Celtics Summer Forecast: Finish line in sight

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Predicting how a season will end before it even begins is admittedly guesswork at best.

But after opening our annual Summer Forecast series on Monday with projections on the Boston Celtics' regular-season win-loss record -- one in which our blogger panel pegged Boston for an average of 45 victories -- it begged the follow-up: How far will the Celtics advance this season?

Our panel was given four options: (1) Deep playoff run (i.e., second round or beyond); (2) Early playoff exit (first-round loss); (3) Competitive, but miss playoffs (finish in spots 9-12 in East); (4) Tankville (bottom three in East).

Not surprisingly after their optimistic win projections, our entire panel believes the Celtics will return to the postseason as all responders shunned options Nos. 3 and 4. However, the panel is practically split down the middle on just how long Boston will hang around in the postseason.

It should be noted just how remarkable of a turnaround that is from last year's Summer Forecast. Given the same options last August, our panel was likewise equally divided -- but with all responders choosing the two non-playoff options.

If the first two days of our series have proven anything, it's that last season caused an immense spike in optimism surrounding the Celtics. Expectations are much higher entering the season, adding a layer of pressure this team didn't endure before.

Your humble blogger's opinion about how the upcoming season will end? We pegged Boston for 44 wins and, in an uncertain Eastern Conference, we believe that could leave the Celtics competing for a spot in the middle of the playoff ladder. And that's important in guessing just how far Boston will go. If the Celtics are able to wiggle up a couple seeds this year, they should avoid the sort of daunting first-round matchup they received last season in drawing the Cavaliers in the opening round.

With that in mind, we'll chug the green Kool-Aid and predict the Celtics will find a way to steal a first-round series, then bow in the second round to one of the more experienced contenders like Cleveland or Chicago.

We'll hedge our bet with this: While Boston's focus entering the season is on winning playoff games and taking the next step in their progression, the front office's task remains constructing a roster that can eventually be a sustained contender in the East. If that means sacrificing wins in order to again retool the roster on the fly, then the Celtics must endure those pains. Hey, it didn't work out so bad last year and there can't possibly be as much turnover this season (right?).

Here's how our panel sees the Celtics' season ending:

Brian Robb, CelticsHub (Early playoff exit)

Boston will push its first-round opponent to seven games, but fall short after an admirable fight. Unlike last year’s playoff matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics will have the talent to hold their own this time around. Still, a lack of reliable outside shooting and playoff experience will put an end to any upset hopes.

Kevin O'Connor, CelticsBlog (Deep playoff run)

You can bank on this: The roster we’re currently looking at won’t be the one that finishes the season. The Celtics are built to react to any potential opportunities that arise, making them a strong contender to make an impactful trade during the season. The roster as it currently stands is good enough to hustle their way through the season and win in the first-round of the playoffs, but their ultimate potential depends on the type of unpredictable moves they make during the season.

Mark Vandeusen, CelticsLife (Deep playoff run)

If I'm saying deep postseason run, all that really means is the Celtics can win a playoff series. Why not? Last year's squad would have had a decent shot in the first round against every team but Cleveland -- Boston even played the Cavs closer than the top-seeded Hawks did. Who in the East besides Cleveland really scares you in 2015-16? Chicago, Toronto, Washington or Miami? Atlanta will regress. If the C's can outplay a couple of those clubs, they'll be in the hunt for home-court advantage in Round 1.

Jared Weiss, CLNS Radio (Deep playoff run)

The Celtics have Cinderella written all over them. They already did last season, until Ainge watched in terror as Jae Crowder hit an incredible corner 3 to beat the Raptors in the home finale and clinch a matchup with the Cavs. Considering how shaky the Hawks looked in their series against Brooklyn, the Celtics had a good chance in that matchup. Now they are retooled in an Eastern Conference that is wide open. With plenty of transactions ahead, expect Ainge to put the Celtics in position to see the second round.

Jeff Clark, CelticsBlog (Deep playoff run)

I am basing my optimism off of the strong second half of last year and the firm belief that, at some point, Ainge is going to make a trade or two to use some of the trade assets to upgrade the talent level on this team. I can't wait to see what Brad Stevens can do in a playoff series when the rosters are more evenly matched. If Boston can finish higher in the standings than 7th or 8th, then it will have a better shot at winning at least a first-round series.

Ben Mark, Red's Army (Early playoff exit)

If the Celtics win total stays in the low 40s, that will probably earn them a first-round matchup with a top-three seed in the East. If they can avoid Cleveland, there's a chance at an upset with how hard the Celtics play. But barring a major mid-season acquisition, logic says they'll bow out early again.

Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live (Early playoff exit)

Outside of Cleveland, any of the East's best teams remain vulnerable to the Celtics, but my predicted 41-41 record puts them square into the Cavaliers' crosshairs once again.

Bill Sy, CelticsBlog (Deep playoff run)

The Celtics will most likely finish in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference bracket, but don't be surprised if they upset a team with home-court advantage in the first round. After Cleveland, the East is wide open. With depth, versatility, and one of the smartest coaches in the league, they'll steal a series in the playoffs.

Jay Ouellette, Red's Army (Early playoff exit)

Unless they have a favorable first-round matchup, I don't see them advancing beyond Round 1 again this year.

Cory Prescott, CLNS Radio (Deep playoff run)

The Celtics will surprise people with a competitive roster and a top-four playoff seed, earning their first playoff victory since 2012 in the process. With the good fortune of playing in a weak Eastern Conference, Boston’s deep and talented roster will push the team to the top-half of the playoff picture.

Eddie Santiago, CLNS Radio (Early playoff exit)

This could be the year the East can have all eight playoff teams be over the .500 mark. The Celtics will do just enough to edge out teams like Charlotte and Detroit for that final playoff spot in the east, and then run into the Cleveland buzz saw again in the first round.

Your projection (?????)

Sound off in the comments with how you think Boston's 2015-16 season will end.