Can you win and lose an offseason? The Boston Celtics proved that yes, you absolutely can.
Coming off an NBA finals loss to the Golden State Warriors the Celtics bolstered their depth by trading for point guard Malcolm Brogdon and signing veteran sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari. Those moves coupled with the return of the entire core of the Eastern Conference Finals squad made the Celtics early betting favorites to win the 2022-2023 NBA title and rightfully so.
Then the calendar turned to September.
Gallinari tore his ACL playing Euro Basket and will likely miss the season. Robert Williams underwent surgery to alleviate pain in his already surgically repaired knee and will be out until 2023. And then, of course, head coach Ime Udoka was suspended for the season for violation of team rules.
So what are we left with? A title contender? Absolutely, but one with a ton of question marks. Our Garden Report panel of “experts” (myself included) put forth their season predictions for the C’s as well as a some serious, and a few somewhat silly bold predictions.
Sherrod Blakely: Celtics will lead the NBA in scoring – Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will be the best 1-2 scoring punch in the NBA this season. Throw in more efficient scoring from a multitude of positions and you have the makings of an explosive, high-powered offense that will make Boston the league’s best at getting buckets this season.
Bobby Manning: Joe Mazzulla becomes a coach of the year candidate – Mazzulla has as much talent as any coach in the NBA, and that’s what matters as he acclimates to a larger role. He can carry forward the formula that worked last year on defense while making key adjustments to the offense already paying dividends in preseason. The Ime Udoka suspension and Mazzulla stepping into his role and maintaining stability would give him a narrative boost over other contenders. Joe can win it.
John Zannis: The Celtics bring in a veteran “assistant” to help Joe Mazulla – I mean, what are we doing here Bobby? Can Mazzulla be a competent NBA coach in his first year and maintain the Celtics as title contenders? Yes. Is it asking a lot of a 34-year old with only 2 years of Division II college coaching experience under his belt? F–k yeah it is! Mazulla and fellow former Celtics assistant Will Hardy are the 2 youngest coaches in the NBA. Hardy had the benefit of a normal hiring process as the hand picked successor in Utah to Quinn Snyder PLUS an entire offseason to prepare for the job. Mazulla learned he was ‘probably’ replacing Ime Udoka on Twitter three days before training camp began. It’s a lot and there will be bumps along the way. A steady hand like Frank Vogel or Terry Stotts can only help.
Toscano: Tatum doesn’t get First Team All-NBA. Not saying he has a bad season, I just don’t know if he’s going to be dominant enough game in and game out. Plus Jaylen Brown will probably cut into some of his scoring.
Blakely: Jayson Tatum wins league MVP: There comes a point in the NBA cycle where there’s voter fatigue of voting for the same players, year after year. That will work to Tatum’s advantage, along with the Celtics having one of the best records in the NBA despite losing Danilo Gallinari for most if not all of the season, as well as Robert Williams’ absence and of course, the one-year suspension of head coach Ime Udoka. Despite all that, Tatum will put up numbers as good or better than he has in the past.
As for choosing the Bucks, I just think they are a more complete team with an all-time great player in Giannis. They kind of remind me a little bit of the Duncan era spurs in that they play fundamentally sound basketball, they’re a bit boring perhaps, but they stick to business and know how to win. Middleton should return in a couple weeks and let’s not forget the Celtics probably lose that series last year if Middleton played in it. The Celtics had a real chance of winning a championship last season. They let it slip away. I think they will find out once again this year how difficult it is to go where you want to go. But hey, what the hell do I know?
Zannis: 47 wins, 4th in East, Lose in 2nd round to Bucks. I have to agree with Jimmy. When the Celtics made all their offseason moves I hopped right on board the Banner 18 Bandwagon. But pretending all that bad offseason stuff didn’t happen – as many fans have – won’t make it go away. Boston starts the year with a completely untested 1st year coach, an aging Center in Al Horford with no front court depth behind him, and lack of proven wing scoring and defense off the bench. Injuries to any core players could sink this ship quickly or place too heavy a burden on Tatum and Brown. There is a world in which everything falls the Celtics way, Rob returns early and looks phenomenal, Mazzulla proves to be an upgrade over Ime and Boston cruises to the NBA Finals. But I need to see it first. Repeating success is hard. It’s much harder when you have as many things go wrong as the Celtics have before the ball is tipped on opening night.
Pavon: 48 wins, 4th in East, Conference Finals OR Finals? – The O’Brien trophy is headed east this year. For the Celtics, it will be a dogfight at the top of the conference as teams such as the Bucks and Heat return with reinforcements and at full strength. Unfortunately, that’s somewhat, but not the case for the Celtics. Playing without Rob Williams for the first couple of months will hurt Boston’s chances of claiming the top spot. Still, the Celtics’ high-powered offense, led by Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown, which two-way standout Malcolm Brogdon reinforces, will keep Boston in the hunt.
Rebounding is still a legitimate concern without Williams. However, Mazzulla’s emphasis on team-oriented defense will be the key to seeing the Celtics close out narrow victories between now and Rob’s return from left knee surgery.
Manning: 53 wins, Second in East, Finals Appearance – The top of the east is so difficult. Boston would’ve run away with the top seed healthy and the head coaching situation certain. There’s hedging warranted there, while also acknowledging the enormous talent still available and an increase in wins. The Malcolm Brogdon addition appears to be a major swing factor at maintaining during Robert Williams’ absence.