While a lot of the offseason moves resulted to superstars changing addresses and propelling their teams to championship contender status, some teams were forced to make moves to prevent them from going to the dumps from their being a contender status in the 2018-19 season.
Many are talking about what the LA Clippers, LA Lakers, Brooklyn Nets and the Utah Jazz have achieved in the offseason and how good they are now.
Then there are the teams that many pundits no longer see as championship contenders because of the departure of some of their stars.
Thing is I felt some of these teams are unreasonably ranked very low but have made enough moves to remain in the hunt for the championship.
Here are the teams that lost some key stars resulting to their not being highly ranked this coming season but had made what I consider nice roster bounce back moves that could really surprise us with a deep playoff appearance.
Key losses: Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, and Aron Baynes.
Key additions: Kemba Walker, Enes Kanter and a bunch of youngters.
The Celtics lost a lot during the offseason, including two of the most important components of their previous roster. However, I like to refer to it as addition by subtraction.
Consider these figures I would throw out:
(1) the Celtics’ regular season record (a) without Irving:14-7 in 2018 and 12-3 in 2019, and (b) with Irving 41-20 in 2018 and 37-30 in 2019;
(2) the Celtics’ playoff record (a) without Irving: 11-8, lost in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals in seven games, and (b) with Irving: 1-4, lost in the first round in the 2019 playoffs.
This was a problem of discrepancy of talent and coaching within a system,
It was a no brainer Irving is the best player of that Boston roster but he couldn’t, or isn’t interested to, become their leader and get his teammates to buy in the team concept to get the right mixture on the hardcourt, and probably also in the locker room, that will result to the Celtics winning games.
Celtics Coach Brad Stevens runs a complex system that revolves around sharing the ball and Irving’s talent contradicts that in a way because of the simplicity of just handing him over the ball and let him go to work.
The discrepancy of desire, age, experience, and maturity might have been issues also as depicted by an incident when the team traveled to Miami on a back-to-back game. It was reported that Irving got mad at his younger teammates because they were out late during the night before the second game.
They badly lost that game against the Heat. Irving got to the gym for shooting drills, hoping his teammates follow suit. Nobody joined him.
Regardless of why and who did right, the disconnect between the team’s superstar and his teammates was evident and is not likely capable of being repaired.
Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge described the situation best when he said “We just had too many individual goals, like we didn’t have enough guys that winning was the most important thing” and that hindered the growth of the young Celtics.
Ainge made a stand on his roster, probably leaving and getting the ones he likes to build the team around. After Irving’s departure became apparent, he immediately went out to find his replacement.
Sure, they could have been retained Horford and Morris but I agree that matching the prices they signed with their new teams were too high and the contracts could turn out to be traps the Celtics want to avoid in the next few years.
Rozier would have been a nice keeper but the signing of Walker made his return almost impossible because he will be another duplication in position and his contract will be a detriment in filling up other positions. Rozier and Marcus Smart plays the same position and commands the same salary. Smart and his defensive prowess should be a better fit with Walker, making Rozier dispensable.
The Walker acquisition is a seemingly better fit in Boston. While there is a downgrade of talent, the downgrade also allows Stevens’ system to flourish again. That’s not even considering a possible major upgrade in the locker room chemistry.
I also kinda feel the Celtics recognized the kind of potential talents they have in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and are ready to hand them a path to eventually handle the reigns of the franchise in the natural way: give them enough roles and allow them to develop while playing them.
And by reloading with a premier point guard in Walker caliber, an intriguing big in Kanter, and some young players that made headlines in the summer league, the current line-up may surprise us come playoff time.
I predict these Celtics to duplicate their top four finish in the Eastern Conference last year and will surpass their first round exit in the 2020 playoffs.
Golden State Warriors
Key losses: Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins, and Shaun Livingston.
Key additions: DeAngelo Russell, Willie Cauley-Stein, Glen Robinson III, and Alec Burks.
The Warriors, like the Celtics, also lost lots of parts but the nice moves they made allow the franchise to be relevant in the hunt for a playoff spot even in the now much tougher Western Conference.
Sure, the Durant addition made them the prohibitive NBA title favorites during his tenure and his departure would highly hurt their title aspirations.
We should remember, though, they were a championship team before he got there. The Warriors got to the finals twice without Durant and won one of them. They also recorded 73-9 win-loss card during that time to reestablish the best regular season ever.
Durant’s departure no longer qualifies them as title favorites but to remove them from going deep in the playoffs might be an overreaction.
They still have the core of the Splash Brothers and Draymond Green. By acquiring Russell and Cauley-Stein, they became younger and more athletic while filling up the spots vacated by Livingston and Cousins.
Stephen Curry, the league’s only unanimous season MVP, and his impeccable outside shooting should be back doing enough damage and, along with the all-around brilliance of Green, keep the Warriors afloat while awaiting the return of Klay Thompson.
The acquisition of Russell, a move the Warriors pulled off in the face of losing Durant for nothing, and Cauley-Stein were moves that flew under the radar.
If Russell stays with the Warriors’ line-up, it helps them stay true to their original identity: strength in numbers who are full of long range bombers. A team can’t go wrong by having enough shooters, you know.
Or the Warriors could just trade Russell to fill up other slots if they feel he duplicates roles already reserved for Curry and Thompson.
The Cauley-Stein acquisition is an even bigger upgrade. The pre-Durant Warriors success was tied up with a big. In the finals, they prevailed with a healthy Andrew Bogut and lost a critical game when Green got suspended. Cauley-Stein, a young big who can play his size and run the floor, might be what the doctor ordered for this Durant-less Warriors.
I feel the spot left by Iguodala is something the front office should consider as a critical position to be filled up.
Nevertheless, even if they will be unable to do so, I still see them winning enough games to enter the playoffs as one of the lower seeds due to the early absence of Thompson but could spell trouble to their playoff opponents when he is back on the mend in the post season following a likely return in February.
By Armando M. Bolislis
Banner illustration by Don Ray Ramos.