Go ahead. You can say it. This Boston Celtics team is refreshing.
That doesn’t mean you’re admitting to anything outrageous. For example, you’re not exactly predicting them to win an NBA championship this year. If you are, then you and me have a different understanding of what we’ll be witnessing on that brand-new parquet floor at the Garden in 2015-16.
This Celtics season represents the type of “step in the right direction” philosophy that not many franchises can master. It’s a team that’s deep — almost too deep — with some very talented players. Right now, at least, none of that depth is filled with All-Star-caliber talent. But that’s OK. The Celtics are comfortable with that, and so am I.
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Now, it’s understandable why some people weren’t sold on an offseason that included the additions of David Lee, Amir Johnson, and four draft picks. There was nothing “blockbuster” about this past summer. And in the NBA world that we live in, if you don’t have superstars, you aren’t winning championships.
The Celtics are using this season to do both in the very near future: acquire superstars, and then win championships. But the former must come first. Even the C’s front office understands that.
Which is why they traded for Lee, signed Johnson, and re-signed Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko. Those four players don’t equal an NBA title. Heck, they don’t even equal an Eastern Conference championship right now. But they represent improvement. And “improvement” is a lot easier to accept when you don’t have to use the word “tank” all season. Because the Celtics own the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round picks for 2016 and 2018. And here’s a little Nets preview: they’re terrible. So all we have to do here in Boston is worry about winning. That’s right. Not tanking. Winning.
In Vegas, the over-under on Celtics wins was 45.5 entering Wednesday night’s season-opener — a 112-95 win over the 76ers. Last year, the C’s won 40 games, finished as the seven seed in the East, and got swept by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers in the first round. With the added depth, a full season of Isaiah Thomas and Crowder, and another year of experience for 2014 No. 6 overall pick Marcus Smart, these Celtics are set to win 48 games and obtain either a four or five seed in the playoffs. And it could even be better than that, if Celtics CEO and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck was telling the truth on “Felger and Mazz” Wednesday when he said, “Mostly we’re looking right now at trades for December and February, and then we’ll worry about free agency after that.”
Of course, the elephant in the room during that conversation was Kevin Durant’s impending free agency; the type of off-season signing or sign-and-trade that would be the dream result to Danny Ainge’s ultimate plan. And while the Celtics have made and will continue to make the necessary improvements that grab the attention of some key free agents this summer, it may take the addition of an All-Star to convince someone like, let’s say, Durant, to make Boston his new home.
Hearing Grousbeck discuss this year’s trade deadline — and publicly acknowledge that the team has the salary-cap space for “two” max contracts next year — makes me believe that he and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge have something up their sleeves before the Feb. 18 trade deadline.
And if they can land a big-money All-Star in a blockbuster deal, like, let’s say, a DeMarcus Cousins, then perhaps convincing an elite scorer to sign in Boston as a free agent won’t be such a pipe dream after all.
Names like Cousins and Durant are just two examples. But we’ll leave that up to Ainge and Grousbeck. Right now, the only thing the current Celtics need to worry about is winning.
And that mindset is pretty damn refreshing.