Blakely: So, where do Celtics go from here?
BOSTON – When you’re on a mission like the Celtics are to become a champion, there’s no time to sit back and relax.
On paper, they enter the offseason with a roster that will have them on everyone’s short list of NBA Finals favorites for 2019.
“When you play for the Boston Celtics, I believe that you’re always thinking winning a championship,” said Al Horford. “That’s the reason why I came here to be in those positions to play in those types of games like [Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals]. Kyrie [Irving] and Gordon [Hayward], they know that. They know that and it’s something we’re all looking forward to.”
How all this comes together next season will be the overarching issue facing the Celtics.
But in the meantime, Boston will look to fortify its already strong roster in an offseason that has a number of intricate plots.
Here’s a look at five storylines all Celtics fans need to keep an eye on as they try to build upon the success of this past season with one goal in mind – bring home Banner 18.
MARCUS SMART FREE AGENCY
It’s not every day that a guard that shoots 36 percent from the field and less than 30 percent from 3-point range will draw the kind of interest that Marcus Smart will this offseason. Being a restricted free agent will to some degree limit the amount of interest he’ll garner, but there will be offers – plural not singular – for Smart’s services. And the reason is simple. He impacts winning with his effort, hustle, defensive instincts and overall floor game. And while his shooting continues to be a problem, Smart’s game as a whole is much better than he’s given credit for. Boston would love to re-sign him to a deal closer to $10 million, but there’s a good chance at least one team (Brooklyn? Atlanta?) will sign him to an offer sheet closer to $15 million, which would make for a tough call on Boston’s part whether to match the offer. Regardless, Smart is going to get a sizable pay bump this summer. Will it come from Boston or elsewhere?
It was good to hear Danny Ainge laugh off the trade-Kyrie-Irving-because-you-have-Terry Rozier chatter among fans and a few media pundits that, to be candid, was just silly talk. But the time is near for Boston to start figuring out what to do with Rozier, who is eligible for a contract extension before the start of training camp. Even with his horrific Game 7 performance in the conference finals (2-for-14 shooting, 0-for-10 on 3's), Rozier established himself as being good enough to be a starting point guard in the NBA and doesn’t mince words when he says he and Kyrie Irving will push one another in camp to be their best this season.
ARON BAYNES' FUTURE
The Celtics have done well on the free agency market the past couple of years, but the most meaningful addition for them may be from within if they can re-sign Baynes. The 6-foot-11 center has made it clear that he wants to remain with the Celtics. And the Celtics want him back, aware that his presence was a big part of Boston being among the top teams defensively all season. But Baynes may become too pricey for Boston to keep around. His strong play defensively – he had the best defensive rating of any player in the NBA – as well as his newly acquired 3-point stroke will likely lead to additional suitors. There's no doubt Baynes will be in demand when the start of free agency starts.
After having one of the best seasons by a Celtics rookie, Tatum took his game to another level in having one of the great playoff runs by a first-year player. This offseason, Tatum has to commit himself to becoming a better, physically stronger player. He has a great role model in Jaylen Brown, who had a solid rookie season and, after a really intense summer, returned to camp a significantly better player. If Tatum has similar success in transforming his lithe frame into one loaded with muscles, we’re going to be talking about him as one of the league’s best players a lot sooner than anyone anticipated.
TRADE OR STAND PAT?
Ainge said he’s not pursuing a major shakeup but...he said the same going into the offseason last season and he got rid of all but four players. There's a big difference now. That team had pretty much peaked and the hope of them getting much better was unlikely. This team came one win away from getting to the NBA Finals and did so without its top two players, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Knowing those guys will be back at the start of the season, it makes the idea of doing little this summer beyond re-signing their own free agents Smart and Baynes far more palatable.