2016–17 Boston Celtics Preview with Jared Schaeffer and Steve Zukoff

Jared Schaeffer is such a steady Boston Celtics fan that he never turned on Antoine Walker. Jared was always a fan of the Antoine wiggle. Steve Zukoff has been a devoted Celtics fan since the days of Greg Kite and Darren Daye (okay, the original Big Three). They both know their Celtics. They took a few minutes to consider the 2016–17 Celtics season as we count down to the opening tip.

Salaries: http://hoopshype.com/salaries/boston_celtics/

Q. Can Kelly Olynyk become the constant deep threat that Ainge and Stevens need him to be? You might interpret this question as: Will Olynyk stay healthy and productive (70+ games, 20–25 min/game, 40% from distance)?

S: With Sullinger gone (fine by me) Kelly should get 20+ minutes every night. He has improved incrementally year by year but still had some occasions last year when he disappeared for stretches. His signature game last year as far as I can recall was the Golden State game at home, where he was aggressive even during the final minutes with the NBA world watching. He has the game offensively, hopefully he can develop consistency and confidence to take his game to the next level and be that “stretch 4” sixth man. Need all the offense we can get with him to offset his mediocre defense.

J: I think 70+ games is probably out of the question, but hopefully I’m wrong. He probably won’t begin to play until mid-November. If he can play like he did during the middle of last year, that would be fantastic. 40% seems attainable. Hopefully it comes with a decent number of attempts.

Q. Will Marcus Smart develop enough offensive skills to turn the corner and become a fully-fledged two-way player? To me, the three main skills he needs are: corner 3-pt range, decision making in the lane, finishing at the rim.

A secondary question for Smart: Will he stay healthy enough to extend next summer? The team has a 4th year option which they will undoubtedly pick up after the season either way, but extending him after his third year would make things clearer down the road.

J: I don’t think we’re going to see an amazing leap forward from Smart offensively. If he can shoot 30% from three and reasonably handle point guard duties off the bench, that should be enough. His defense is consistently amazing enough that he’s a benefit to the team even when he can’t shoot. Without offensive improvement, I’m not sure what the market is for him. He’s basically looking like a stronger, slightly less wild Tony Allen at this point.

S: I’m not sure about Smart. His defense and tenacity are unquestioned. However, with the emergence of Rozier, it might be best to explore moving him and a pick for someone like an Aldridge if you can. His shooting was brutal at times last year and he has a bad reputation with refs as a whiner, which subconsciously at least, does not give him the benefit of the doubt on calls. He also does seem injury prone. Still possible for him to improve his game, but if Rozier really becomes as good as people think he can be, is having Thomas/Bradley/Rozier/Smart too much of a logjam? Most people thought it was when Rozier was drafted. So part of this answer depends on how good Rozier is, and perhaps there’s a tiny bit of Demetrius Jackson to factor into the decision. Either way, I’m not all-in on Marcus for the extended future as of now….

Q. I’ve read one scout’s take on the small forward position as being in limbo after this year. Jae Crowder is a fan favorite, a relentless defender, is on a ridiculously cheap contract for his value, and is signed through the summer of 2020. On the other hand, Jaylen Brown may become a better all-around player than Crowder within two years. Brown’s athleticism is undeniable and he is already showing defensive versatility.

Multi-part question: If Jaylen improves his shot quickly, might Ainge consider Crowder expendable after this year?

If so, should Crowder be used as trade bait (along with the 2017 BKN pick-swap) to try and acquire an offensive big like LaMarcus Aldridge (rumors of Aldridge being slightly unhappy in San Antonio may be overblown) or DeMarcus Cousins, or call up Chicago about Jimmy Butler again?

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Jaylen Brown, Boston’s highest overall pick (3rd) since Chauncey Billups (1997). www.nba.com

J: I think Jae’s contract may be too awesome to trade him, and I think one year won’t be enough for Jaylen to make him expendable. Playing both is an interesting option, especially with so many teams playing small. I would certainly trade him for Cousins. Aldridge is a little old for my taste (older than Horford, which surprised me); Butler is a better version of Crowder on a much more expensive deal, not sure it is worth it.

S: It’s extremely early, but Brown looks very good so far. Bob Ryan is very high on him, which he doesn’t just say about anyone. (like Tommy Heinsohn does…love Tommy but he is blindly optimistic about every Celtic) I’m definitely a Jae fan and with that contract I think it’s OK to make him your sixth man if Brown becomes that good that he would start over Crowder. Crowder is still young and may not quite have peaked yet, but Brown does have more upside. I’m not sure what the Gerald Green contract is, but if Brown emerges, you could say goodbye to Gerald and keep Crowder as a 3 and occasional 4 in smaller lineups off the bench. Of course, if you could get someone in the right deal, I wouldn’t rule out trading Crowder, but based on what I said in an earlier question, I be more apt to deal Smart than Crowder. I’d guess Crowder would have a little more value right now but I don’t think by a significant margin. Let’s see what happens with Jaylen Brown, but if he becomes that good that he has to start, it’s a good problem to have.

Q. This is jumping ahead, but…it might be best to play Crowder and Jaylen even minutes by next year. Do either/both see time at the power forward spot so the Celtics can go small and out-run slower teams?

S: You can throw Jae and even Jaylen at PF when the time is right. Still very early though. In a perfect world, yes they would have comparable minutes, but let’s see where we are around the new year with how Brown is doing before considering how to approach Brown significantly cutting into Crowder’s playing time.

J: Yeah, I think we’ll see a lot of Crowder at power forward. Smart can probably play the 3 so you could go small with a crazy defensive team of Bradley, Rozier, Smart, Crowder and Horford. The multi-position flexibility of Smart and Crowder on defense should give them a lot of options.

Q. What is Terry Rozier’s ceiling this year? What is his floor? Does he have the potential to cut into Smart’s future as a Celtic? The man can leap!

J: I think solid bench contributor is probably the ceiling. He should get a chance early on with Smart on the bench to play a lot. I’m not sure about his point guard skills, but he seems to have dramatically improved his shot over the summer. I could see Rozier eventually cutting into Smart’s future as a Celtic; could also see him speeding up a timeline where they trade Isaiah, especially if they don’t get a big free agent this summer.

S: The ceiling for Rozier is overtaking Smart and becoming the first guard off the bench. I’m not sure he can go higher than that, which would be overtaking either Thomas or Bradley in the starting lineup. Hard to see him going back to where was in the first half of last year though, with a bunch of DNPs. He certainly has a lot of athleticism and overall talent that just had to be brought out with more minutes and confidence, which he got in the second half of last year. So his floor to me is not that low. I guess you could say then that the floor would be that Stevens trusts Smart over him and that he’s relegated to 8–10 minutes per game…but it’s hard for me to imagine Demetrius Jackson being ahead of him.

Q. We know Al Horford and Jaylen Brown have improved the Celtics. The team won 48 games last year, and their point-differential had them closer to an expected-50 wins. The East has fewer weak teams than it has in recent years, with another cluster of teams likely to compete for 4th-8th playoff seeds. Barring injury, how many wins are you expecting this year?

J: 51 wins and the 2 seed is my guess. The East is so crowded they could finish 5th again, too!

S: I’ll go with 53 wins, a possible 2 seed and no lower than a 4 seed.

Jonah Predicts: 52 wins, 2nd seed.

Q. When the dust settles on the 2016–17 season, what will have made this year a successful one for the Boston Celtics?

J: Winning a playoff series and having the young players improve would make it a successful season. Hopefully Jaylen proves he’s a prospect worth the third pick in the draft, Rozier shows that summer league and preseason weren’t a fluke, and Marcus learns to shoot. I’m ready for Bradley to magically learn how to pass as well. This is the year.

S: It’s time to win a playoff series. I think if they can at least get to the 2nd round, the season will be a modest success. Hopefully though, they can get to the East Finals. I think last year, it was a little premature to think that they could get there, as a lot of people were saying. This year, if everything breaks right, they certainly could be the best team in the East besides Cleveland. So to finish answering the question, getting to the East Finals would be a very successful season, but barring a Lebron injury, I don’t see how they get further than that. Realistically, they’re not a contender to win an NBA Championship. I think they would have been if they could have gotten Durant. They’re still one star away from having a chance in a 7-game series with whomever comes out of the West. (OK, the Warriors) They’ll still have the same ammo to get another star next year. (Money and another Brooklyn pick) Speaking of that and referring to an earlier question, something else besides a Jaylen Brown emergence could happen that would make Crowder possible trade bait over the summer. His name is Gordon Hayward.

Q. What are you biggest concerns heading into the season?

J: Rebounding, shooting, playmaking off the bench. They didn’t shoot or rebound well last year and I’m not sure the roster changes amount to improvement in those areas. On paper they seemed to overachieve last year; the expectations are much higher around the league this year, will they live up to them?

S: Can Smart, Rozier, and Olynyk take their games to the next level? Can Bradley and Horford continue to improve from 3-point range? What are they going to get at the 4 from Amir Johnson as a starter? Is Jaylen Brown really ready to make a significant contribution at 19 years old? Or will we be asking why they didn’t take Kris Dunn and turn him into Jahlil Okafor instead?

Al Horford has dunked on three Nets at once. I would have added a picture of him on the Celtics, but this was too great a picture to deny. (via slamonline)

Q. What are you most looking forward to?

J: Watching Horford every night. Crowder, Smart and Bradley shutting people down.

S: Seeing the development of Jaylen Brown, and how much of a difference Al Horford can make.

Q. Any other observations or ideas?

J: Gerald Green could be key, which seems crazy to say all of these years later. Having a guy that can create his own shot that isn’t Isaiah will be nice.

S: Considering this is year four of a rebuild, with the way the NBA is set up, and understanding that KG/Ray Allen deals are extremely rare, Celtics fans should be satisfied with where we are at this time.

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