Boston Celtics 2023-24 NBA season preview: Can the C's win it all?

Boston Celtics 2023-24 NBA season preview: Can the C's win it all?

Who are these Boston Celtics?

As of late, they have consistently been a top-four team in the NBA, but rarely top-two and never No. 1. They have flashes of brilliance followed by periods of uncertainty and indecisiveness. They take games off, beating the best teams in the league while dropping games to some of the worst.

It is difficult to gauge which Celtics team will show up on any given night, or even any given quarter. For a team that is that good when they’re on, they really are that bad when they’re off.

It was impressive that they almost came back from a 0-3 deficit in the playoffs – something that has still never happened in NBA history. But the flip side of that coin is that they dropped three-straight games to the Miami Heat to start that series. They are a team of high highs and low lows.

Now, they could become even more volatile with the loss of their leader Marcus Smart. Smart played all nine of his NBA seasons in Boston, slowly earning a starting spot, but quickly earning the adulation of the fans. He led their defense with his tenacity and “Smart” plays. He also led their offense with his playmaking and shot creation. It's a big hole to fill, but at a guard position that was absolutely stacked, they do have some guys to pick up the pieces.

Derrick White will step up to fill that role and he will likely do a great job. White has elevated his game on both sides of the ball since joining the Celtics and has already proven he is a great culture fit. Malcolm Brogdon will also see increased minutes without Smart and, like White, has fit right in.

On the other hand, I am worried that Kristaps Porzingis will not be a good fit in Boston, which is ironic because they traded their glue guy (Smart) for him. Positionally and skill-set-wise, Porzingis might seem like a great fit. His numbers speak for themselves and this offense is perfect for him. Their starting lineup will be one of the best in the league with White, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Porzingis and Robert Williams III.

But Porzingis isn’t exactly battle-tested. He has never really been on a good team, playing in just 10 playoff games throughout his NBA career. Compare that to Smart, who has played significant minutes in 108 playoff games, with at least one series per year. It’s not entirely Porzingis’ fault that he hasn’t been on teams that could compete in the playoffs, but he’s unproven in an area where Boston has struggled.

To add insult to injury, the Celtics also lost Grant Williams because they decided to spend their money elsewhere. It's rare for a team to have multiple glue guys, but Boston had two and decided to part ways with both of them in the same offseason. Williams was seemingly on the way out ever since he rejected their extension offer last summer. During last year’s playoff run, he had multiple puzzling healthy scratches.

With all that being said, they still have a strong team leader in Al Horford, and Joe Mazzulla had a good first year as head coach. Brown and Tatum have emerged as leaders, despite how young they are. Even though they have yet to reach their prime, they are becoming veteran presences with seven years and six years in Boston, respectively. 

It’s surprising that the Celtics aren’t more consistent given the deep playoff experience that their key pieces have. They made at least the Eastern Conference Finals in five of the past seven years, losing there in Game 7 twice while only appearing in one NBA Finals series. Two years ago, they were up 2-1 in the Finals and led in Game 4 only to lose in six games to the Golden State Warriors.

So, what’s going wrong? Are they underperforming or are they just a step behind the best teams in the league? Do they just need to let Brown and Tatum reach their prime? Will this new-look Celtics team finally bring the Larry O’Brien trophy back to Boston? Or has losing Smart and Co. pushed them even further away from that reality?

Only time will tell. Usually, I’m glass-half-full before the season starts, but losing both halves of their heart – Smart and Williams – is not a good look.

I don’t see this team winning a championship this year or even making the NBA Finals. No, it's likely a return to Eastern-Conference-Finals purgatory for the Celtics. Many teams would be ecstatic over a Conference Finals appearance, but for a Boston team and fan base that has been there so many times before and want so much more, it's not nearly enough.

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