The Celtics have had the Sixers’ number for what feels like Brett Brown’s entire tenure.
GM Danny Ainge always seemed to be a step ahead in building his roster. Going into last season, just about anyone would’ve taken Boston’s roster over the Sixers’.
What a difference a year makes.
Last year at this time, the Celtics were welcoming back All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to a team that made the Eastern Conference Finals and took LeBron James and the Cavs to seven games. Expectations couldn’t have been higher.
Irving turned into a disastrous distraction and Hayward never quite regained his form. After the Celtics swept the Pacers in the first round, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks dispatched of Boston in five games.
The Sixers’ season didn’t end much better. After trading for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, the team came up just short, losing on the infamous quadruple doink to the eventual champion Raptors.
Both teams reloaded, but it's fair to say the Sixers had the better summer.
Sure, Ainge landed Kemba Walker, a guy that hung 60 in a game on the Sixers last season, but he lost Al Horford. Making matters worse, he lost Horford to the Sixers. What the Celtics are hoping for is a little addition by subtraction — they keep Irving’s scoring ability but lose his attitude with Walker.
But there’s no denying what they lost in Horford. The Sixers now have a do-it-all starting power forward and the best Joel Embiid insurance policy money can buy. They lost Butler, but they got Josh Richardson and the cap space necessary to sign Horford. Richardson may not be an All-Star, but he can fill a similar role to Butler while fitting in better with the Sixers’ young superstars.
The Sixers’ biggest issue is likely figuring out which Tobias Harris they’ll get: The Clippers version or the one that struggled down the stretch for the Sixers. Harris will have a bigger, more defined role with Butler gone. The 27-year-old also admitted that he was dealing with a foot injury at the end of last season, something that caused him to miss the opportunity to play for Team USA this summer.
Boston has good pieces. Its youngsters, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, have a ton of potential but will need to take a pretty big leap forward. The center position is a clear weakness with Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis looking like the top players at the position.
The Sixers fixed their backup center situation and their bench overall. They improved their defense with no real weak links in sight.
All of that and we didn’t even mention first-round pick Matisse Thybulle. Yes, Ainge managed to swindle a pick out of Brand because he got wind of the Sixers' interest in the wing from Washington (not the first time Ainge has swindled the Sixers on draft night). But ultimately it may be Ainge that regrets that Thybulle was only a Celtic for all of five minutes.
It took some time, but Brand did well to rebuild this roster around Embiid and Simmons.
“Just the journey. I'm excited that I love coaching this team,” Brown said Tuesday when asked what excites him most about his roster. “And I think that we have character. I think that we have talent. Things will evolve as they should as it relates to what you learn offensively, defensively. How you play the team, sub the team. But the baseline of the group that Elton has given me, is the best team that we have had here in Philadelphia. And I'm excited to take this journey with them.”
Going into this season, just about anyone would take the Sixers’ roster over the Celtics’.
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