After making their long-awaited breakthrough and reaching the NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics will have a massive bullseye on their back during the 2022-23 season.
The Celtics return all of their key players from 2021-22, and their long-term outlook remains extremely bright. Jayson Tatum only turned 24 in March. Jaylen Brown will be 26 in October. At 28, Marcus Smart looks like a grizzled veteran compared to some of his teammates.
As a result, Boston didn't need to radically transform its roster in order to feel better about its odds of chasing a title in 2023.
By acquiring Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari, the team strengthened some of its weaknesses. If Tatum and Brown can continue to make marginal improvements, then the Celtics might have the strongest roster not just in the Eastern Conference, but also across the entire league.
2022-23 Celtics Schedule Details
Season Opener: Oct. 18 vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Championship Odds: +450 (via FanDuel)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
Brooklyn Nets (First Game: Dec. 4)
Just because the Celtics haven't completed a blockbuster trade doesn't mean the front office hasn't tried.
The Athletic's Shams Charania reported July 25 that the team was willing to offer Brown, Derrick White and a draft pick for Kevin Durant. The Brooklyn Nets countered by requesting more picks and Smart.
News of Durant's trade request understandably unleashed a flurry of takes and hypothetical trades. The fact he remains a member of the Nets shows how putting a trade together is much easier said than done.
Brooklyn has operated like a team that's still aiming for a championship, too. You don't sign T.J. Warren and give up a first-round pick for Royce O'Neale if you're looking to tank.
As long as Durant and Kyrie Irving are on the roster, the Nets will be a credible threat to win the conference.
Milwaukee Bucks (First Game: Dec. 25)
As with the Celtics, there wasn't a pressing obligation for the Milwaukee Bucks to take a big swing this offseason. They only finished two games off the pace for the top seed in the East and rounded into form nicely in time for the postseason.
With Khris Middleton healthy, Milwaukee might have even taken the Celtics down in the conference semifinals. The Bucks ran out of gas by the time Game 7 rolled around. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday combined to score more than half of the team's offensive output in a 109-81 defeat.
The 2020-21 champions aren't going anywhere, and their exit at the hands of the Celtics provides an obvious source of motivation for the year ahead.
Considering the direction of both franchises, Boston vs. Milwaukee should be the most engaging on-court rivalry in the East for the foreseeable future.
There are a few variables for the Celtics that could lower their ceiling slightly.
And as good an addition as Brogdon is in theory, he's played 60-plus games just twice in six years. A nagging Achilles injury dogged him across last season.
At center, Boston is leaning heavily on another player with an iffy injury history (Robert Williams III) and a 36-year-old Al Horford.
Perhaps Brown becomes fed up at getting linked to whatever marquee star the Celtics are pursuing.
"Jaylen won't let this affect his play, but he won't forget this, either," an East scout said to Bleacher Report's A. Sherrod Blakely after news of the Durant offer surfaced. "The kind of season he had, the team had…I know this is a business and he knows it's a business, but hearing your name in trade rumors, even if it's Kevin Durant in the deal, can't feel good considering how he played against KD and how the Celtics did against the Nets."
If the Celtics experience another sluggish start to the season like the one they had in 2021-22, will head coach Ime Udoka be able to right the ship again?
Boston hasn't hit 60 wins since 2008-09, but that's a benchmark this roster can achieve and possibly surpass. It will hinge on player health and how much Udoka balances success in the regular season against making sure everybody is rested and peaking in time for the playoffs.
Barring a complete collapse, high 40s and a fourth-place finish should be the floor for the 2022-23 Celtics.
Record Prediction: 57-25
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