking both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. With the superstars set to return from injuries, last season was supposed to be the push towards the NBA Finals.
Instead, Boston ran into a brick wall against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in the conference semifinals, losing in five games. This has led to a disastrous offseason thus far, including the presumed departures of both Irving and Al Horford.
SNY’s Anthony Puccio reported that the former is leaning toward signing with the Nets in free agency. Meanwhile, ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski says the “gulf is too great” for Boston and Horford to strike a deal “at this time.”
Throw in the fact that Hayward looked far from himself this past season, scoring just 11.5 points per game after returning from his devastating leg and foot injury in 2017. All of these factors have ESPN’s Mike Greenberg, with agreement from Jalen Rose and Jay Williams calling the Celtics “something of a mess.”
Rose emphasized how great the drop has been for Celtics president Danny Ainge and his dwindling roster.
“I remember this time last year when we first started this show, I was talking about all of the assets that Danny Ainge had,” he said on ESPN. “If I was playing poker, I would’ve cashed them in. I think he held too long, because…you can’t top what they did with Gordon Hayward whose coming off a major injury, and then you add an All-NBA player in Kyrie whose thrust into a leadership role…when he’s not committed to you long-term.
“Al Horford is their most important player over the last couple of years. Second in points, first in rebounds, first in assists, first in blocks on their team. Now you lose him, you’re going to lose (Marcus) Morris probably up front, so it’s going to be a new look Celtics team that’s going to get younger.”
Greenberg then looked for agreement from Williams and Rose on calling Boston’s situation something of a mess, which led to both nodding. Williams, in particular, thinks they’ll recede to the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference, meaning a playoff berth would be tenuous.
As Tom Ziller of SB Nation points out, Boston still has a recovering Hayward, as well as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, as well as other options to fill in the potential holes left by Horford and Irving.
The Celtics still have Jaylen Brown (age 22) and Jayson Tatum (age 21) on rookie deals. The Celtics have three first-round picks (Nos. 14, 20, and 22) in Thursday’s NBA draft. Marcus Smart, one of the league’s premier perimeter stoppers, is on a team-friendly contract. Boston has a future Grizzlies draft pick that will become unprotected in 2021 if it hasn’t been conveyed by then. The Celtics will have loads of cap space this summer assuming Irving and Horford both do walk.
Irving’s and Horford’s contracts equal up to just under $60 million, meaning Boston can enter the free agency sweepstakes with plenty of wiggle room.
A potential option to replace Horford and Morris inside would be Miami Heat big man Hassan Whiteside. He just took a player option with the rumored intent to be traded. They can use draft picks for that transaction, or be content to use them to bolster the backcourt with Irving’s departure.