BOSTON — If you happened to look past the expectations for the Boston Celtics at the start of this season, there’s a good reason for that.
They didn’t exist.
Coming off a 25-win season and not adding a single free agent of prominence, Boston seemed primed for yet another year in a lottery.
And as Trader Danny flipped players like distressed properties, the moves didn’t appear to make Boston any better.
In fact, most of the trades gave the allusion of pushing Boston further and further into the lottery (top-14) abyss.
And then came the all-star break, followed by one last set of roster moves before the February trade deadline.
Just like that, the Celtics started winning, fans could see tangible progress and Boston managed to get into the postseason as a No. 7 seed.
Considering the journey Boston took to get to the playoffs were they were summarily dismissed in four games by the Cavaliers, a trip to the postseason is a success within itself right?
Not for this group.
They weren’t satisfied when it was clear they would win more games than they did a year ago.
And they’re just as disappointed to see their season end with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Cavs, capped off by Sunday’s 101-93 Game 4 loss.
“We feel like we deserved more,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “We’re proud, but we’re not satisfied. We see that this team has a lot of potential, we work hard, we like playing with each other, we play extremely hard and those are the keys to success. It’s frustrating to see the season end like it did, but we got to try and build from this and come back next year ready for war.”
The pain of having their season end is fresh in their minds, so perspective on this season as a whole is a bit murky right now.
Once these players have a chance to sit back and really evaluate this season, they’ll realize just how impressive a year they had.
They hate the idea but it’s so true: this team was an overachiever.
That doesn’t make them any less of a player in the NBA. In fact, it shows just how valuable playing as a team can be because Boston did not get into the playoffs this season based on individual talent.
They made it this far because there were many nights in which they just out-worked opponents both on the court and from the sideline courtesy of Brad Stevens and those killer ATO (after time-out) plays.
And while there is plenty for this group to build on, all involved know that this team will look different a year from now.
With a handful of free agents, not all will be back next season.
It’s a given that Boston will offer a multi-year deal to Jae Crowder as well as one to Jonas Jerebko.
There’s still lots of love for Brandon Bass, but he’s an unrestricted free agent who may be looking to play elsewhere where his role is a bit more defined than it has been the past couple of years in Boston.
Gigi Datome is a player they like, but definitely not a priority.
And of the team’s young players in their first and second seasons, some of them are likely to be on the move this summer via trade.
It all adds up to what should be an active offseason for the Celtics.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s not blow past the work done by this group of Celtics who in so many ways defied the odds and expectations of a team that traded away its top scorer (Jeff Green) and floor leader (Rajon Rondo) and did not acquire a replacement for those voids immediately.
Addition by subtraction at work, for sure.
Boston evolved on the fly all season, with Stevens the one constant in what was indeed a season of change for the Celtics.
And while Stevens recognizes better than anyone the progress this team has made, by no means is he content with his team’s growth in this, his second season in Boston.
“I like our progress but I like to win,” Stevens said. “So I’m disappointed right now. But it’s not at anybody or at myself or at any … it’s just, you’re disappointed to lose. We have to get better, we have to get better in every which way, and that’s the challenge ahead. Because winning’s a lot more fun.”