The Celtics had a disappointing 2020-21 campaign finishing with a .500 record. Boston made the playoffs as the 7th seed after a play-in tournament win over the Wizards, but were bounced in Round 1 by the Nets. The team that matched up vs Brooklyn was a much depleted Celtics roster. No Jaylen Brown, and then no Robert Williams, and finally no Kemba Walker.
The offensive backcourt duo of Walker and Evan Fournier are now in New York, while they've been replaced by Dennis Schroder and Josh Richardson. Jaylen Brown should be healthy from Day 1 and Robert Williams will be returning. Speaking of returns, Al Horford and Enes Kanter are also back in the center rotation.
The Celtics 36-36 record in a truncated COVID season would translate to 41 wins in a regular season, so ESPN's prediction of 45 wins isn't much an improvement or bounce back year. They are essentially saying the Celtics will win 3 or 4 of the games they lost last season with this year's roster.
One piece of information not available to ESPN is what percentage of Celtics players are COVID vaccinated. The Celtics were decimated by COVID absences last season. Down the Green Line at Kenmore Square, the Boston Red Sox have also been hit extremely hard by COVID.
So we're dealing with a bunch of "If's" here, but if the team is all vaccinated, if its top two players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown play anywhere close to an 82 game season, and if Ime Udoka is a competent coach, I believe the 45 win prediction is low. And we haven't even talked about the other players yet.
The Celtics opening odds were set at +4900 according to SportsBettingDime.com
I tend to like when the Celtics are slept on. Seems when expectations are high in recent years the team underperforms, but when they feel slighted, they rally around that collective chip on their shoulders.
Here's is ESPN's Eastern Conference Top 10:
1. Brooklyn Nets: 58-24
2. Milwaukee Bucks: 57-25
3. Philadelphia 76ers: 50-32
4. Miami Heat: 49-33
5. Atlanta Hawks: 47-35
6. Boston Celtics: 45-37
7. New York Knicks: 44-38
T-8. Charlotte Hornets: 40-42
T-8. Chicago Bulls: 40-42
10. Indiana Pacers: 40-42
These are the same teams that finished top 10 last season, with the exception of the newly revamped Chicago Bulls replacing the Russell Westbrook-less Washington Wizards. The Bulls added All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan and highly sought after point guard Lonzo Bulls to their Zach Lavine and Nikola Vucevic led team. Having Vucevic for a full season in addition to the newcomers one would thought would push the Bulls higher up, but no dice. My guess is Bulls fans weren't too keen on this prediction either.
NBA players often eventually tune out coaches so I'm expecting a boost in production during Udoka's honeymoon stage at least. If Ime ends up being a quality coach in his first year, and the aforementioned "if's" hold true, I can see the Celtics passing that 50 win mark.
I think only injuries and/or COVID absences could put the Celtics in position to finish worse than ESPN's 45 win prognostication. Initially I thought Stevens would keep the window open to tank some in case one of the Jay's went down, but with all the contract extensions he handed out, that's no longer an option. There is no "blow it up" potential for this season's team, so their floor is moderately high.
Three keys will be Robert Williams' health, Marcus Smart's point guard play, and the further maturation of the Jay's.