Most teams would tell you chemistry matters. That building around a core of players creates an identity and long term success. So when the Boston Celtics finally got back to the Eastern Conference Finals after four years of not getting past the first round of the playoffs, it was a surprise when president of basketball operations Danny Ainge blew the team up in order to play a real life version of fantasy basketball.
The Celtics will start the 2017-18 season with just one returning player from last season’s starting lineup plus three young guys they hope are ready for bigger roles, but ditching 11 guys hasn’t meant the Celtics are intending to tank.
Ainge added talent he believes will make his team better than last year and the direction came from the top as Chris Villani indicated in the Boston Herald after the Celtics traded away another two starters in Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to acquire the Cavs Kyrie Irving.
“We are really excited about the trade, although it’s bittersweet to let somebody go like IT, let somebody go like Jae,” (Celtics co-owner Wyc) Grousbeck said. “Kyrie is a transcendent talent, and we are excited to put him together with Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, we want this team to go for banner 18 and we need to get the best possible players to do that, and that’s what we are trying to do.”
(The four returning players from 2016-17 in bold)
Those trying to sell the Celtics based on the team’s culture and history should realize the best player returning from last year, Al Horford, has only been with the team for one season and the new “big 3” in Boston that now includes Irving and Hayward have never played together before. This triumvirate will need to work some things out.
In terms of chemistry, this new starting lineup will likely also have to figure out how to incorporate newcomer Marcus Morris and one of second year wing Jaylen Brown or fourth year guard Marcus Smart into a starting role at shooting guard.
Other additions, Shane Larkin and Aron Baynes, aren’t an improvement over anyone the Celtics had last season and only further complicate things, plus there’s five rookies on guaranteed contracts and other than this year’s third overall pick Jayson Tatum, they’re all big question marks.
Guerschon Yabusele 16th pick in 2016, Semi Ojeleye 37th pick, Abdel Nader 58th pick, undrafted Daniel Theis, plus a couple of camp invitees fighting for the 15th roster spot.
Head coach Brad Stevens is going to have has hands full at the start of this season just deciding on who’s in his rotation and how best to incorporate everybody.
While there’s hope things come together quickly in Boston or at least before the end of the regular season, the real objective of all these fantasy basketball moves was long term success.
“We got bounced pretty hard last year in the playoffs, and then those guys got bounced pretty hard after that,” Grousbeck, referencing the Cavs and Irving losing to the Warriors in the finals, told reporters this morning at the topping off ceremony for the Celtics’ new training facility, the Auerbach Center at New Balance World Headquarters in Brighton. “So we didn’t feel we were at the top, we didn’t feel we were where we wanted to be, so that’s what you do when you run a team, you do what you have to do to try to get better.”
No one should doubt the start of the season would go a lot easier with Thomas, Avery Bradley and Crowder still in the starting lineup and at least of couple of last year’s veteran big men in the mix to provide some stability. Even the Celtics owner isn’t so blind with pride as to predict an easy transition to the new roster.
“I am not going to make any predictions about that, I think we are in a good positions to present Celtic pride well,” (Grousbeck) said. “We have a good, up-and-coming team, a strong team, a young team, with more youth on the way. So we want to be good for a sustained period of time and it starts now.”
All of these moves represent a risk. Will Hayward make the Celtics better than keeping Bradley? Does flipping Thomas and Crowder for Irving improve the team this year and beyond? How many teams have enjoyed playoff success with five or (gasp) six rookies on the roster?
If Boston gets off to a slow start no one should be surprised. Grousbeck said, “I am not going to make any predictions” with good reason. This team, this group of players has never played together before. It is going to take time to recreate the chemistry of last season. This is about being better long term, so don’t hold your breath or read too much into what happens straight out of the gate.
The Celtics have allowed Ainge to make bold moves with their roster just like a fan in a fantasy basketball draft at the start of the season and there will be fans of other teams wishing their owner(s) and management was brave enough do the same.