Player Mobility Overview
As an era in which player mobility has woven itself into the fabric of NBA normality, and All-NBA caliber talent seems to be on the move as much as ever, recent years have given executives around the league reason to fear that their star player(s) may be on the move. Kyrie Irving, Lebron James, Demarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, and Kawhi Leonard have all either switched squads or expressed a desire to within the last year. Now, rumor has it Kyrie may want a change of scenery yet again, viewing the Knicks as a favorable landing spot come next summer’s free agency. As Bostonian tensions rise, some find themselves questioning the savvy of last August’s trade, should it turn out to be a two-year Kyrie rental. Rest easy, though, Celtics fans. Even if Kyrie were to refuse an extension with Boston (which there is little reason to believe will be the case), the Cs are well positioned to contend for the next decade. Here’s why.
Terry Rozier Shined in Irving’s Absence
Averaging 16.5 points, along with 5.2 rebounds (earning a 9.8 rebounding percentage, Rozier ranked well among point guards, trailing just Russell Westbrook) and nearly 6 assists per game during the Celtics’ improbable postseason run, the Louisville point guard proved his worth as a former 16th overall pick. Rozier showed promise on defense, too. The Cs watched their opponents’ points per game drop to 98.0 with Irving on the bench. Boston didn’t seem to miss the 2016 NBA champ in the standings column either, compiling a record that, if extrapolated over a full 82 game season, would have garnered the club 53.5 wins – just 1.5 shy of their real win count. At just 24 years of age, “Scary Terry,” two years younger than Irving, offers a young team even more youth. In addition, and perhaps most critically, Rozier projects to demand a contract much friendlier than what Irving will surely seek next summer. Opting for the lighter contract would save cap space, making a swipe at Kawhi Leonard more realistic. All in all, while Irving is clearly the more talented, more valuable player, the Cs would, under Terry Rozier’s visage, be comfortable at the point guard position in #11’s absence.
The East is as Weak as Ever
For some time now, the Western Conference has been unanimously considered the stronger of the two. In the last year alone, Paul George and Jimmy Butler (among others) have moved West, only expanding the NBA’s yawning talent gap, a disparity perhaps best illustrated through the West’s possession of nine of the league’s top ten players in terms of win shares per 48 minutes. Now that Lebron James has inked a 4-year deal with Los Angeles, a Cavaliers team that has ended each of the Celtics’ last two title campaign figures to inhabit the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery. Who, then, remains to challenge Boston? Many see Philadelphia as a genuine contender, primed to rival the Celtics for years to come on the shoulders to rising stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. One must question, though, how this could be the case. After all, the Cs completed a gentleman’s sweep of the 76ers with both Irving and Hayward sidelined. In essence, regardless of Kyrie Irving’s decision next summer, Boston is sure to benefit from a talent-starved Eastern Conference.
Tatum and Brown Will Be Ready
In his rookie season, Jayson Tatum burst onto the scene, averaging nearly 14.0 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game, all while shooting 43.4% from 3-point range. One of three finalists for rookie of the year, Tatum elevated his game to another level during the Cs’ postseason run. The #3 overall selection scored 18.5 points per game and played an additional 5.4 minutes per game. Opposite of Tatum, 2nd-year talent Jaylen Brown put together an outstanding year of his own, improving upon his rookie season in nearly every metric. Averaging 14.5 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game, Brown merited Most Improved Player consideration in limited circles. On the defensive end, Brown and Tatum finished #7 and #8 overall, respectively in defensive win shares among players participating in 40 or more games. Come next offseason, with another season under his belt, Tatum, who has earned comparisons to Celtics great Paul Pierce and back-to-back Finals MVP Kevin Durant, should be more than ready to of a Celtics team that many believe is already his. Jaylen Brown, meanwhile, coming off a year in which he narrowly missed out on the All-Star game, appears to be hitting his stride and should, especially in the East, be a perennial All-Star for years to come. When the 2019 – 2020 season rolls around, Tatum and Brown will be more than ready to lead Boston into title contention, with or without Kyrie Irving.