NBA Notebook: Revisiting 15 Celtics predictions for 2020

While the 2019-20 regular season has not officially come to a close just yet, the time feels right to take a look back at some of our predictions for 2020 and just how close we were to hitting the mark.  

The Celtics finish with the second seed in the Eastern Conference

What we said then: The Celtics begin the new year with the second-best point differential in the league and they’ve done that while overcoming all kinds of injuries to their core. While the Eastern Conference race for 2-6 seeds is as packed as ever, there is more talent and chemistry on this Celtics roster than the rest of the pack.

What we say now: Expected miss. This one is technically still to be decided but a three-game lead by the Raptors with just eight games to play indicate that this is a long shot at best, even with a favorable schedule for Boston upcoming this summer. Both Toronto and Boston dealt with constant injuries to their core but the Raptors managed to handle them better and take care of business frequently during the shortened regular season.

Two Celtics make the All-Star team:

What we said then:  Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker will all have strong All-Star cases but only one of Tatum/Brown will get the nod from coaches next month. The return of a healthy Gordon Hayward will help deflate the scoring numbers enough of Brown or Tatum to take away a spot from one of them. Tatum has the inside track for now due to his defense and shot creation ability but another strong month from Brown from an efficiency standpoint could earn him the edge.

What we say now: Hit. This played out as we suspected. The case could be made that Jaylen Brown was having an All-Star caliber year (ESPN’s Zach Lowe voted for him over Tatum in a surprising development) but the coaches showed that Tatum was the guy to be feared and his February performance backed that up. Three All-Stars looks attainable for 2021 though.

Gordon Hayward picks up his player option for $34 million in 2020-21:

What we said then: A host of injuries during this season along with some stellar individual production may tempt the 29-year-old to opt-out. However, Hayward’s desire to win somewhere will limit his options on the open market due to a lack of cap space among contenders. The Celtics won’t make a lucrative enough offer to get him to opt-out and take a long-term deal for a sizable pay cut so Hayward opts in and elects to revisit a more player-friendly free-agent market in the summer of 2021.

What we say now: Expected hit. The pandemic hitting makes it a virtual certainty that the veteran swingman will opt in given the lack of cap space teams will have this fall due to loss of NBA revenue. The Celtics could try to push for an opt out and offer up an extension but it’s hard to see Hayward’s camp finding common ground on a long-term deal with Boston amid an uncertain financial climate for the NBA in 2021.

Enes Kanter opts out of his $5 million player option and signs elsewhere in summer of 2020:

What we said then: The plan in coming to Boston for the Turkish big man was always to have a strong season to set up another sizable payday. Kanter’s playing time may be limited wisely in Boston but the production he is putting up on the boards along with encouraging on/off splits has him playing the best basketball of his career. Look for him to cash in with a long-term pact somewhere. The Celtics will only be able to offer him mid-level money and I bet they hesitate at making a long-term commitment to him given the other alternatives at the position.

What we say now: Expected miss. Kanter has a chance to rebuild some value when the games return but after a dismal second half of the season, he is no longer a sure thing to make over $5 million in free agency. The Celtics probably wouldn’t mind him opting out with so many bigs (Robert Williams, Daniel Theis, Vincent Poirier) already under team control but look for the big to stay put on a likely contender.

The Memphis pick conveys to the Celtics in 2020:

What we said then: The Grizzlies are playing fun basketball under new head coach Taylor Jenkins and their blue-chip prospects (Jaren Jackson, Ja Morant, Brandon Clarke) all look like keepers. With the incentive to get rid of the pick obligation now before it becomes unprotected in 2021, Memphis fights hard to the finish line and finishes with the 10th worst record in the NBA. With no lottery luck, the Celtics get another late-lottery pick for their stash in 2020.

What we say now: Expected hit. Memphis turned into the surprise of the NBA this season behind their young stars and while there is a slight chance they could get knocked out of the West playoffs in the play-in game, the pick will likely still convey to Boston in that scenario. The Grizzlies would only have a 2.4 percent chance of jumping into the top-4 in the lottery from the No. 14 spot and those slim odds are only way the pick rolls over to 2021 to Boston.

Boston does not use all three of its first-round picks on draft night: