The Boston Celtics have fallen at the first hurdle of the post-season in the past two years as the club continue to rebuild under the tenure of Brad Stevens. The Celtics were a force between 2007 and 2012 under Doc Rivers as they returned to the franchise’s dominant ways that had not been seen since the late 1980s.
Rivers’ men won the NBA Championship in the 2007-08 season and reached the Finals once again in the 2011-12 campaign, only to be defeated by the Los Angeles Lakers. In 2013 the club were to lose essential parts of their success as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded to the Brooklyn Nets, while Rivers allowed his contract to expire to join to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Since then Stevens has had a battle to keep his side above .500 due to a lack of quality on the roster, but the Draft picks gained in the Garnett, Pierce and Rivers’ departure are beginning to show signs of bearing fruit for Boston.
There has been a gradual improvement in each season of Stevens’ tenure and the Celtics will be eyeing a return to glory sooner rather than later, being backed in the latest NBA Championship betting odds at 20/1 to win the title.
Boston’s odds would have been a lot shorter than that had they managed to convince Kevin Durant to sign for the club. The Celtics pushed extremely hard over the summer to get his signature, even bringing an entourage, including New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, to get the deal done.
However, the 2014 MVP opted to sign for the Golden State Warriors, further strengthening the formidable outfit in the Western Conference. Fortunately that will not be a problem that the Celtics will have to face unless the sides meet in the NBA Finals.
With an abundance of cap room the Celtics did land a major free agent signing in the form of Al Horford from the Atlanta Hawks. Stevens’ men were on the receiving end of the center’s ability in the playoffs last season as he drove his former team to a 4-2 victory over the Celtics.
The four-time NBA All-Star will add a quality physical presence on the court that the Celtics have sorely lacked due to Kelly Olynyk’s inconsistent form. Horford has struggled with injuries in the past, but they will be hopeful that his first 82-game season was the sign of a resolution of his issues.
Horford should ease the pressure on outstanding point guard Isaiah Thomas, who enjoyed the best campaign of his career in 2016. The 27-year-old notched 22.2 points per game, and was the driving force in his side’s two playoffs wins over the Hawks, notching 42 points in match three at the TD Garden.
Stevens will also be looking for the younger players in his side to take steps forward, none more so than Marcus Smart. The 22-year-old displayed signs that he was ready to kick on in the playoffs, but will need to improve his form in the regular season to help the Celtics back to the top of the Eastern Conference and beyond.