I screen the calls for “Ordway, Merloni and Fauria”, monitor the WEEI text line and closely follow the discussion on Twitter from Celtics fans. I don’t sense any real optimism heading into this season.
It’s odd to me, somewhat of an outsider who is dying for a taste of success. The Celtics are the sixth-youngest team in the NBA (average player of 25.0 years old) and just went to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four years. This Celtics season can be fun without title expectations. (I promise you these are not talking points sent to me from Wyc Grousbeck or Danny Ainge.)
Here my superlatives for the 2020-21 Celtics season before it happens.
Surprise player of the year: Romeo Langford. I know what you’re thinking. “This guy has no jump shot.” “He can’t stay healthy.” You’re not wrong! But here’s why I am buying all of the Langford stock: Romeo has a knack for getting to the rim. He did it among the all time best in the state of Indiana, did it in college in the Big Ten, and showed flashes of it in the NBA. And those flashes here have all been with a scouting report telling the defense to sag off. I liked what I saw in terms of his form in his rookie year. You can tell he had been working on it.. He played through a thumb injury in college and still had a very good one-and-done season at Indiana University. He really hasn’t been 100 percent healthy for a season since high school. I’m betting on him having a good year if he can stay healthy. The Celtics need wing depth and don’t have a real scoring threat off the bench. Romeo has a real opportunity here once he returns from offseason surgery.
Surprise move of the year: Robert Williams traded. I liked what I saw in the bubble. But he’s just not a player you can play in crunch time right now given his issues in the pick and roll. Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis are ahead of Robert in the rotation. He’s shown enough promise to be a valuable piece the Celtics could use at the trade deadline.
Disappointment of the year: Jayson Tatum. With Gordon Hayward gone and Kemba Walker out for the first few weeks, scoring for the Celtics will be harder than ever for the team and Tatum. Add that in with his struggles from three in the Eastern Conference semifinals vs Toronto and Finals vs Miami -- 34.7 percent, nearly six percent worse than his regular season performance. I’m not convinced that Tatum can overcome the loss of Kemba and continue to be the breakout star we saw at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs playoff. I think Tatum will come up just short of repeating his All-NBA season he had last year.
Toughest stretch of the season: Now. Brad Stevens admitted Kemba’s return is not coming anytime soon. “Kemba is on the court doing one on one stuff with a coach,” Stevens said. “Still no up and down, no cutting, no one else on the basket. So, still a long way away.” The wing depth is a huge concern going forward. Boston needs its rookies, Aaron Nesmith and Payton Prtichard, to get acclimated to the NBA quickly.
Most exciting game: Jan. 30 vs. Los Angeles Lakers. A matchup versus the defending champs and LeBron James. It’s an obvious litmus test game. The Celtcs return home after four road games in seven days to host the Lakers. Stevens will have two full days to prepare his team.
Realistic projection: No. 4 seed. Milwaukee, Brooklyn and Miami all return as good if not better than they were in 2019-20.
If everything goes right, the Celtics ceiling is: No. 2 seed. I don’t see Boston being better than both Milwaukee and Brooklyn. The Celtics would need Kemba Walker to return mid-January and be as effective as he was in the regular season last year. That’s asking for a lot...
If everything goes wrong, the Celtics floor is: No. 7 seed. This offense looked atrocious in the preseason. If Kemba’s knee injury continues to keep him out for much of this season, it could get real tough for the Celtics to break 100 points on a nightly basis.