The Celtics have overhauled their roster for the second time in three offseasons this summer, bringing aboard nine new players for Brad Stevens to work with in the aftermath of a disappointing 2018-19 campaign.
Four of the team’s six returning players will be key pieces of the team’s rotation, but there won’t be room for all of them in the starting five this year. Just like last year, Stevens is going to have a tough decision on his hands with this starting group, and it’s evident the wrong choice can have a detrimental effect on a team as evidenced by last year's 10-10 start in the midst of a dysfunctional season.
While a lot of the drama may be out the door next season with Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier gone, the team’s margin of error will be thin for this group — as its best two defensive bigs departed.
There are a few names that seem like locks for the new-look starting five heading into September. Kemba Walker will start. Jayson Tatum feels like a lock. Enes Kanter is sure to get first crack at the starting spot after signing for a discount this offseason. After that? There are two remaining open spots for three candidates: Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll take a closer look at each of the possible combinations that Stevens could use within that trio to get a sense of what direction the team is leaning.
The NO-SMART STARTING LINEUP
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Enes Kanter
Stevens gets his favorite sixth man back: Two years ago, Smart volunteered to come off the bench. Last season, an injury to Jaylen Brown and a 10-10 start to the year pressed Smart back into the starting fold as an off-guard next to Irving. Now, with Rozier no longer in the fold, there is a big opening at backup point guard. Brad Wanamaker could take over that role but with the second unit full of fresh faces and inexperience, Smart could be the glue that holds everything together with that new group. He could run the offense flanked by Edwards or Langford or Wanamaker in the backcourt, while a defensive-minded frontline takes hold thanks to Grant Williams/Semi Ojeleye at power forward and one of Poirier/Theis/Robert Williams at center. Stevens has always liked playing bench units together for a few minutes per games and this unit could be a throwback to the Celtics scrappy group from two years ago that won short stints against other second units with defense. Smart’s versatility and experience captaining this group would have some massive appeal from that standpoint.