Here are 22 Celtics-related things to watch in 2022:
1. Brad Stevens at the trade deadline
First-year president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said this month that he is looking forward to maneuvering through his first trade deadline in this post. The next few weeks could provide more clarity, but Stevens could be faced with some tough choices about whether to bolster the roster for a playoff push now, or shift the focus toward the future.
The guess here is that he decides on the latter, with guards Dennis Schröder and Josh Richardson among those who are dangled for future assets that will allow the Celtics to slide back under the luxury tax, give more opportunities to younger players, and build around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
2. Kyrie comes back to Boston
New York’s vaccine mandate has kept Brooklyn star Kyrie Irving from playing any games at the Barclays Center. But last week Irving started playing in road games, so he should be in uniform at TD Garden March 6.
Last May, Irving played in front of Boston fans for the first time since his Celtics departure. He stomped on the Celtics logo at midcourt following his team’s Game 4 playoff win, and as he walked off the floor, a fan threw a water bottle at him and was later arrested.
3. Rolling with the starters
The preferred starting lineup of Tatum, Brown, Robert Williams, Marcus Smart, and Al Horford has played a total of just 145 minutes together. But the group has been incredibly productive, outscoring opponents by 17.5 points per 100 possessions. That mark probably will dip, but it’s an encouraging sign.
4. KG Day
The Celtics will retire Hall of Fame forward Kevin Garnett’s No. 5 jersey prior to the March 13 game against the Mavericks.
5. Danny Ainge at the trade deadline
Ainge retired last summer after serving as the Celtics’ president of basketball operations for 18 seasons. But he didn’t stay away from the game for long. In December, Ainge was named alternate governor and CEO of the Jazz.
He has insisted that this new role won’t be as day-to-day and hands-on as his previous one. But he also insisted last summer that he intended to stay away from the game for a while, and now he’s back. The Jazz are NBA title contenders and seven of their top eight scorers are at least 29 years old, so now is their time to go for it. Look for Ainge to have his fingerprints on this deadline.
6. The trade exceptions
The Celtics have two significant trade exceptions at their disposal: a $17.1 million exception created by the Evan Fournier sign-and-trade with the Knicks, and a $9.7 million exception created when Tristan Thompson was dealt to the Kings.
The exceptions essentially allow them to take on that amount of salary in a trade without sending a similar amount back to the other team. The Celtics most likely would use the exceptions this summer, when they are projected to be well below the luxury tax and could add a solid player via trade, or in free agency with a sign-and-trade. If the exceptions are not used this summer, they will expire.
Tatum and Brown both were named All-Stars last season, and they’re each averaging more than 24 points per game. But they’re also playing for a sub-.500 team, their shooting statistics have dipped considerably, and Brown missed 15 games because of a hamstring injury.
Even though Brown has been the more consistent, look for Tatum to get the lone nod because he is a more established star, has played in more games, and remains the team’s go-to option.
8. In a golden state
The Celtics have played the Warriors as tough as anyone over the years, and they’ll get another chance March 16 in San Francisco. This time, Golden State is expected to have superstar Klay Thompson.
9. The empty spot
The Celtics have an open roster spot after waiving Jabari Parker. It’s unlikely that the slot will be filled prior to the trade deadline, giving them extra flexibility. But if assistance is needed in a pinch, Isaiah Thomas is available for a potential 10-day deal.
10. Canada restrictions
Starting next week, Canadian travel restrictions will keep unvaccinated opponents from playing road games against the Raptors. The Celtics visit Toronto March 28, and while most of the team is believed to be vaccinated, players such as Schröder and Richardson have declined to answer questions about their status.
11. Pistons, lots of Pistons
After Wednesday’s matchup against the Pacers, 10 percent of the Celtics’ remaining games will come against the Pistons. Detroit is 9-30, the second-worst record in the NBA.
12. The Tatum/Brown dynamic
They have heard the recent chatter suggesting that a split is needed for this team to continue its ascension. They had a conversation last week and affirmed their commitment to each other and this team, and they insist they can be the cornerstones of a successful franchise.
But during their year and a half as the unquestioned leaders, the Celtics have a record of 56-57. After this season, Brown will have just two years remaining on his extension. The rest of this season could help determine how long and prosperous this duo’s time together will be.
13. Fourth quarters
The Celtics have been outscored by 8.4 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter, ranking 29th in the league. Coach Ime Udoka needs to find effective closing lineups, and the players cannot wilt during the game’s most tense moments.
14. Long-range shooting
The Celtics have made just 33.5 percent of their 3-pointers, tied for 24th in the NBA. Tatum (32.7) and Horford (28.5) are at career lows. There should be some progression to the mean.
15. Avoiding the play-in
This might seem like a tall task, considering the Celtics entered Tuesday tied for 10th with the Knicks. But they are just three games behind the sixth-place Cavaliers, who are sitting in the last spot above the 7-10 play-in tournament. The Celtics have the seventh-easiest remaining schedule, so there will be opportunities to gain ground.
16. Ime’s approach
The first-year coach has been unafraid to publicly blast his players when their effort and intensity wane. So far, they’ve generally been receptive to his criticism and said that his complaints are valid. But if the struggles continue, or get worse, it’ll be worth watching to see how the players handle the heat.
17. The Maine event
With the roster crushed by COVID-19, the Celtics have needed all available players in Boston, including two-way contract players Sam Hauser and Brodric Thomas. But they hope they’ve gotten through the most crushing wave and can now stay healthy for an extended period.
That should allow Thomas, Hauser, and even players such as Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard to get extra runs with the G League affiliate.
18. Executive shifts
Ainge preferred to keep his front office small, mostly just leaning on assistant general managers Austin Ainge and Mike Zarren as well as director of player personnel Dave Lewin. Stevens has good working relationships with all of them, but his first season on the job should help him decide whether he wants to expand the cabinet a bit. The guess here is that he will. Vice president of player development Allison Feaster has already taken on a more prominent role.
19. New Garden policy
Starting with Saturday’s game against the Bulls, fans over 12 will need to be fully vaccinated to attend Celtics games at TD Garden. Previously, patrons could gain entry by showing proof of vaccination or a negative test.
20. Ben Simmons
It’s unclear whether the Celtics would have any interest in the disgruntled 76ers All-Star point guard, but any move involving him could reshape the upper tier of the Eastern Conference for years. If Boston does get involved, it’s hard to see it getting far without Brown included in an offer.
21. Second-year surge
If the Celtics do unload a veteran such as Schröder or Richardson prior to the deadline, it should lead to more opportunities for second-year guards Pritchard and Nesmith, who have both had their struggles. A late confidence boost would be a benefit going into 2022-23.
22. The NCAA Tournament
For the first time since 2013-14, the Celtics’ own first-round draft pick could land in the lottery. Might as well keep an eye on some prospects.