By: Kenny Doyle
The Celtics are getting younger. A lot younger.
After one of the craziest offseasons in franchise and NBA history, the Celtics are returning only 4 players from last year’s Eastern Conference Finals team. Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier, 3 of whom are still on their rookie contracts, but that’s only half the story.
The new faces the Celtics are bringing in are a whole lot younger than the ones leaving town. Listed from oldest to youngest, here is a list of the Celtics outgoing and incoming players.
Gerald Green 31 → Aron Baynes 30
Amir Johnson 30 → Marcus Morris 28
Jonas Jerebko 30 → Gordon Hayward 27
Isaiah Thomas 28 → Kyrie Irving 25
Jae Crowder 27 → Daniel Theis 25
Tyler Zeller 27 → Shane Larkin 24
Avery Bradley 26 → Semi Ojeleye 22
Kelly Olynyk 26 → Guershon Yabusele 21
James Young 22 → Jayson Tatum 19
That is a combined 26 years of age lost on the roster from last season to this season. That’s a lot, especially when the oldest player going out the door is only 31. The Celtics are going to be one of the 5 youngest teams in the NBA next season, with the other 4 being the Lakers, 76ers, Suns, and the Bucks. Three of those teams finished with less than 28 wins last season. There’s a reason that youth in the NBA is often associated with “hope”, it’s because it’s usually the only thing ownership has to sell the fans.
The good news is, it’s hard to argue right now that the Celtics aren’t the best young team in the NBA, which is weird to say about a team that has Al Horford, 31, as one of their core pieces. Celtics part time commentator Brian Scalabrine doesn’t think the youth movement is a good thing, at least not for next season.
“I think this is a way of going all in on the young guys.” Scalabrine said on CSNNE after the Celtics made the trade for Irving. “I really believe it’s a way of going all in on Brown and Tatum and getting these guys to develop to a championship level like 2 years down the road.” When Scal was pressed and asked if he thought this move made the Celtics better next season, Scal laughed off the question, “Next season? No” Going onto say, “We’re not as good defensively. We lost Bradley, we lost Crowder, and we're gonna roll with guys who are 19 years old.”
Scal is right. Roles that were played by seasoned NBA veterans are going to be taken over by less experienced players. Jaylen Brown could possibly be the Celtics starting shooting guard next season. There’s no question that Brown is one of the most talented young players in the NBA, but he’s still only 20 years old and in his 2nd year in the NBA. Brown will take his lumps in his time out there, and the same goes for Tatum, Yabusele, Ojeleye, as well as most of the other Celtics young cast. With more minutes comes more responsibility, and even guys like Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier are not finished products and will struggle at times.
And Scal is right about another thing, young cores don’t tend to be the ones who win championships in the NBA. The 3 oldest teams in the NBA as of now are the Cavaliers, Spurs, and the Warriors. In the playoffs, it’s the old legs that help win you a championship. Age and experience are even more important when talking about the best player on a championship team. The 3 most dominant NBA players of the last 30 years, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, and Michael Jordan were all over the age of 27 when they won their first title. Kyrie is only 25. He may already have a ring to his name, but winning a title as the best player on the team is a whole different animal.
Dwyane Wade was in a similar position after he won a title with Shaq in 2006. Wade won a championship thanks to Shaq while he was young, a superstar, and ready to lead his own team. Wade was a great player in his prime, he even put up 30 PPG one year, but he didn’t get back to the NBA Finals until LeBron James came to town. Not everyone can be the type of player that can lead a team to a title. Only time will tell if Kyrie is.
I’m not saying the Celtics won’t be good next season, they still have 2 All-Star caliber players and a fringe All-Star in Al Horford, but with so much turnover on the roster and so many young players filling those spots, it seems more than likely that the Celtics will struggle out of the gate a la the 2010-2011 Miami Heat. The Heat were insanely talented, but they had so many new pieces that they started the year at just 9-8. The Celtics are not as good as that Miami team, and will likely take a bit longer to start looking like one of the best teams in the NBA.
The C's are going to need time to build team chemistry and others will still be adjusting to the NBA game. Don’t be surprised if you look up at the Eastern Conference Standings in December and the Celtics aren’t a top 4 seed. There is a bright side, this should mean that the Celtics will be able to sustainably win with their core for at least the next half decade or so, and maybe more if Tatum and Brown develop into All-Stars. However, the moves the Celtics made this offseason weren’t to win now, they were to win 2 years from now. The Celtics are going young, but it’s not a great sign if you were hoping to win a championship this year.
Photo: (Boston Herald)