In Day 11 of our Celtics Summer Forecast series, we asked our blogger panel to give us the biggest reason for optimism surrounding the 2015-16 Boston Celtics. Faithful readers to this series probably knew what was coming today: The other side of the coin.
Keeping the question open-ended for our blogger jury, we asked: What is the biggest reason for pessimism surrounding the Celtics this season? Answers varied, but there were a handful of consistent themes including (1) the lack of star talent, (2) the elite teams Boston must go through to truly compete and (3) questions about whether this team can maintain the level of play demonstrated during the second half of the 2014-15 campaign.
Ultimately, this writer keeps coming back to the lack of an elite star -- the sort of player who can put this team on his back during crucial moments. A lot of Celtics fans look at this roster and say, "Why can't this team be the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks?" The Hawks didn't gush elite talent last year but put together a 60-win season and made a run to the Eastern Conference finals. The counter argument is that Atlanta eventually ran into the same Cleveland buzzsaw that swept both the Celtics and Hawks out of the postseason last year.
We're not so worried about Boston maintaining last year's success. The Celtics have a coach in Brad Stevens who, one year after leading a so-called Cinderella within a bounce of an NCAA championship, led his squad right back to the championship game. The increased burden of expectations shouldn't rattle Stevens and the potential for maintained continuity should only help.
What will linger is the worry of whether the Celtics simply have enough to be a legitimate contender. Even if the Celtics start fast and pile up wins before Christmas, there will be a nagging concern about whether it will translate beyond another short playoff stay in April.
Then again, if you take a step back, that's probably not the worst concern to have. It would mean the Celtics are still trending in the right direction. Alas, the goal in these parts is banner or bust, which makes it a bit tougher to enjoy the views while making the tough climb back up Contender Mountain.
Jeff Clark, CelticsBlog (Limited upside)
This team may surprise people and win a lot more games than the experts predict, but I can't see them being a championship contender until they acquire or develop a star player (or two). I understand the arguments against this position, but until I see a sustained run of championship teams with no clear star players, I'm sticking with my theory. I'm also worried that some of our trade-chip players might turn out to be worth less than what we're hoping.
Ben Mark, Red's Army (Improved Eastern Conference)
With the additions of Amir Johnson and David Lee, the Celtics should be deeper and should also play more like the team fans saw in the second half of the season. With that said, Indiana and Miami, two teams that just missed the playoffs last year, should be better. Orlando and Detroit could take big steps forward as well. The East will be deep and it might leave the Celtics mere games out of the playoffs.
Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live (Bleak trade market/Coming cap increase)
Danny Ainge is as talented and fearless an NBA general manager as there is, but it takes two to tango. Opposing GMs are fearful of being the latest to be embarrassed by Ainge, and few teams are worried about their salary cap situation thanks to the influx of TV money this coming summer. The deck is stacked against Ainge, but even then I just can't count him out.
John Karalis, Red's Army (Actual good teams)
This Celtics team might -- MIGHT -- overachieve and make a sixth seed. Heck, maybe a fifth seed (depending on how much influence your friend Jack Daniels has in your argument). But in the end, there are actual good teams in the East and in the NBA in general that will squash this pie-in-the-sky optimism in a hurry. The Warriors are still the Warriors. And the Celtics might make some noise in a three-night stretch against the East, but they'll still get waxed by 40 if they face an unleashed Spurs squad. Baby steps, people. This team will be better and, by virtue of geography, they'll have some fun in the East. But they're still not great.
Mike Dynon, Red's Army (Lack of big star)
Although Danny Ainge upgraded the roster during the offseason, he still hasn’t been able to acquire that one proven All-Star who can make the difference -- not just on the court but in terms of making Boston attractive to other top performers. There are also many questions about the young core. Can Marcus Smart make the leap? Will Jared Sullinger shed his injury problems? Will Kelly Olynyk stop fouling so he can stay on the court? Will James Young figure it out? Without a sure All-Star, the Celtics need consistent contributions from everyone, a la Atlanta last season. If that doesn’t happen, we may be disappointed.
Paul Colahan, CelticsLife (No go-to scorer)
The Celtics were 15-7 in the regular season with Isaiah Thomas, who emerged as a source of instant offense and took home two Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors for his efforts. But in the playoffs, Cleveland limited Thomas to 33 percent shooting and only 3 of 18 from beyond the arc en route to a sweep. Small samples abound, but Thomas' lack of production on the season's biggest stage was telling. If he or another member of the team can't grow into the role of go-to scorer, a stalled offense could prevent a step forward for this year's Celtics.
Eddie Santiago, CLNS Radio (Not adding a premier big)
The pessimistic part of this season is that the Celtics added no real size or top-tier talent. It’s going to be a group of midlevel players banding together again, just like during their second-half run last season. If Smart doesn’t take a big leap forward, there is no player currently on the roster that can carry this team out of a rut.
Mark Vandeusen, CelticsLife (Last year a fluke?)
After their stunning run to end the 2014-15 regular season, it's quite possible the expectations are too high for this year's club. There's no good explanation for how a team devoid of stars was able to play .667 ball over its final 36 games. After a few small offseason improvements, we're counting on the 2015-16 Celtics to win more than they lose. Is that realistic? The talent level still doesn't add up. What if minor changes to the ingredients are all it takes to prevent Stevens from concocting the same magical potion for success?
Bill Sy, CelticsBlog (Depth)
It’s a rich man’s problem, but the Celtics just have too many players that all have potential to be contributors down the road. Heading into training camp, they already have to make a cut or a trade to trim down to 15, but that’s just the beginning. There are the rapidly approaching extensions of Tyler Zeller and Sullinger to work out before the season starts. There’s also a potential glut at point guard and no one knows what to expect from a still productive Lee on the final year of his contract.
Jay King, MassLive (Synergy)
Do I think the Celtics will lack chemistry? No. They returned most of last year's contributors while adding a couple of veterans, Johnson and Lee, who are known as good guys before anything else. Quickly, Stevens has established the culture he wants, a culture that led to Boston playing fun, unselfish hoops throughout the second half of last season. But regaining the synergy that led to last year's run isn't a given, and the East could be more competitive than last year's trash heap. Boston's deep frontcourt could be a real asset, but I keep wondering how it will impact last year's golden ticket: a smaller second unit that flipped a bunch of games in the Celtics' favor.
Brian Robb, CelticsHub (Lack of outside shooting)
For a team to succeed in the pace-and-space offense that Stevens runs, you need to space the floor with shooters. The Celtics finished 27th in the league in 3-point shooting percentage last year, and a lack of reliable shooting from the perimeter helped the Cavs easily sweep Boston in the postseason. With so many players returning from last year's team, it's hard to see whether the team made adequate strides in the shooting department. Amir Johnson and R.J. Hunter should help (if the rookie gets a chance to play), but it's still unclear whether a long list of rotation players (Sullinger, Olynyk, Young, Smart) can be counted on to be at least average shooters from deep. A team that can't knock down jumpers with regularity isn't going anywhere in the postseason.