Boston missed out on the big free agent they wanted most when Kevin Durant snubbed them for Golden State.
But the Celtics still look set to be the most improved team in the NBA this season after luring Al Horford to the Garden.
Durant is a grade-A star. But Horford is just what Boston needed. An experienced big who fits their system to a tee.
Reliable and consistent, Horford defends the rim, rebounds well and can score under pressure. His shot is seriously underrated, especially from three-point range. He’s also an intelligent passer, and he should be the perfect foil for Isaiah Thomas in the pick and roll.
But it’s his veteran leadership and locker-room presence that make the biggest difference. Boston lacked both last season and still played a tough, competitive style that proved hard to stop.
Some have them pushing the Cavs for top spot in the East, and it’s entirely possible they could end up being LeBron’s biggest obstacle to another trip to the finals.
In Brad Stevens the Celtics have probably the best coach in the NBA and served notice of their potential by snapping Golden State’s winning streak last April.
If anyone can guard the Splash Brothers, the Celtics can, with elite defensive guards like Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart in the lineup.
They did lose Evan Turner in the offseason, and he was one of few players on the roster able to create his own shot. Without him, bench scoring could be an issue.
But Boston has high hopes for rookie Jaylen Brown, who’s impressed in a number of roles in preseason, and more is expected from Jae Crowder, who has the versatility to defend several positions but still has room for improvement on the offensive end.
Ultimately, the Celtics should have the depth, leadership and coaching to contend for the first time since their Big Three era.
They also have pieces to trade, a ton of picks, and an attractive roster to attract bigger fish with next season, when Paul Pierce expects to re-sign for an emotional farewell tour.
But the bottom line for this team is how young it is. If Stevens plays his cards right, the future is Green.