At the start of the offseason, it seemed like the sky was falling for the Celtics. Now, there’s a high level of optimism in Boston.

The loss of Kyrie Irving effectively was a foregone conclusion, but Al Horford’s departure came as somewhat of a shock at the time. The C’s, however, managed to soften the blow of the superstars’ exits by signing Kemba Walker, who will replace Irving as Boston’s starting point guard and likely will become a fan favorite in short order.

No, the Celtics shouldn’t be considered legitimate title contenders for the 2019-20 season, but they’re poised to be among the most exciting teams to watch. As far as their standing among the league’s best, ESPN tabs the green at No. 7 in their NBA power rankings following a wild few weeks of free agency.

“Nothing went the way it was supposed to last season for the Celtics, who entered the season as the favorites to top the East — only to be drummed out of the playoffs in five games (including four straight losses) by the Bucks,” Tim Bontemps writes. “The already bitter taste in the mouths of Celtics fans was made worse after Kyrie Irving and Al Horford chose to leave for Brooklyn and Philadelphia, respectively, in free agency. Irving was replaced by All-Star Kemba Walker, which some might see as an upgrade. It will be much more difficult to make up for losing Horford. Enes Kanter will likely be Boston’s starting center, with second-year big man Robert Williams, Frenchman Vincent Poirier and German Daniel Theis behind him. They will give Boston a few ways to play, but not nearly at the same level of skill and poise that Horford, one of the league’s most versatile bigs, did. That, in turn, puts a ceiling on just how good Boston can be — regardless of how much growth the Celtics get from young wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.”

Boston is the third-highest ranked Eastern Conference team on ESPN’s list, with Milwaukee earning the No. 1 overall spot and the Philadelphia 76ers coming in at No. 4. The East appears fairly wide open, especially considering Kawhi Leonard has shifted west and Kevin Durant likely will miss all of next season. So while championship aspirations probably are ambitious for Boston, a deep postseason run is by no means a stretch.

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