The Celtics return eight players who started during a playoff run that ended one game from the NBA Finals.
Boston also has two other players who might be better than those eight.
Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will join Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Aron Baynes, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris and Semi Ojeleye on the court this season. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
It’s also a stacked roster that exists at the same time as the Warriors, arguably the greatest team of all-time. So, Boston will still have major external barriers.
But the Celtics’ initial challenges will come from within as they try to balance all this talent. How will they manage?
Coach Brad Stevens is already sending his message: This is a special team capable of winning big if everyone sacrifices, and these opportunities don’t come around often. Stevens is an excellent communicator and has repeatedly gotten his players to embrace their roles. The expectation should be a continuation this year.
Perhaps no player has set a better tone than Rozier. Starting for an injured Irving in last year’s playoffs, Rozier wowed. He looked every bit like the starting point guard he hopes to become. But Rozier has consistently said he has no problem returning to the bench behind Irving.
This is also a contract year for Rozier (unless he signs an extension before the season). He has been stuck on a relatively low-paying rookie-scale deal and this will be his chance to earn set-for-life money.
If he can buy in, why can’t everyone else?
There are plenty of Celtics with big reputations considering their standing in the league. Boston put a league-high seven players in ESPN’s ranking of the NBA’s top 100 players. Per #NBArank, the Celtics have the NBA’s second-best third-best player (Horford), second-best fourth-best player (Brown), best fifth-best player (Hayward), best sixth-best player (Smart) and best seventh-best player (Rozier).
Here’s how the top 100 is represented by rank within each team – teams’ best players in the first column, teams second-best players in the second column, etc.:
Quibble with the exact rankings. But the overall picture is clear: The Celtics are loaded.
And Boston has three extra first-round picks, likely including the Kings’ this season (top-one protected). The Celtics aren’t just in great shape now. They’re poised for a long run of success.
But personal agendas sometimes derail teams headed for greatness. Rozier and Morris are playing for new contracts, though at least they might be the only ones in the rotation. Irving is practically guaranteed the max next summer no matter how he performs this year. Horford and Baynes have relatively lucrative player options to fall back on. There are fewer potential pitfalls here than usual.
The best thing Boston can do to keep everyone on track is win. Many players across the league feel as if their role isn’t large enough. The ones on winning teams usually keep quiet (enough) about it. How can they complain when the overall plan is working? They typically understand it won’t go over well. It’s players on underwhelming teams who grumble more.
Essentially, these things snowball.
And the Celtics have been snowballing toward greatness for a while. They could hit a snag, but the avalanche is building and coming for the rest of the league.