Expectations for the 2020-21 Celtics season

By Brendan Beauregard, Assistant Sports Editor

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After a quick two months off, the Boston Celtics are back and ready to take another crack at winning banner No. 18 with their first regular-season game tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks.

For me, a new Celtics season is a breath of fresh air compared to how other Boston professional teams have fared lately (*stares directly at one William Stephen Belichick after making that statement*). With that being said, let’s talk about how this season of Celtics basketball could go.  

First, it’s important to mention how the current Celtics’ roster looks a bit different compared to last season’s team. Boston signed rotational players, such as veteran guard Jeff Teague to a one-year $2.5 contract and former Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson to a two-year $19 million pact. They also drafted shooters Aaron Nesmith from Vanderbilt university and Payton Pritchard out of the University of Oregon in the 2020 NBA Draft. Along with that, Boston acquired a huge $28.5 million trade exception after seeing starting forward Gordon Hayward say “hello there” to a $120 million deal from the Charlotte Hornets on Nov. 29.

Still, the Celtics’ nucleus remains the same with young superstar wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, and Mr. All-NBA defense Marcus Smart. Mix that all together and you have a Celtics team that should, once again, be a championship-contending team but still wields their fair share of question marks.

Walker’s lingering left knee troubles dating back to last season are still relevant, as the point guard will be out at least until January recovering from a stem-cell injection he received in his knee in October.

“We are just being very cautious with Kemba,” Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge said on Dec. 1. “He is on a program and seems to be in a very happy spot.”

Not having Kemba for the start of the season isn’t ideal for Boston, but perhaps the move will pay off come the playoffs. Also, it’s not like Kemba was always the Celtics go-to on offense last year. That title belongs to Jayson Tatum now.

Consider Tatum’s stat line from February of last season onwards and including the playoffs. Tatum averaged 27 points, seven rebounds, and three assists during that regular-season stretch, and then erupted for 25 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists per game during the playoffs, according to NBA.com. If Tatum keeps chipping in with numbers like that alongside Jaylen Brown’s 20 points a night, Boston’s offense train will chug along just fine in Walker’s absence. 

But while the Celtics can lean on that three-headed dragon of Tatum, Brown, and Walker when he returns, there’s that uneasy feeling of where will the rest of Boston points come from?

Marcus Smart will most likely slide into Hayward’s old spot in the starting lineup, but you never know what you’ll get from him offensively every night. One night Smart drains five-straight three-pointers, and another night he shoots one-for-eight from behind the arc. I know that’s not Smart’s game being that he is renowned for his defense, but he is one to keep an eye on whether he steps up offensive wise to replace Hayward’s production.

Adding more to Boston’s scoring depth, how will the rookies Nesmith and Pritchard adapt from college ball to the pros? Both rookies were flamethrowers in the collegiate ranks and had impressive numbers last year. Pritchard averaged over 20 points per game and shot for over 40 percent from three-point range, according to Basketball Reference. Nesmith produced an absurd 52 percent three-point percentage and overall 23 points per game. Only time will tell if the rookies will rise up to the occasion––or hurry up the process of Trader Danny using that trade exception for outside reinforcements.

The $28 million exception puts Boston in an interesting spot. Do the Celtics divide it for several bench options, or do they push all the chips in and use it to acquire another star player? Acquiring multiple assets such as Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier for $17 million and Lou Williams for $8 million from the Los Angeles Clippers come to mind. Fournier is in the last year of his contract and is a career 44 percent shooter who scored 18 points per game last season, according to Basketball Reference. Williams is a multi-time sixth man of the year winner, also in the final year of his deal, and has career numbers of 14 points per game, according to Basketball Reference.

On the flip side, there are reports of Houston Rockets superstar and former MVP James Harden being on the trade market. Harden’s contract is massive at over $40 million, plus an additional two years left regarding a player option. Despite that, Boston would still have the means to make such a deal work with Houston for Harden.

However this Celtics season turns out, expect Boston to still be hovering around the top of the Eastern Conference and right in the thick of it for the NBA title. It’s no fluke that Boston has made three Eastern Conference Finals appearances in four years with the cast they have, but the pressure of if the Celtics can get back to the championship round grows. Will this be the season the NBA finals welcome the Celtics back, or will it be another Celtics season of close but no cigar?