The Boston Celtics’ lost two starters in the offseason. Starting point guard Kyrie Irving took his talents to the Brooklyn Nets to team up with Kevin Durant. Center Al Horford, meanwhile, signed with the Philadelphia 76ers to form a fearsome tandem with All-Star center Joel Embiid. Both teams are rivals in the Atlantic Division which means they play the most number of games (4) against each other.
The Celtics immediately shifted to “Plan A” and signed center Enes Kanter and guard Kemba Walker. Arguably, Kanter and Walker are lesser versions of the two stars they replaced but they can definitely hold their own. The Celtics likewise lost versatile big Marcus Morris and sparkplug Terry Rozier.
Given this major line-up change, the Celtics took advantage of the withdrawal of several superstars to join Team USA. The Celtics’ young core of Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown made the cut joined by Kemba Walker.
The quartet sacrificed their summer to play together and get ahead in terms of conditioning, competition, and importantly, chemistry. By playing together against tough teams with a world title as the goal, the Celtics are learning to be more comfortable with one another while getting more experience in a notoriously physical FIBA World Cup. The shared experiences such as meals and bus rides facilitates a smooth transition once the season starts. Additionally, the “pace-and-space” game of FIBA reflects the evolution of the NBA game.
“I’m all about the camaraderie. I’m all about the togetherness,” Walker said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “I’ve always felt that you’re off-the-court relationships translate onto the court. I’ve always felt that way and I’ve always been big on that. It’s why I’m trying my best to get acclimated to those guys as best as I can.”
With this experience, expect the Celtics to be contending for the Eastern Conference title even if they are not the heavy favorites. The Milwaukee Bucks and the 76ers remain the frontrunners with their stacked line-ups. Still, this is a Boston Celtics team that is just a season removed from the Eastern Conference Finals. The return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward last season stymied the development of Tatum and Brown and caused locker room discontent. The same core remains without the emotional baggage.
It also helps that the Celtics are learning from legendary coach Gregg Popovich. Pop’s insights and techniques will definitely be a plus before the NBA wars begin in earnest in October. It is interesting to note that two other Celtics are playing at the FIBA World Cup. Big men Vincent Poirier (France) and Daniel Theis (Germany) are members of their respective country’s national teams.
The Celtics are definitely all set for the 2019-2020 NBA regular season.