After acquiring Kyrie Irving and Gordan Hayward in the same offseason, the Boston Celtics had legitimate championship aspirations.
Now, the Celtics are up 1-0 on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals without Irving or Hayward and just one thing is certain. The Celtics most try to win an NBA championship within the next two seasons.
The emergence of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier shows that the future of the Celtics is as bright as it’s ever been. Combining these young talents with Horford, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, Irving and Hayward is a scary thought in the Eastern Conference.
In all the inherent benefits having young stars brings, there is also some downside.
“It’s no loyalty,” Kevin Durant said on The Bill Simmons podcast. “It’s business. There’s money involved.”
Last summer, Isaiah Thomas learned this truth the hard way from Dany Ainge and Celtics fans should heed Durant’s words as well. The NBA is a business. Most general managers are going to do whatever they think will help their teams, even if that means trading an young, emerging star.
For Boston, with the new salary cap and the expensive nature of free agency, there is not enough money to go around.
The Celtics already have three players signed to big time contracts in Al Horford, Irving and Hayward, eating up most of their cap space. Horford and Irving’s contracts expire in 2020 while Hayward is under contract until 2021, according to Spotrac.com.
On the more cheap side, Smart, Rozier, Tatum and Brown are all still on their rookie contracts. Smart is set to be a restricted free agent this summer and should get some attention from suitors across the league. How expensive the offer and whether the Celtics are willing to pay are the ultimate question surroundings Smart’s future in Boston.
Terry Rozier, who will be a restricted free agent in 2019 and is only 24-years-old according to Spotrac.com, has established himself as a starting point guard in the NBA and will attract much more expensive offer sheets than Smart. Rozier also earned lots of trade value, which GM Danny Ainge might look to explore.
The Celtics will most likely be forced to choose between Smart or Rozier. Restructuring Horford’s expensive contract may help but does not guarantee that both players will remain with the Celtics.
The Celtics have a similar issue in Tatum and Brown. Just one year apart, both players look like future All-Stars, with some considering Tatum a potential superstar, and in all likelihood will sign large extensions or test free agency after their rookie contracts expire.
With these future issues in consideration, it is abundantly clear that the Celtics must try to win an NBA championship while all of these talented players are still on the roster. Next season is an especially golden opportunity.
Without counting Smart, the Celtics will still field a roster of Irving, Horford, Tatum, Hayward, Brown, Rozier, Morris and the same complementary pieces such as Aron Baynes and Shane Larkin as well as Daniel Theis.
Assuming injuries don’t plague Boston for two consecutive seasons, that team can beat the Cavaliers, if LeBron decides to keep his talents in Cleveland this summer as well as other contenders from the East. Furthermore, that Celtics team has the potential to beat Golden State or Houston.
Irving is crazily just starting his prime while Hayward is still in his prime years and Horford has yet to show any signs of slowing down. The young stars will also continue to develop and improve their games in the offseason.
The Celtics are no-doubt one of the best teams in the NBA, and windows for championships do not come around often. Brad Stevens and the Celtics immense mix of established and young talent will have their best opportunity to bring home banner No. 18 to TD Garden.