It’s a semi-difficult question to assess for a two reasons.
No. 1: the Celtics only have nine players under contract, so they need to add six in order to fill out their roster.
No. 2: Their opponents have the same problem—they don’t have full squads, either.
Luckily, from an outlook perspective, this isn’t a strong year for free agency. It just so happened to work itself out that way.
So while the Tyson Chandlers, Nenes and David Wests of the world will be hot commodities when free agency hits, they won’t be the cornerstones of championship-caliber teams. This means that the best teams in the East already have their cores in place.
Here is a breakdown of how the Celtics fare against the top teams in the East based on the current rosters.
The Miami Heat will still be the best team East this season.
They are the reigning Eastern Conference champs, and the team is bringing back their Big Three along with Joel Anthony, a healthy Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller.
Those are six pretty decent players right there. If restricted free agent Mario Chalmers is retained, the team goes seven deep.
With those seven, where are the holes? Anthony isn’t a great center, but is a fine complimentary player. Bosh and Haslem will be on the floor a ton, too, so Anthony isn’t going to be counted on to dominate any one facet of the game.
Point guard is still a weak position, but Chalmers has always handled it well. He’s actually a better postseason player than in the regular season, another strength the Heat have.
James Jones is gone, so the Heat will need another sharpshooter, but they still have Eddie House if need be.
What it comes down to is that the Heat are all set on the offensive end. They have every area and need covered.
They are also a very strong defensive team, so if the Celtics are going to beat the Heat in the playoffs they have to play mistake-free basketball for the full 48 minutes over the course of a seven-game series.
The Celtics match up well against Miami, but they still lack an as-yet-unidentified piece to the puzzle. That piece is most likely a current free agent, but the team has to bring in a skilled vet if they stand a chance against mighty Miami.
No offense to Chicago fans for calling Miami the best in the East—the Bulls are a close second. They could even be the best team in the East this season.
Chicago did not lose any key players from last year’s team, so they are right where they want to be whenever the season starts.
The Bulls biggest advantage is their size. Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer are as good as any front court in the league. These guys can post up points and play solid defense as well, so they have an obvious advantage over the somewhat center-less Celtics.
In order to compete with the Bulls, Boston has to expect big games from Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. Any output Kevin Garnett can produce is an added bonus.
Tempo and ball control are the secrets to beating the Bulls this upcoming season. It’s easier said than done, however, since the Bulls can utilize Derrick Rose and Ronnie Brewer on defense, two very competent players.
On paper, the Celtics are not better than the Bulls, so they will have to continue to rely on their experience to overtake Chicago.
The Bulls are hungry to reclaim their glory from the 1990s, so Boston fans should keep their fingers crossed.
This should make the entire team hungry for success, but as history has shown us, the Magic have never put much fear into the hearts of the Celtics.
They did win a seven-game series against Boston in 2009, but Garnett was out, so it wasn’t a healthy Celtics team.
Still, the Magic are most likely the fourth best team in the East again this year. They didn’t lose any significant players, so the team is still fully intact.
The problem is that the Magic have never looked like a true team. They mostly appear as 12 individuals making up a team.
To beat the Magic, the Celtics won’t have to alter their game-plan much. Just keep doing what they’ve done, and they’ll win.
You have to like the C’s chances in beating Orlando in any playoff series, health permitting.
The Hawks continue to improve each season, even if they aren’t among the top teams in the East. They’re getting close though.
One has to wonder if this is the year they can make that next step?
That’s not an easy question to answer based on the level of competition ahead of them in the pecking order.
The team is presumably losing Jamal Crawford, who provided a consistent spark off of the bench, so the Hawks will have to get deeper if they want to take that next step.
If the Hawks can remain healthy and improve their team game this season, they could make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but like Orlando, they’re not striking fear into the hearts of Celtics fans. The Hawks will be under the label of “young” or “inexperienced” until they make it to the NBA Finals.
The New York Knicks are basically a two-and-a-half person operation next season (Chauncey Billups being the half).
Sure the team is fun to watch and can put up points, but they were exposed by the Celtics during last year’s playoffs. Yes, some of the games were close, but who won them?
After the Hawks, there really aren’t any other teams that the Celtics should be overly concerned with, Knicks included.