Celtics

Offseason Turmoil Could Derail Contending Celtics

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So close, yet so far.

That’s a familiar phrase the Boston Celtics have seen, heard and lived through in recent memory.

The past five years of Boston basketball trend in a similar pattern: promise, disappointment and repeat. In 2018, Boston was an all-time performance by LeBron James away from reaching the NBA Finals.

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A year later, the Celtics flamed out against the Bucks, and so to did the Kyrie Irving era. In 2020, Boston devoured both Philadelphia and Toronto in the NBA Bubble before falling just short to a hungry Miami team. After coming so close in the bubble, the Celtics dealt with a season from hell in 2021, ending with a gentlemen’s sweep against Brooklyn in the First Round.

Fast forward to this past season, and things were once again looking up for Boston. After starting off 19-21, the Celtics surged to a 51-31 record and earned the second seed in the 2022 Eastern Conference Playoffs.

Boston had everything going for them, from incorporating players that fit with the roster to an MVP-caliber leap from Jayson Tatum. After back-to-back Game 7 thrillers against Milwaukee and Miami, Boston was just two wins away from their first championship since 2008.

But history tends to repeat itself, and repeat it did.

The Celtics lost their composure in the final three games of the 2022 Finals against the Warriors. A promising offseason has been plagued with off-the-court scandal and injuries. After a hopeful title run, it appears the team could yet again be headed down the road of uncertainty, disappointment and regression.

The Latest on Ime Udoka

Any Celtics-related news needs to start with the latest surrounding coach Ime Udoka.

Per Adrian Wojnarowski, Udoka will not be the head coach for Boston (at a minimum) for the 2022-2023 season due to having a consensual relationship with a female staffer for the Celtics. Further investigation concluded that Udoka used “crude language” prior to the relationship beginning. So far, given the team’s decision to suspend Udoka, it appears Udoka’s future with the Celtics remains uncertain moving forward.

The team announced that former assistant coach Joe Mazzulla will become the new interim head coach for Boston. Mazzulla served as an assistant coach for the Celtics since 2019.

Off the court, this is a concerning situation in itself that merits an entire article of its own. Focusing exclusively on the court, there’s a lot of uncertainty about how the Celtics move forward.

Udoka guided Boston to a scorching second half last season. Without making any substantial moves at the trade deadline, Udoka built up a culture of defense, effort and resilience. The Celtics beat Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo on their impressive road to the 2022 Finals.

Reestablishing a culture within the team, especially after Udoka’s suspension, could prove to be difficult for Boston. Udoka’s status moving forward remains to be determined, top Celtics assistant Will Hardy is now the head coach in Utah, and Mazzulla is an unproven NBA head coach.

Only time will tell how Mazzulla performs given the stakes of this current Celtics roster.

Injuries to Williams and Gallinari

The injury bug hit Boston before the season started. Now, an already-thin roster will need to hold out while two of their best players come back from injury.

A little over two weeks ago, the Celtics announced that starting center Robert Williams will be out 4-6 weeks due to leg surgery. In last year’s playoffs, Williams played hurt, limiting his impact and physicality on both ends of the court.

Last season, Williams averaged 10 points, nearly 10 rebounds and over two blocks per game. He served as the anchor for a defense that gave up the fewest points per game in the league. On offense, his fit next to either Tatum at center or Al Horford at the power forward spot made him a devastating rebounder and lob threat.

Suddenly, the Celtics will now need to rely more on Horford, who’s already getting up there in age and could take a step back this season.

At the forward position, recent acquisition Danilo Gallinari suffered a torn ACL while playing in Europe over the summer. So far, the timeline for Gallinari’s return remains unclear.

Similar to Williams, Gallinari provided the Celtics with more depth during the regular season. Losing him means relying on more playing time from either Tatum or Jaylen Brown. Given his size and shooting ability, Gallinari was capable of playing either the four or the five, depending on the matchup. Losing Gallinari means Boston lost some lineup versatility moving forward.

Jaylen Brown’s Uncertain Future

Is it really all that shocking that Jaylen Brown should be a cause of concern for the Celtics?

Over the offseason, Brown became a pawn in the larger Kevin Durant trade sweepstakes that took the league by storm. While no move was made, the damage might have been done already.

Last season, Brown’s scoring, volume and efficiency exceeded expectations after a disappointing 2020-2021 campaign. Athletic wings who can average nearly 24 points per game, be respectable playmakers, and serve as good-to-elite versatile defenders are a rarity across the league. With both Brown and Tatum, the Celtics possess two of those coveted assets.

For now, Brown remains under contract with Boston for two more seasons, including this upcoming year. Should the Celtics spiral out of control, could Brown be the odd man out?

If that’s not enough, look at this offseason from Brown’s perspective. The Celtics were capable, willing, and able to trade him in a Durant trade. Brown needed to be the centerpiece of any realistic offer with Brooklyn. After a stellar 2022 playoff run and building up a core for the future, Boston honed in on immediacy at the expense of their homegrown talent.

With Tatum and Brown, the Celtics should be one of the favorites to come out of the East. But Boston’s once-promising offseason has now turned into hell on earth for the team.

Moving forward, the Celtics will need to figure things out and figure them out fast. If not, Boston’s season might be over before it even begins.

About Dominic Chiappone

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