The Boston Celtics lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, 135-102, a Game 5 blowout that ends what otherwise was a terrific season. Although the season is over, the optimism for the Celtics has probably never been higher.
The Celtics proved that they can fight without Isaiah Thomas, something not many thought they could do.
They were awarded the first overall pick in a loaded draft.
They can clear enough room to sign a max free agent or two mid-tier free agents.
They have the development of Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart to look forward to.
They have two draft-and-stash players in Ante Zizic and Guerschon Yabusele that both fill positions of need and hold immense potentials of their own.
All is looking great right? Yes, so let’s talk about what they should try to do this offseason.
This one is no secret. The Celtics possess the Golden Key and Markelle Fultz is inside the chest it unlocks. This kid is so talented that I could write ten stories just salivating about what he could do in Boston. He is quite possibly the best freshman guard to grace the hardwood in the past 25 years.
Fultz can do it all. He can score from anywhere. He shot over 40 percent from three, and can hit shots at all three levels. His slashing is not only advanced, but unique. He has shown the ability to finesse around defenders and get into the lane. Once he gets there, he can do three things extremely well. He can rise up and dunk over just about anybody. He can use eurosteps and spins to create a layup opportunity. He can also wait until the last second before dishing off an easy assist. If he gets into the lane, it will usually result in points for his team.
Fultz also has the veteran pullup jumper down to a tee. Whether a defender is an inch from blocking the shot or has already been left in the dust, Fultz can hit the shot. He can shoot off a pass, but has also shown a knack for pulling up on the dribble, no matter which direction he is going.
The three-point shot might actually be Fultz’s biggest strength at this young age. He can shoot three pointers the same way that he shoots mid-range jump shots. His form does not change, and he can hit the shot whether he is open or has a defender in his grill.
His passing is there, the playmaking is dazzling, and the potential is tremendous. The next Damian Lillard/James Harden might soon be strolling through the doors of the TD Garden.
Markelle Fultz is going to be an incredible talent in Boston.
Next is the money. Who do we have to let walk and where should we spend that money?
Well first of all, there are players that will need to walk in order for this to work. Jonas Jerebko($5 mil), Amir Johnson($12 mil), Tyler Zeller($8 mil), and Kelly Olynyk(approx. $4 mil) will all need to find new teams in order for Boston to maximize its cap space. This will clear over $30 million in cap space and give the Celtics room to run after whoever they please.
If the Celtics are indeed going to give a max contract to a player, there is only one that makes sense to me, and it will have a few repercussions.
Gordon Hayward is only 27, and he has gotten better every season he has played in. His most recent season featured the swingman scoring over 21 points per game on almost 40 percent shooting. He defends well, which will help him earn a gritty label in Boston. He can be the piece that pushes the Celtics over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.
Hayward can play both the wing positions, and can do a lot with the ball in his hands.
Oh yeah, and he’s pretty good buddies with Brad Stevens, the Celtics current coach. Hayward would give the Celtics another legitimate end-of-game option. Go-to scorers that can lead a team in the fourth are hard to find, so Hayward would be a great addition.
So, what would the trickledown effect be of this move?
Well, it would likely result in the end of Isaiah Thomas in Boston. IT got so good this year that he is sure to command a contract of or close to a max deal. This deal would be hard to get done in Boston if Hayward signed. The Celtics would likely have to choose between either keeping Isaiah or keeping both Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. I really love IT and greatly appreciate everything he has done wearing a green jersey, but AB and Marcus are simply more valuable to have on the team. Isaiah could be traded at the deadline next season, or maybe the Celtics gear up for a strong title run.
DRAFT AND STASH
Both Ante Zizic and Guerschon Yabusele will suit up for the Celtics next season. They are young and promising players that will fill areas of need for Boston.
Ante Zizic is a jewel that Celtics fans need to start knowing about. At only 20 years old, Zizic is an athletic seven-footer that can both score and defend. He improved so much in his year overseas that scouts have said that Zizic would have been a top ten pick in this year’s draft. That makes the Celtics look pretty smart for what they did. Zizic has a midrange jumper, can defend very well and block shots, and can absolutely cram on people. Zizic is someone you are going to want to get used to seeing on the floor of the Garden.
And then there’s Guerschon Yabusele, who has been declared as the “French Draymond.” That is a label I like to hear. While maybe not as talented as Green, Yabusele’s comparison means enough. “The Dancing Bear” can defend all five positions at a good level. His ability to move his feet and hips is a large reason why he defends well. He has shown the ability to knock down three balls, and he is athletic enough to play above the rim.
These players will do a lot for a Celtics team that struggled to both rebound the ball and blokc shots. Fixing these problems would be a huge step in heading towards Banner 18.
So what can the 2017-18 Boston Celtics look like? Pretty damn good.
Point Guard: Isaiah Thomas, Markelle Fultz, Terry Rozier
Shooting Guard: Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart
Small Forward: Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Abdel Nader
Power Forward: Jae Crowder, Guerschon Yabusele, Jordan Mickey
Center: Al Horford, Ante Zizic
Make no mistake, this team would be able to compete with any team in the NBA. There is talent at every position, and the depth is supreme.