Do you want to know what will happen during the Celtics’ 2020-21 season? Well, we’re not quite sure. No one is, really. But here are 10 bold predictions that could at least be fun to talk about around the water cooler. Wait, we don’t do that anymore. Set up a Zoom meeting.
Jaylen Brown will make his first All-Star team (assuming there is an All-Star team)
Somehow, Brown is already entering his fifth season. He played some of the best basketball of his career during the playoffs, and has become more comfortable as a 3-point and free-throw shooter. But he will get the nod primarily because of the increased role he is in line to receive.
Gordon Hayward joined the Hornets and Kemba Walker will miss at least the first few weeks of the season as he regains strength in his left knee. So Tatum and Brown will both be in position to pile up video game numbers at the start of the season.
The NBA will not hold an All-Star Game this year, but it would be surprising if it does not select All-Star rosters. Look for Brown to join Tatum on the list.
The Celtics will finish in fourth place in the Eastern Conference
The Celtics have been considered a Finals contender for years, and it’s hard to argue that label after they reached the conference finals in three out of four seasons. While their future remains bright with Tatum and Brown, Hayward’s departure will hurt more than most realize, and Walker’s absence and ensuing limitations will make the regular season a challenge.
The Bucks will remain atop the East. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are now healthy for the Nets, who made some other nice moves, like adding sharpshooter Landry Shamet. The Heat will be brimming with confidence after their NBA Finals appearance. The Raptors lost Serge Ibaka, but added Aron Baynes and bring back a core that finished five games ahead of the Celtics last year. And the 76ers, who acquired shooters Seth Curry and Danny Green, could even take a step under Doc Rivers.
Fans will return to TD Garden at some point in the second half of the season
The arena won’t be packed, but the fact that vaccines are being distributed this week certainly offers signs of hope for what things will look like about four months from now. Even at partial capacity, the support system will be a lot better than fake noise.
The Celtics will use their massive trade exception to acquire Harrison Barnes from Sacramento
Boston received a $28.5 million trade exception when it orchestrated the sign-and-trade that sent Hayward to the Hornets. The exception allows Boston to take in salary in a trade without sending out the typically necessary salary in return, which is especially helpful on this roster without high-salary veterans on expiring deals.
The Kings will become sellers as they fade in the powerful Western Conference, and Barnes, in line to make $20.3 million in 2021-22 and $18.4 in 2022-23, will join Boston in exchange for some manageable combination of young players and draft compensation. Barnes is still just 28 years old, and he would give a needed jolt to Boston’s wing depth.
By season’s end, Daniel Theis will be Brad Stevens’s preferred option at center over Tristan Thompson
Thompson, Boston’s marquee acquisition, is the superior rebounder of the two. He is also a good defender and even showed a willingness to stretch the floor with 3-point shooting last year for the first time in his career. But he also had a minus-10.1 net rating for the Cavaliers last season, the second worst among Cleveland’s regular rotation players.
Theis’s versatility and comfort with Stevens’s system will make him the coach’s choice when it matters. Most often, though, the nightly matchups will dictate playing time.
Jayson Tatum will be named second-team All-NBA
Tatum was a first-time All-Star and third-team All-NBA choice last year. Much like Brown, Tatum will be in position to put up mind-boggling statistics with Hayward gone and Walker sidelined. The bigger challenge will be cracking into the first-team stratosphere. If that happens, it will take a few years.
Even though there will be more shots available, Marcus Smart will take fewer 3-pointers per game
Smart fired up a career-high 6.6 shots from beyond the arc per game last season, and connected on a respectable 34.7 percent of them. The lack of offensive weapons would seem to put Smart in position to set another career high this year, but defenses will show him a bit more respect and Smart will embrace his role as an underrated playmaker a bit more.
For the first time since 2015-16, Kemba Walker will not be an All-Star
This prediction is not all that bold considering Walker will miss the start of the year and will have his playing time limited when he returns. But this would have been our stance even if he had been healthy, with Brown poised to step into the No. 2 role behind Tatum.
Grant Williams will become a staple of small-ball closing lineups
The burly second-year forward gained Stevens’s trust as a versatile, stout defender last season. He looked anxious at times at the start of the year, particularly when he missed his first 25 3-point attempts. But he settled in at both ends of the floor and should display a clear confidence boost. He’ll be one of the more reliable Celtics for years to come.
Brad Stevens will love the new rule that says coaches do not have to wear sports jackets on the sideline
OK, this one isn’t bold at all.