August is typically the quietest month on the NBA calendar. With roster construction just about complete, teams go into hibernation before things crank up again in September. Even with USA Basketball in Rio providing a rare glimpse of August hoops, the lack of a Boston participant will leave Celtics fans daydreaming about the upcoming season.
To help endure the doldrums, we've herded together writers from some of our favorite Celtics websites to take part in our annual Celtics Summer Forecast. For much of August, we'll ask our panel to look into the crystal ball and predict how the 2016-17 season will play out for Boston.
We start with our usual leadoff hitter: How many games will the Celtics win next season?
Even as Boston's win total has climbed in each of the past two seasons -- jumping from 25 wins in Brad Stevens' first year to 48 last season in Year 3 -- our panel has been cautiously optimistic about the team's chances for success. It's telling that, this year, no writer picked the team to win less than 52 games.
In fact, our 15-member panel pegged the Celtics for an average of nearly 54 wins, a six-victory upgrade from last season. While one writer went as high as 57 wins, the remaining members stuck in a sweet spot of 52-55 wins. There is obvious optimism that the Celtics are positioned to take another step forward.
This writer has maintained that the Al Horford addition has floated somewhat under the radar because Celtics fans, eager to add even more impact talent, were more concerned about the one that got away (Kevin Durant) and a lack of trades. Horford, a four-time All-Star, improves a Boston defense that lingered in the top three in defensive rating for much of last season. Even if the Celtics didn't make obvious offensive upgrades this summer, that defense is going to give Boston a chance to compete on a nightly basis.
Just how much the East improved remains to be seen. But, assuming a smooth acclimation for Horford, the Celtics should have the benefit of continuity with their core in place after consecutive playoff seasons.
We pegged the Celtics for 54 wins. The Celtics upgraded with Horford essentially taking Jared Sullinger's spot in the rotation. Boston must replace Sullinger's rebounding and -- more importantly -- Evan Turner's efforts off the bench. But there's no reason to believe this team shouldn't win more games and challenge for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
In Day 2 of the Celtics Summer Forecast, our panel examines just how far that win total might help Boston advance this season (spoiler alert: there's a lot of optimism there, too). For now, our panel explains its record predictions:
Sam Sheehan, Celtics Reddit and CLNS Radio (54-28): I'll go at this from an admittedly oversimplified statistical standpoint. If you were to simply run the Celtics' record by the additions and losses to the rotation, and the respective win shares of those players, the Celtics would project to finish 49-33. The Celtics' new All-Star, Horford, projects to be worth about nine wins while the departures of the Ohio State contingent in Sullinger (4.8 win share last season, per Basketball Reference) and Evan Turner (4) work out to a total of 8.8. However, that doesn't account for the addition of an extra player to the rotation, as the Celtics will reap some of the "quality over quantity" benefits that come with adding a player of Horford’s caliber.
Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, and Jaylen Brown will all likely be in line for those leftover minutes and Smart had a near identical win share per 48 minutes to Turner's, in an arguably tougher role. The numbers say 53-29 while the fan in me says 55-27. I'll split the difference.
Sean Penney, CelticsBlog (54-28): A Celtics team that won 48 games a year ago returns mostly intact, with the biggest addition being Horford. The All-Star big man was worth 11.6 estimated wins added last year, nearly double the man he's replacing, Sullinger (5.9 EWA). Along with the continued development of this young core, this team can easily add another six wins to its total.
Ryan Bernardoni, CelticsHub (52-30): I hate picking a specific record. I think there's an 80 percent chance the Celtics finish between 47-55 wins. I'm taking 52 instead of the 51 midpoint because I prefer even numbers.
Alex Kungu, CelticsBlog (57-25): Halfway through last season the Celtics were a .500 team that was still struggling to find an identity. When they finally made the decision to go small, their season took off. This season, the Celtics come in with an identity and a big boost in talent. Fifty-plus wins should be the expectation.
Lachlan Marr, CelticsBlog (55-27): I'm optimistic that the Celtics will be able to build on last season's success. The addition of Horford coupled with the continuity of the Celtics' core should give them the edge in the East, particularly with so many other conference rivals shaking things up substantially over the summer.
Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live on CLNS (53-29): After three straight years of calling for a major trade in this space, I'm finally calling uncle. Thankfully, the first significant free-agent signing in team history, in the form of Horford, will add a cornerstone piece to a team with tremendous flexibility to improve while also possessing a team talented enough to reach the conference finals. A tougher Eastern Conference will prove to be a challenge, but the true gains for this team will come in the postseason.
Wes Howard, CelticsBlog (52-30): There's much more to look at than the additions of Horford and Brown versus the loss of Sullinger and Turner. There are too many variables in an NBA season to expect linear improvement. That said, those additions and internal growth should yield a few more wins for Boston.
Justin Poulin, Celtics Stuff Live on CLNS (55-27): The team started last season 7-7 while Stevens sorted out the frontcourt rotation and Isaiah Thomas began to realize his All-Star potential. The Celtics lost two head-slappers to the Lakers and Nets to bookend the new year and struggled with injuries down the stretch following the All-Star break. That's good for at least four more wins with what should be a more established lineup to begin the year. Horford gets them three more wins and integrates seamlessly. Of course, this assumes a reasonably healthy year for the core rotation.
Mike Dynon, Red's Army (52-30): When you can essentially swap Sullinger and his perennial conditioning issues for the motivated All-Star Horford, isn't that worth four more wins? Sully is a strong rebounder and had some good moments in Boston, but Horford is more consistent, more mobile, a better shooter and a veteran leader. One caveat to the wins prediction: How much will the Celtics miss Turner's midrange scoring, ballhandling and playmaking (4.4 APG, second on the team)?
Jake Keaney, CelticsBlog (54-28): The addition of Horford merits a bump of a handful of games and I have faith that Boston’s offensive and defensive ratings will continue to improve, as they have so far in every year of Stevens' tenure.
Sam Packard, WEEI.com (54-28): Horford = plus-4 wins. Stevens' natural maturation = plus-4 wins. Missing Turner's whimsy = minus-2 wins.
Bill Sy, CelticsBlog (53-29): The Celtics will be bigger, faster and stronger next season. Danny Ainge replaced Sullinger with Horford and Stevens will look to inject youth into the lineup with Brown and Rozier filling that Turner-sized hole in the rotation. They'll be better on both ends of the floor with a versatile roster that can score anywhere on the floor and guard the likes of LeBron James and Steph Curry with multiple players. A five-game improvement doesn't seem like a big bump, but that should be good enough for the No. 2 seed in the East.
Jared Weiss, CLNS Radio (54-28): Stevens' squad improved 15 wins in his second season and eight wins in his third. They've replaced key role players in Turner and Sullinger with their top pick, Brown, and one of the league's most flexible and malleable bigs, Horford. Their biggest bet is that Smart will thrive as a secondary ballhandler and Rozier will be an explosive bench contributor, following in Smart's footsteps. With Smart, Kelly Olynyk and Rozier expected to take the next step in their development, the Horford signing can catapult this team to the second seed in the East. A six-win improvement could prove to be a conservative estimate by the All-Star break.
Jeff Clark, CelticsBlog (53-29): ESPN's Summer Forecast panel picked the Celtics for 51 wins. I had to be more of a homer than those guys, so I added two wins. Seriously, though, I like this team and, if the Celtics can avoid injury issues, I see no reason why they can't break through the 50-win barrier and challenge for the second seed in the East.