BOSTON — The 2015-16 Celtics had a nice run, and they grew pretty close along the way. But C’s fans might want to take a good look at this current club, because it could look a whole lot different next fall.
The Celtics’ season officially ended Thursday night at TD Garden with a 104-92 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of their first-round NBA playoff series. That means the offseason has begun, and it should be a busy one for Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
In addition to trying to lure a big-name free agent and strike it rich with a lottery pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Ainge also has to figure out what to do with three players whose contracts are set to expire: big men Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller and swingman Evan Turner.
In the aftermath of Thursday’s loss, Turner was asked if he thinks he’ll be in Boston next season.
“I really don’t know,” Turner said. “I would love to come back. But at the same time, a lot of things, a lot of variables that are going to occur and things like that that I can’t control. Whenever July hits (and free agency officially begins), we’ll talk about it.”
Turner thrived this season as one of Boston’s key bench players, averaging 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. He has been a very good fit in head coach Brad Stevens’ offense, and from what it sounds like, he wouldn’t mind sticking around a little longer.
“I love playing for the Celtics,” Turner said. “I love the city and everything. It’s definitely been a blessing. Hopefully it’s not my last game in a Celtics uniform. The coolest thing is to wear the uniform. I don’t take that for granted. The tradition and opportunity and the energy around it is great.”
Of course, the 27-year-old is realistic about NBA free agency, having played for three teams in the last four years. At the end of the day, Turner admitted, the decision might not be up to him.
“I’ll let my agent handle (free agency),” Turner added. “… Danny’s going to do what’s best for the organization, and I have to do what’s best for my career.”
Let’s hit a few other notes out of Boston’s 2015-16 finale.
— Perhaps the biggest storyline this offseason will be if the Celtics can land an A-list free agent. When asked to make his “pitch” for Boston as an enticing free-agent destination, point guard Isaiah Thomas didn’t disappoint.
“I mean, our fans are amazing. This city is a sports town,” Thomas said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. When you do get to experience what Boston Celtics basketball is about, it’s like no other organization. So, I mean, as long as we keep getting better, hopefully guys will choose Boston as a city they want to play in.”
— The Hawks’ playoff series win over the Celtics was a long time coming. Entering this season, Atlanta had lost nine consecutive postseason series at the hands of Boston. The last time the Hawks knocked the C’s out of the playoffs? 1958.
— As for the Celtics, Thursday’s loss continued a rather rough postseason stretch. Boston has won just two of its last 11 playoff series and has lost three series in a row. Stevens has a 2-6 record in the postseason after the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will face the Hawks in the second round, swept the C’s in last season’s playoffs.
— Despite Boston’s recent postseason struggles, Stevens still struck a positive tone when asked to compare this season to the 2014-15 campaign.
“You go from under .500 and barely making the playoffs (in 2015) … to being in the mix for being a top-four seed in the (Eastern Conference). So yes, there’s progress,” Stevens said. “But people have told me all along, there’s two really tough tasks, right? One is getting to be a very good, competitive team at a top 10-15 level on offense and defense and give yourself a chance to be in the discussion we’re in now. And that’s been a path in the last three years to get there.
“And the next one is tough. That’s been communicated before to me, and we’re learning a lot. We learned a lot through this playoff series, but one of the things that I learned is we’ve got to get better.”
Thumbnail photo via Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Boston Celtics guard Evan Turner (11) dribbles against the Atlanta Hawks in the third quarter in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena.