Boston Celtics: Roster turnover and tempered expectations in 2017-18

Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images /

The Boston Celtics are well set up for the future with their roster turnover, but if the goal was dethroning LeBron James, expectations for 2017-18 should be tempered.

It’s time for a small dose of reality where the Boston Celtics are concerned. The takes will be dry, harsh and unpleasant if you are a biased fan, so this is more of a forewarning. Welcome to the Celtics terra firma.

I am not going to really HATE on any players and I believe my opinions are firmly grounded in countless hours of watching League Pass and NBA basketball.

The takes will not be hot, but simply one perspective. Last year’s team consisted of gritty players that had fantastic chemistry and the athleticism to run against any team. Now, the Celtics are only returning four players. That’s right: A No. 1-seed that is only returning four starters. That’s an outlook that is going to be about as fruitless as planting corn in December.

Adding extremely talented players that seem to be in ideal roles have everyone’s hopes set very high. If all goes to planned, it can be argued that the Celtics have the best chance in the East to dethrone LeBron James and his new former Celtic teammates. If all does not go to planned, it could be a dumpster fire with Danny Ainge catching all the blame.

Luckily, I do not see that being the case. Kyrie Irving is a ball-dominant point guard that will be playing alongside more passive offensive pieces, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. It’s a recipe for success if the role players also pan out. Marcus Smart is about as consistent as they come defensively, while Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes have also proved themselves as bruisers in the league. But there is still one problem.

LeBron James

With all this in mind, you could put Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris or Al Horford on LeBron James and I’m still going to bet that the King is getting to the rim. Nothing against their defense, but the Celtics still have a giant hole here. Smart and Jae Crowder rotated playing against LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals and there have been many cases that Marcus Morris is the exact fit they need to stop him. The stats do not lie for his case either.

There are plenty of articles talking about how Morris is among the best when it come to guarding LeBron. While that may be nice for Celtics fans, Marcus Morris is not stopping LeBron James. He is simply limiting him and that’s where it becomes a little shady. Just because Morris is one of the best at guarding LeBron, it does not mean LeBron is guardable. He still has an elite scoring point guard and Kevin Love alongside him, not to mention another ex-Celtic Jae Crowder, who is coming off a career season.

The case can be made that the Cavaliers got better and the Celtics have taken a complete shot in the dark. Heck, I would make this case. Still, the Celtics have players in the right situation to succeed. Hayward is coming off his first All-Star selection, Terry Rozier is steadily improving and rookie draft pick Jayson Tatum has yet to step on a court. If there is one word to describe this team, it’s potential. Potential and a whole lot of hype surrounding Kyrie Irving.

Kyrie’s and the role players

This season comes down to one player. Kyrie Irving is going to be the focal point of this team and he is going to be expected to deliver. Realistically, there are few players better at the position and he’s got  a clutch gene that is going to take the weight off of players like Hayward and Horford.

If Kyrie is willing to take the ball late in the game, then it frees up Hayward to find his spot as a secondary option, while giving Horford the chance to attack for offensive rebounds. The situation is really set up nice, but the role players will need to learn how to mesh and learn quick.

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Irving receives plenty of backlash due to his lack of assists, but in Cleveland he was never asked to be the assist guy. LeBron passed to him so he would shoot. Now we can see if zebras can in fact change their stripes.

There is a reason that saying exists, but Irving is also not a zebra. He can in fact “learn” to pass, but it will all depend on his mindset and trust in his teammates. That includes the role players that will be open when Irving drives. When it comes to role players, there are only about six, maybe seven guys that will carry weight this season, if you want to include Shane Larkin.

Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes will be the most common names outside of the Big Three. Some are defensive specialists, others more versatile scorers. Regardless of what role they play, all will be necessary for success in the new-look Celtics “debut” season.

Next: Complete 2017 NBA offseason grades for all 30 teams

The Boston Celtics are well set up for future success with their stars in their primes, future draft picks and young talent to look forward to. But for 2017-18, expectations should be tempered.