So that was fun. But not entirely satisfying.
Celtics fans earned the right to get greedy over the past month – as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown played like they were seasoned vets in the playoffs, Al Horford (mostly) showed up on offense, and Brad Stevens cemented himself as the best coach in pro basketball.
Add a healthy Kyrie Irving, and a healthy Gordon Hayward this summer and the 2019 NBA title is Boston’s, right?
Well … that’s no Tatum tomahawk slam dunk.
LeBron will still be in the league next season, of course. And he will almost certainly have more help a year from now than he had in Game 7 on Sunday night at the Garden.
The Celtics may not see LeBron until the NBA Finals next year if he winds up in LA with the Lakers (gotta think at least Paul George would follow him to Southern California), or in Houston with his buddy Chris Paul. Either of those LeBron-led teams would be favorites to win it all next season – regardless of Kyrie and Hayward’s clean bill of health. The fact of the matter remains that Stevens still hasn’t figured out a way to silence LeBron. The Celtics are now 4-12 against LeBron teams in the playoffs under Stevens.
The rest of the NBA landscape is bound to change in a major way this offseason as well.
In the East, expect the Sixers to get better.
Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo is a dummy, but not a complete dummy. He will likely sell off the remaining assets gift-wrapped to him by Sam Hinkie this summer and bring in a third star to place next to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Kawhi Leonard makes a ton of sense. CJ McCollum does too. Maybe even DeMar DeRozan.
That would be a team that would give the Celtics some trouble, again – even if Kyrie and Hayward are good to go.
Also in the East, maybe the Pacers make a splash this summer. Maybe the Bucks – who took the Celtics to seven games in the first round – get a big name to place next to Giannis. Maybe the Wizards get DeMarcus Cousins. Maybe the Heat make a big move.
If the Celtics make it out of the East a year from now, they’ll run into extremely stiff competition in the Finals. Golden State, the NBA’s finest dynasty since the Michael Jordan Bulls, is not going away.
Houston will still be in the mix. Anthony Davis’ Pelicans will be lurking.
The point is, in this era of superteams – all of the current superteams and the budding super teams are playing a game of one-upsmanship each summer. The Celtics are going to get better by virtue of Kyrie and Hayward coming back, but their primary competition for the title next season knows this too. The rest of the league is not going to sit around and let the C’s swipe this thing in 2019 without putting up a fight.
The Celtics are in phenomenal shape as a franchise for sure. But there are no guarantees of ultimate victory.
The only guarantee in pro basketball these days is LeBron James getting to the NBA Finals.