By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
After the failed Kyrie Irving Era of Celtics Basketball, Danny Ainge and Co. seem to have hit the reset button on their culture.
Out? Irving, Al Horford, Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris, and Terry Rozier. In? Kemba Walker, Enes Kanter, and a five-rookie group that’s put an emphasis on strong character and the right kind of “personality.”
This is often the first step any franchise that goes through a year of in-fighting and volatile mixes goes through in an effort to bring themselves back to the ground floor, and the Celtics are no exception. Sit with any of these new faces and you’ll realize what the C’s are trying to establish in 2019.
But the group is also so much more than that.
For all of the changes and all of the moving pieces head coach Brad Stevens is going to have to figure out how to best slot this season, the Celtics are still a team that should make a legitimate push as one of the top three or four teams in their conference. I mean, it’s tough to find many true ‘powerhouses’ in the East beyond the Bucks and 76ers, and even that is met with some pushback from some.
So let’s meet the 2019-20 Celtics…
No. 0, Jayson Tatum
It’s official: The Celtics have given the keys to the franchise to Jayson Tatum. Yes, the Celtics signed Walker, extended Brown, and are stressing the idea of a return to team-first basketball, but this is officially Tatum’s time. I mean, break it down this way: If Tatum looks the part of the player that nearly outshined LeBron James in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals this season, the Celtics are absolutely going to sign him to a max contract extension. (Hell, based on what they did with Brown, there’s a good chance they’re going to do that regardless of Tatum’s steps in 2019-20.) But Tatum is no longer answering to another superstar or piece on the Celtic roster; Walker made it clear Tatum played a role in him coming to Boston. That speaks to an equal relationship opposed to the big brother-little brother dynamic that Kyrie seemed to have with Tatum. It should lead to some healthier, more productive development for both Tatum and the Celtics.
No. 4, Carsen Edwards
It’s not hard to think that the Celtics may have found something with 2019 second-round pick Carsen Edwards. And you could have said that immediately after the C’s selected Edwards, a three-year standout at Purdue, given what he did as the Boilermakers’ top scorer in their NCAA tournament run. Confidence has never appeared to be an issue, really. And as a shoot-first threat from the No. 1, Edwards used the preseason to show off a little bit of what he can do when he gets hot, and there should be plenty of opportunities for him to potentially lead the Green’s reserves as their top scoring threat.
No. 7, Jaylen Brown
With a new four-year, $115 million contract to his name, Jaylen Brown is officially in “show us” territory.
Drafted with the No. 3 overall pick in 2016, Brown has been a tantalizing piece of the Boston puzzle since he first broke in with the Isaiah Thomas Celtics, at times looking like a dominant two-way guard, while other times looking like a player who is questioning his own decisions with and without the ball. Now, some of that has come to Brown’s role and the confidence that follows. He was the team’s No. 2 option during their improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018 and spent a good chunk of last year as a sixth man. But if Brown can return to what he was during that aforementioned ’18 run (18 points per game, over 45% shooting), the Celtics will be more than thrilled with their nine-figure investment.
The opportunity should be there, too, with Brown’s roadblocks in terms of No. 1 and 2 options (Irving, Horford) and positional logjams (Morris as a starter, Rozier as an off-the-bench top scorer) gone via free agency.
No. 8, Kemba Walker
In a system designed to let point guards thrive as superstar-level talents, Stevens’ team has gone from Thomas to Irving and now to Kemba Walker. And it’s a perfect fit for all involved, according to Walker. A 6-foot-1 high-scoring guard, Walker was lights out with the Hornets last year, averaging 25.6 points per game, 4.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 3.2 three-pointers per night en route to his third All-Star appearance and honors on the All-NBA Third Team. Walker has already talked about what this move to Boston has done for him on the floor, remarking that he’s not used to having not to do so much. In other words, the points are going to fly, and fly in bunches, if the Celtics truly maximize Walker’s skill-set properly.
No. 9, Brad Wanamaker
The 6-foot-4 Brad Wanamaker is back for another go with the Celtics after appearing in 36 games for Boston a year ago. Wanamaker averaged 9:31 over that 36-game run with the Celtics a year ago, but could have a greater role with the offseason departures of Irving and Rozier should the Celtics not believe in some of their first-year options as a reliable bench No. 1.
No. 11, Enes Kanter
With so much emphasis on culture, it’s hard to find a better fit for this team than veteran big man Enes Kanter. In Boston on a one-year deal, Kanter is here as both the Horford-Baynes replacement as much as he’s here to help guide some of the Green’s younger centers — Robert Williams III and Tacko Fall — as they embark on their journey on full-time pros.
In a 2018-19 split between New York and Portland, the 6-foot-11 Kanter averaged 13.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
No. 12, Grant Williams
I’m not sure how much you’re going to see Grant Williams play on 2019-20, but I can assure you that he may just be the nicest professional athlete in Boston. Check out his Twitter and you will immediately see what I’m talking about. The dude wants to immerse himself in everything Boston, make a difference, and show people who he is. And that’s just away from the court.
Williams did average seven points, 3.8 rebounds, and 18.5 minutes per night in four preseason tilts.
No. 20, Gordon Hayward
One burning question that can dramatically alter the Celtics’ expectations this year: Can Gordon Hayward return to the All-Star level that made him a max-signing for the Celtics back in 2017?
On the surface, this seems like too tall a task given what Hayward has been through. But we’re also two years removed from his gruesome ankle/leg injury, and you’d like to think that those limitations are finally over and done with for the 29-year-old wing. But the Celtics believe in Hayward’s return to normalcy, and there’s reason to buy-in on what Hayward did from February on last year, as he seemed to regain his rhythm and timing within the C’s roster and Stevens’ system.
Hayward also shot 40.2 percent during Boston’s nine-game playoff run, and had makes on nine of his 24 attempts from deep.
No. 27, Daniel Theis
The German big man is back for his third season with the Celtics. He may even be their starting center when things truly get rolling. Theis averaged almost 14 minutes per night last year, with 5.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest.
No. 36, Marcus Smart
It would appear that Marcus Smart, the longest tenured Celtic, has officially grabbed hold of the role as the team’s mouthpiece and emotional leader. You could make the case that he’s been that guy for the Celtics, but there’s no longer anybody to hold Smart back from injecting the rest of this roster with that underdog mentality they’ll need to surprise the league’s best.
Smart comes into 2019-20 coming off career-year from deep, with 126 makes from three-point land (his previous career-high was 94), as well as a 36.4 percent mark from deep, which topped a career-high 33.5 percent Smart shot as a rookie in 2014-15.
No. 37, Semi Ojeleye
Given some of the snarl that left the Celtics in the offseason, will the Celtics officially utilize Ojeleye as their most physically-punishing defender? He’s certainly built to be just that. I mean, I’m pretty sure Ojeleye benches buildings for the fun of it.
No. 43, Javonte Green
The 26-year-old Javonte Green cried some happy tears when he found out that he was going to win the battle for the C’s last roster spot out of training camp, and rightfully so. After a collegiate career at Radford, Green bounced to Spain, then to Italy, and then to Germany before earning a Summer League chance with the Celtics. He took that and ran with it, and then beat out the Celtics’ other invites to earn himself an NBA gig with the Celtics by way of an 80 percent field goal percentage.
No. 44, Robert Williams III
Second-year center Robert Williams III may very well be Boston’s best option at the five this year.
So, the question becomes a simple one: Is he ready for that? A first-round pick in 2018, Williams III spent most of last year as a bottom of the roster spectator for last year’s crowded, win-now group, playing at least 20 minutes just three times over a 32-game rookie year. The Celtics seemed to manage Williams’ minutes in the preseason, too, as he averaged just over eight minutes in four preseason contests. What means for his 2019, of course, remains to be seen.
No. 45, Romeo Langford
Romeo Langford, Boston’s top draft choice in the 2019 NBA Draft as the No. 14 overall pick, seems like one interesting project. At 6-foot-4, Langford has experience playing both guard and forward, and comes to the Celtics after averaging 16.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per night in 31 games for the Hoosiers last season, shooting 45.2 percent from the field.
Langford’s numbers were especially troubling from deep, with makes on just 33 of his 120 three-point attempts, giving him a 27.5 percent mark from deep (the worst among all Big 10 shooters with at least 100 tries from behind the arc). But Langford’s numbers were likely impacted negatively by the thumb injury Langford battled all year.
And while those injuries have hurt his stock, Langford was the Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year in 18, and local coaches and scouts raved about Langford potentially being one of the best players to come out of the state.
No. 51, Tremont Waters
Tremont Waters, the team’s 2019 second-round selection, will begin his professional career on a two-way contract. The 21-year-old shined in the preseason with a team-high four assists per game, while his 10.8 points per night was good for the fourth-best mark among all Celtics. The 5-foot-11 guard is the victim of a numbers game in 2019-20, of course, but if Waters can continue to make a difference on the defensive end (like he did at LSU and in the Summer League) with relentless pressure and timing that makes him a viable threat to create chaos that benefits the Green, the Celtics are going to be more than happy with what they get out of Waters in his 45 days of NBA time in 2019-20.
No. 77, Vincent Poirier
Vincent Poirier, a 25-year-old French center, played the past two seasons with Spain-based Saski Baskonia in the EuroLeague. The 6-foot-11 big man averaged 9.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in 34 games last year.
No. 99, Tacko Fall
The Celtics are committed to some long-term development with 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall. Proof of that came with Ainge and the Celtics converting Fall’s Exhibit 10 contract into a two-way deal early into the preseason. And for the Celtics, he’s more than a sideshow act, making trips to Portland a near-must for any Celtic fans looking for an extended look at Fall.