Three Eastern Conference Finals appearances within the last five seasons for the Celtics was the foreseeable stepping stone for a 17th NBA championship.
With LeBron James finishing his eight-year era of dominance in the east and packing up to head to the other side, who will be crowned the next champions of the conference?
Bookmakers have drawn short odds for the Celtics to take the banner, but it may not be as one-sided as the money suggests.
As most of us already know, the biggest trade this off-season featured former two-time first team and defensive player of the year Kawhi Leonard along with Danny Green being dealt in a package to the Raptors for all-star Demar Derozan and Jakob Poetl. This trade has certainly shaken up the east and looks scary, especially to the favourites.
The NBA season is home to unexpected change such as injuries, which means this comparison is based on the current teams. Let’s compare the two and give a case as to who will face the western conference champions.
Assuming Kawhi is the same player he was throughout the 2016-17 season, the Raptors upgraded from a top-15 player to one of the three best players in the league combined with adding Danny Green. The fact that they previously won 59 games and grabbed the first seed leads me to believe the sky is the limit.
They head into the 2018-19 NBA season with a projected line-up comprising
The Raptors will no doubt become one of the better defensive sides in the league. Although they may not have a head coach of the calibre of Brad Stevens, who allows Boston to be great defensively, the Raptors are not close to being short of the personnel to do so.
Adding two proven shooters from behind the arc creates more floor spacing, something Derozan and Poetl could not provide to an effective level.
Something else these two players could not provide is experience, particularly deep in the post-season, with Kawhi being a former finals MVP and Danny Green playing an important role on the same championship squad.
Certainly adding play-off experience will diminish the stereotype attached with the past Raptors sides of having a great regular season but not showing up in the finals.
Now we shift to the more favoured case of the Celtics to be the team to come out of the east.
Their regular season featured all-star Gordon Hayward going down with a horrendous injury in the opening minutes of the competition. They followed this up with an unexpected 16-game win streak to have the best record in the entire league for a good portion, which certainly credits the greatness of Brad Stevens.
Eventually they finished behind the Derozan and Lowry-led Raptors as the second seed with 54 wins.
But what had every NBA fan’s jaw drop was the post-season performance without their two all-stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. With a team led by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Terry Rozier, it still shocks me how they managed to put them in a position to be a game away from the NBA finals.
Add a champion in Kyrie Irving and an all-star in Gordon Hayward to that squad and it’s hard to argue against the Celtics not making an appearance in the 2019 NBA finals, not to mention another year of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, who cooked Eric Bledsoe in the first round to make sure he knew his name.
The Celtics enter the 2018-19 season with a projected line-up copmrising:
When you look at the depth of the roster, with starting calibre talent in Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes and this year’s 27th pick Robert Williams, and it’s understandable why this side is expected to make some noise in the upcoming season.
With two teams having talent like this, no matter who comes out of the east, they will certainly bring a competition to worry the teams out eest.
Who do you think it will be?