Have the Celtics already been eliminated from the 2015 playoffs?
Disclaimer: The off-season is not over.
The Celtics could theoretically still pull off a deal for Kevin Love, much like they did with their July 30th trade for KG back in 2007. As Garnett famously said "Anythinggggg is Possibleeeeee".
But if we're being honest with ourselves, it's very likely that the Celtics roster we see now is basically the same one that will take the floor on opening night. Maybe they dump Brandon Bass or Jeff Green, maybe they sign another seven-footer to compete for a spot, maybe an undrafted guy pushes Chris Johnson for the last roster spot. But realistically speaking, the Celtics appear to still be in asset accumulation mode as opposed to "go for it" mode, with the exception of their Love trade talks, which at this point are dormant.
So what if the Cs take the floor in late October with the following depth chart:
PG Rajon Rondo, Marcus Smart, Phil Pressey
SG Avery Bradley, Marcus Thornton, Chris Johnson
SF Jeff Green, James Young, Gerald Wallace
PF Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass
C Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller, Vitor Faverani, Joel Anthony
Does that team have any shot at competing for a playoff spot?
Were this the 2013-14 East, I might say yes. Even before the season it was clear that the East was terrible, and that there would be a few "how the hell did they get here?" playoff teams.
But the 2014-15 East looks different. This has been a Robin Hood-esque summer, as talent has been stolen from the rich, and given to the poor, making the Conference considerably deeper.
A brief summary:
LeBron bolted Miami for Cleveland, making the Cavs an instant contender. But the Heat held on to Wade and Bosh, signed Deng and McRoberts, and made enough smaller moves where they are also a virtual lock for the playoffs. A super team died, but in it's place are two sure-fire playoff clubs.
Likewise, the Pacers just lost Lance Stephenson to the Hornets, boosting Charlotte's odds to make the playoffs for a second straight season to "near lock" status. However, the Pacers still have the vast majority of their 56-win club intact, and need to be considered a top-five club in the East.
And then there's the Bulls, who added Pau Gasol, and should get Derrick Rose back (should means maybe/hopefully in this case. Stop getting hurt D-Rose). That's a fantastic team.
The Wizards and Raptors have also had good off-seasons, with Washington picking up Paul Pierce and Kris Humphries, while Toronto re-signed Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson, meaning they'll be bringing back the same team that won 48 games last year.
So that makes seven teams that appear to be much, much better than the Celtics in Cleveland, Chicago, Miami, Washington, Toronto, Charlotte and Indiana.
And then there's the Nets, Knicks, Hawks and Pistons, all of whom won more games than Boston last season. It's unclear how good these teams will be, but the Hawks have a nice team that includes Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver, making them a good bet to make a playoff run.
Where does this leave the Celtics? In really rough shape in terms of making it to the NBA's second season.
The Cs do have a few advantages over their 25-win predecessors, mainly Rondo's health and the addition of two exciting rookies in Smart and Young. But they've also lost solid veteran performers in Humphries, Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford (Lee and Crawford were dealt midway through last season, but helped the Cs rack up most of their 25 wins), three of the only guys who played up to their talent level last season.
It's a bit depressing (unless you already have your eyes on the 2015 draft class)..but the Celtics are in no better situation this year than last. I think their talent level is a little higher than last year, but the East is also considerably better -- which is not good news for the Celts playoff hopes.
Does this mean there's nothing to watch for in 2014-15? Of course not. The Celtics have five first round picks still on their rookie deals in Sullinger, Zeller, Olynyk, Smart and Young, and it should be fun to see that kind of young talent on the floor. We should also get our first full season with Rondo since 2011-12 (hopefully), and year two for Brad Stevens will be something to watch.
But it's just reality to look at the Celtics current roster, look at the Eastern Conference, and not be particularly hopeful about their playoff chances. I've been saying for awhile that the summer of 2015 is going to be when things really heat up for the Celtics -- but unfortunately that may mean another tough season for Celtics fans.
P.S. At least the Celtics aren't the Lakers. They have no coach, a 36 year old Kobe, Julius Randle, some role players, they don't own their own 2015 1st rounder, and they just struck out on Melo. With superstars prioritizing playing with other superstars over everything else, LA might not be so quick to reload this time.
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