Celtics have entered the NBA contenders discussion

After a very poor start to their season the Boston Celtics have flipped the switch and are playing as good as anyone in the NBA now. So have we gone from the "experts" saying the C's must be blown up to legit NBA contenders? Yes we have.

The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor and NBC Boston's Chris Forsberg and Brian Scalabrine all agree in the video above that the Celtics are now contenders.

Now let's stress that "contender" and "favorite" are two different things. You can have six or 8 contenders. If the Celtics lose in the Eastern Conference Finals that doesn't mean they weren't "contenders."

Now do I think the Celtics are contenders and have a legit shot to win Banner 18 this season? Yes, but with a caveat. If you've been reading this blog from anytime since 2009, I always stress health. So while it sounds like a broken record to say Boston needs to be healthy this postseason there is even more of an emphasis this year due to their short rotation.

Long term we will have to see if the draft capital that was given up to swap Josh Richardson and Romeo Langford for Derrick White was worth it, but for this season adding White and Daniel Theis was an improvement. Swapping our third big in Enes Kanter for Theis was an obvious upgrade.

Where the Celtics are vulnerable now though is with losing three rotation players in Dennis Schroder, Richardson, and Langford and only bringing one in White back. Now jettisoning a bunch of players and letting the remaining players get more playing time tends to make all those remaining players happy, but the issue is that there is less margin for injury now.

Payton Pritchard has stepped up with his new found opportunity, but Stevens was unable to add anyone of consequence to fill the open roster spots.

I honestly believe that the Celtics would have won the 2020 Mickey Mouse Bubble championship if not for Gordon Hayward's injury and Kemba Walker's health. Shoot, might have won even with a less than 100% Kemba if Hayward hadn't gotten hurt. What followed with Hayward out, was that Marcus Smart was promoted to starter and Brad Wanamaker had to step into the 6th man role.

Now I liked what Wanamaker brought to this team, but he's not a 6th man. Not on any NBA team, let alone a. championship team.

You should should never judge an NBA too harshly when they are losing while being crippled by multiple injuries to rotation pieces. Simultaneously its important not to get too high when a team is winning while staying much healthier than their opponents. Basically I'm saying the Celtics aren't as bad as the team we saw in November and December, but they likely aren't as amazing as the squad we've seen the past two months.

During Kyrie Irving’s last season in Boston, the Celtics went on a 13 game winning streak. At that time, the Celtics and Warriors were considered the heavy favorites to match up in the Finals. Just saying it's a long season and no one really remembers streaks in the regular season. It's what you do in the playoffs.

Big man wise, Boston could survive Horford or Time Lord missing a playoff game or two, since Daniel Theis is a strong 3rd big. But where the Celtics really need to remain healthy is with their guards and forwards. Trading Dennis Schroder and Josh Richardson to a lesser extent eliminated a legit player who can give you 20 to 30 points in case let's say Jaylen Brown has to miss some games.

This isn't a team with four or five guys that all want to be the man. There are the Jay's and that's it. No Kyrie, Hayward, Rozier, Kemba, Schroder, Thomas, etc. This actually makes for great chemistry. It often produces more wins too, which is also tremendous for chemistry.

But if Jaylen misses a couple playoff games and the Celtics lose with too much on Tatum's shoulders, no one is going to use kid gloves on the Celtics because of their regular season success. I'd suggest the Celtics start managing Tatum and especially Brown's minutes the rest of the regular season. Where Boston finishes in the standings means absolutely nothing if either Tatum or Bown enter the playoffs banged up or completely out (like Jaylen was last season).

White gives us some Smart insurance, but the Celtics have a very poor record when Marcus has missed games. He's more iintegral to the team's success than some people think.

What would be really nice is if Aaron Nesmith stepped up this final month so he could be used in the rotation if necessary. If not him, Kelan Martin or Nik Stauskas will need to be called on. Similar to Wanamaker in 2020, none of these names are guys you want to count on for very major playoff roles.

So yes the Celtics are contenders, but even more than previous seasons, focus on the team's health this final month more than wins and losses and the final standings.