By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Forgive me, 98.5 The Sports Hub God, for I am about to commit pageview treason.
Not that it was promised, but there were no Celtics-colored fireworks launched from the roof of the freshly-painted Auerbach Center during the NBA Draft. Celtics president Danny Ainge was not in Brooklyn robbing the rest of the league blind. Nor did he try to extend his two-year heater of drafting absolute studs. And when they failed to make that massive trade that propelled them to the top of the 2018 NBA Draft — be it to draft Luka Doncic or Mo Bamba — I was thrilled.
No hypothetical package — especially one that would see you part with the Kings’ 2019 first-round pick that should bring yet another lottery talent to a C’s squad seemingly set for years to come between Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — made sense. But it also didn’t seem like something the Celtics had to do to build off what was the best season under head coach Brad Stevens yet, with 55 regular-season wins and 11 postseason wins, their most since the days of The 21st Century Big Three. And in a severely weakened East that could get even worse should LeBron James bolt for the West, no less.
The Celtics instead stayed the course and landed 6-foot-10 big man Robert Williams III at No. 27 overall. While Williams may not come with the flashy name and highlight reel of those the Celtics could have traded up to draft, there’s no doubt that the center with a 7-foot-6 wingspan fits a need, and that he’ll be able to carve out a steady role on the Celtics.
Given their needs, it was the safest of picks for the Celtics to make.
And it’s a path that I hope extends throughout the summer, as we are subjected to a truly boring basketball summer.
Please know I’m not just saying that as somebody still reeling from the exhaustion of last season’s Boston overhaul. (I’m still bitter that I lost out on a Fourth on July thanks to Gordon Hayward, and I plan to officially petition for him to award me one holiday, but that’s for another day.) I’m instead speaking as somebody able to see the potential of last year’s C’s squad for all of five minutes of regular-season basketball thanks to Hayward’s season-ending injury on Opening Night. I’m speaking as somebody that was not able to see a postseason featuring Kyrie Irving — a proven closer and the man behind the shot that won the Cavs their first NBA title — thanks to season-ending knee surgery right before the start of the playoffs.
In other words, the Celtics owe it to themselves to let this group get one real run together.
This was the group Ainge happily reconfigured his entire organizational depth chart around to assemble last summer. Giving that group five minutes and deciding it’s not good enough to win a title would be a ridiculous flip in under a year. And this new team — which required Ainge abandoning all positives that came from an overachieving 2016-17 squad, which is far harder than you’d think — came within one victory of competing in the NBA Finals. While down its two most important pieces for the entire postseason, too. Theoretically, that makes your first real year with this group together all the more promising, as 2018 came with undeniable growing up moments for Brown, Tatum, and Terry Rozier.
Irving himself sees the promise that this year’s star-less postseason run can bring to next season with Hayward back.
“Just how much versatility we have,” Irving told the Boston Sports Journal’s Brian Robb when asked about his excitement with next year’s Hayward-infused lineup. “I think that our starting five probably could have changed game-to-game, based on the guys we have on this team and the length. When you add another prominent ballhandler, creator of opportunities, scorer and defender in Gordon, that’s something you can’t necessarily talk about it, you can only see.
“That’s something a lot of us are excited to see from G.”
Hayward’s return is the most important to the Celtics, too, because whether it’s been acknowledged or not, the Celtics truly seemed to build their offense around Hayward’s impact. It was one of the true missing pieces of Stevens’ system. They had superb production from the point guard spot before Kyrie, and Al Horford is Al Horford, but a wing that can hit shots from anywhere? That was the missing piece. And Hayward was going to be the focal point of what the Celtics did as a team.
Throwing that out the window to sell your soul for two years of LeBron James deciding how you run your ops from Ainge down to the dude on level two scanning tickets or the hope Kawhi Leonard doesn’t hate Stevens and quits again, seems insane.
But in a leaguewide race to catch up with the Warriors, it should be about whatever gets you to their level, right? Well, who’s to say that the Celtics are not close with a healthy Irving and Hayward? There’s simply no way of knowing. What we do know, however, is that the C’s have defeated the Warriors in three of their last five meetings, and are 2-2 against the Dubs since Kevin Durant signed in Golden State. Their last shortcoming against the Warriors was by just four points, too.
Again, the Celtics owe it to themselves to let this group get their best — and most of all, healthy — shot against the league’s best.
This is not to say that the Celtics shouldn’t do anything. After all, they still have needs; Ainge will likely need a third-string point guard when Shane Larkin walks for a greater payday elsewhere and when somebody gets stupid with restricted free agent Marcus Smart. They’ll probably need somebody to replace Aron Baynes, or at the very least serve as backup with Williams III thanks to the likely departure of Greg Monroe. But these are simple, boring moves that the Celtics will make.
And honestly, that seems totally fine.
Because the Celtics’ two big additions are coming in October with a healthy Kyrie and Hayward.
Along with our first real look at this team’s ceiling.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.