Yes, the Celtics should be viewed as legitimate NBA title contenders (again)

There’s no denying that it was an absolute offseason roller coaster ride for the Boston Celtics.

What began with trade rumors involving Jaylen Brown for Kevin Durant then turned into the Celtics building their deepest roster in years with the steal of Malcolm Brogdon from the Indiana Pacers and the signing of Danilo Gallinari as a free agent. He made the Celtics look like the favorites not only to repeat as Eastern Conference champions, but also to win the organization’s long-awaited Banner 18 just weeks after taking two wins against the Golden State Warriors.

But then things changed drastically in the other direction. Gallinari suffered a season-ending injury before head coach Ime Udoka’s explosive suspension. Udoka, who allegedly engaged in an inappropriate relationship and made “unwelcome” comments to a Celtics employee, was suspended for the 2022-23 season due to workplace conduct violations. Like the public’s perception of the Celtics, well, at least in the eyes of a select few, it all changed as other teams in the East improved their rosters.

However, despite all the ups and downs from late June to mid-October, the Celtics still need to be viewed as a title contender. And the reasoning is multiple.

— Stars who become superstars
Talent wins in the NBA and the Celtics have as much as anyone. The obvious two-headed monster of Jayson Tatum and Brown are the leaders in on-court production. Tatum is coming off an All-NBA First Team selection and his third straight NBA All-Star appearance, but the height of his greatness thus far was on display during the postseason when he averaged 25.6 points in 24 playoff games while also adding 6.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists in those contests. And there were times when Brown was Boston’s most impressive player on the court during the postseason. Tatum and Brown truly are two of the best two-way players in the league, and entering their sixth and seventh NBA seasons, respectively, should serve as another opportunity to take their game to a new level.

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— Improved depth
We briefly hinted at the Celtics’ depth while discussing the addition of Brogdon and Gallinari, but it goes way beyond those two. The Celtics can now field a starting lineup with Marcus Smart, Al Horford, Brown and Tatum, while the absence of Robert Williams will likely see Grant Williams, Derrick White or Brogdon enter the starting group. The preseason appearance of Sam Hauser, who by all accounts should have an impactful role as a takedown shooter, also gives the Celtics something they hoped to get from Gallinari. Additionally, the recent signing of Blake Griffin gives the Celtics a capable attacking player off the bench with Payton Pritchard as a more than capable fourth guard. As Robert Williams returns from his recovery from knee surgery, the Celtics have a very strong eight-man rotation with a group of 10 more than capable of filling their respective roles.

– Defending
The Celtics concluded the 2021-22 regular season with the best defense in the league. Smart, who won the Defensive Player of the Year award, and high-flyer Robert Williams led the charge, but the development of Tatum and Brown on that end of the floor, along with White’s acquisition and Horford’s versatility played a part. . , also. Boston was at its best given his versatility and heavy switching scheme, a clear focal point for Udoka. While the head coach might not be the same, interim head coach Joe Mazzulla has doubled down on defense being the key to Boston’s identity. It’s worth believing that the Celtics are capable of taking the lessons of last year with them entering this season, especially with Brogdon’s ability on that end of the floor. Brogdon even thinks Boston might have the best defensive end in the league.

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