Boston Celtics

Celtics offseason outlook: Boston could be busy after surprising playoff run

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From right: Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Al Horford and Jaylen Brown (Getty Images)

Big issue 1: The Celtics won't garner much sympathy from the other 29 teams in the league on this, but one of the team's big issues will be how to sort out the talent on hand, when stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward return to a group that underwent a postseason surge without them but will be expected to slide back in behind Irving and Hayward in the team's pecking order.

Rookie Jayson Tatum showed the potential to handle a role as a No. 1 scorer, and Terry Rozier showed he deserves to be a starting point guard in the NBA. Jaylen Brown still needs work, but displayed an ability to be a top-tier two-way player in the league. Oh, and Al Horford is still an anchor on both sides of the ball. That's six worthy players for five starting spots.

That's led to speculation that the Celtics will be involved in trade talks this summer for some of its talent, and they surely will have discussions. Some of the players who have been involved in that speculation - Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis - are pipe dreams. San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard is a more realistic Celtics target, but might require too steep a price in return.

Still, the Celtics will have some lumps in the roster to smooth out, too many guys who deserve big roles but not enough opportunities for all of them. Again, plenty of teams would like to have that problem, but it will be something that, without changes, coach Brad Stevens will have to work out.

Big issue 2: Like most teams in the league, the Celtics don't have an ideal answer at center, choosing to go small sometimes with Horford in the middle or, more frequently, big with traditional center Aron Baynes, who was a bargain at $4.3 million.

The Celtics were the top-ranked defensive team in the NBA last year, No. 2 at defending the pick-and-roll and No. 10 in field-goal percentage allowed on shots within six feet. They managed to defend the paint without a dominant, shot-blocking center.

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Still, center is the one spot where the Celtics have room for an upgrade. They'd do just fine bringing back the same cast of characters in the middle next year, but they could still search for a long-term answer at the spot this summer.

Free-agent outlook: Three free-agent issues are facing the Celtics this offseason, though none with quite as much resonance as the free-agent moves that dominated the last two summers, when Boston signed Horford, then Hayward.

The first is Marcus Smart, who will be a restricted free agent and never got all that close to a contract extension with the Celtics last fall, and was available at the trade deadline for a first-round pick this year. That's a pretty good indication that Boston does not intend to bring him back, though he could wind up staying around on a one-year qualifying offer if an outside team refuses to put down a major bid this summer.

Second will be Baynes, who will be 32 in December, but proved to be a very useful piece during the Celtics' postseason run. If the Celtics don't make a splashy move for a center, Baynes would be worth a chunk of the mid-level exception.

Finally, there is Rozier, who is eligible for a contract extension and surely feels he has earned a serious bump up in pay after averaging 16.5 points, 5.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds in the postseason, committing just 1.2 turnovers in 36.6 minutes. It's doubtful that the Celtics will hand Rozier an extension ahead of his restricted free-agency year, especially when he figures to be a prominent part of trade talks this summer.

The young folks: The Celtics have eight players, including two-way contract guard Jabari Bird, who were born in 1994 or later. When you talk about the young folks on this team, you're bringing up the bulk of the roster.

Boston does have one of the most exciting young players in the league in Tatum, who will likely finish third to Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell in the Rookie of the Year vote, but who showed over the course of the postseason that he has as much potential as those two and may well be the most polished NBA player of the three. Oh, and he's only 20.

The other prime young player on the Boston roster is Brown, just 21 and in his second season. Brown is a mature and well-rounded player who is just beginning to fill out his game - he was brought along slowly as a rookie - and has gained confidence as the year has gone on. Both he and Tatum have All-Star potential.

But the Celtics have other young guys who could develop into role players. Rookie Semi Ojeleye might never be much of an offensive threat, but he is already a versatile enough defender that Stevens had him on the floor for extended minutes in the playoffs when he needed an inside-outside defensive presence.

And it will be worth watching how hefty French forward Guerschon Yabusele, who is just 22 and was the No. 16 pick in the 2016 draft, comes along. He has the build of Charles Barkley, and the team hopes he can develop into an effective stretch-4.

Looking ahead, the Celtics have the No. 27 pick in this year's draft and, potentially, four first-rounders next season, when the team will have its own pick, Memphis' pick (protected for the top eight), Sacramento's pick (protected for No. 1) and a lottery-protected pick from the Clippers.

Wait till next year: Wait, indeed.

By taking LeBron James and Cleveland to the brink of elimination in the conference finals and disposing easily of the Sixers in the conference semis, the Celtics have already established themselves as the team to beat in the East for next year and, probably, the next half-decade.

They did that without Irving and Hayward. If those two are healthy and can be successfully integrated back into the team program, this is a loaded roster and a team that won't just be favored in the conference for the foreseeable future, but will be on par with the West powerhouses for the next handful of league championships.

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