The Boston Celtics sent calendar year 2015 out with a whimper with a head-shaking loss to Kobe Bryant and the visiting Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night. It hammers home the strides the Celtics must continue to make as a young team, particularly in taking care of business against inferior opponents. It reminds a team that had been riding a four-game winning streak that it can't just show up -- even against a five-win opponent -- and expect to cruise.
But as Boston ushers in 2016, Celtics fans ought to take a step back and savor a remarkable calendar year in which their team found the roster stability that coach Brad Stevens so desperately craved and firmed up the foundation upon which it will continue to build moving forward.
For the period spanning calendar year 2015, the Celtics posted a 47-38 regular-season record. That includes a mark of 38-23 (.623 winning percentage) since Feb. 23 and the immediate aftermath of the trade deadline that delivered key additions like Isaiah Thomas and Jonas Jerebko.
That's a remarkable jump for a Celtics team that went 23-57 (.288) during calendar year 2014. But after a blizzard of trades that started with the late- December 2014 swap that sent out Rajon Rondo and culminated with the deadline maneuvering that landed Thomas from Phoenix, the Celtics got to work shaping a stable core that remains in place early in this new season.
"I think we all knew there was going to be a lot of change. I don’t know if we could have predicted that much," Stevens said this week while reflecting on the slowdown in roster moves. "But I’ll give the three guys that have been here the whole time in [Jared Sullinger], Kelly [Olynyk] and Avery [Bradley], and then the guys that continue to be here now for more than just a year, they’ve really done a good job just kinda staying the course and working hard and believing that, if we continue to grow and get better, good things will happen.
"We’re not great by any means, but we’ve had our moments."
As the Celtics move into 2016, they'll carry the second-best defensive rating in the NBA as Boston is allowing a mere 97.8 points per 100 possessions this season. Stevens beams with pride while discussing the Defensive DNA that Boston has established (even if Wednesday's loss was a harsh reminder of what can happen when Boston doesn't lean on the backbone of its success).
The Celtics are not a finished product by any means and the team's offensive limitations are obvious. Boston's front-office staff, while remaining patient in its tireless pursuit of a bonafide superstar, will almost certainly be seeking offensive reinforcements should they become available at the right price at the trade deadline.
But a Celtics team that rolled into 2015 with uncertainty and the only expectation of more turnover will lean into 2016 with a belief that, regardless of what moves lie ahead, this team can make a push for a playoff berth in the top half of the Eastern Conference. There's a remarkably different feel around the Celtics from one year ago and it can be seen in all aspects of how the team operates now.
"Continuity helps because when we go in the film room and we go into practice, everybody can quickly see the areas where we need to improve and quickly see the areas where we are doing well," said Stevens. "There’s a rhythm to practice that these guys are now used to. There’s a rhythm to their workout after practice that they’re [now] used to. I think that stuff all helps, being able to say, ‘OK, we defended this action, this action, and this action this way,’ it helps you get through practice more expeditiously because you’re not explaining much, you’re just moving on to the next thing."
Said Evan Turner: "[Continuity is] definitely key. I think, once again, when you have some of the same team back it helps. I think last year we were trying to figure out what we were going to do with the roster. But this year we’re all acclimated. We kind of have standards that are set, and competitive people. And that’s definitely been great for us.”
Echoed Avery Bradley: "I think [continuity has] been good for us. I think it would be good for any team. Obviously, you build a chemistry with each other and I feel like that’s what we did this year. Not only that, we all understand what we need to bring every night for this team, and that helps at the same time. And we’ve been doing a good job doing that on a consistent basis."
The Celtics hope there is even more success ahead in 2016, but the team should reflect fondly on what calendar year 2015 meant in putting this team on the path to a brighter future.