The Boston Celtics ended their 2019-20 season as NBA Finals contenders.
Then a host of things changed, prompting questions about the state of the team.
NBA TV’s Steve Smith and Tom Penn offered both offered bullish assessments of the Celtics’ chances of contending for the NBA Finals in 2020-21 on Sunday night, just days after the 2020 NBA Draft and the start of NBA free agency prompted a slew of reported moves, which will reshape the team’s roster. While some NBA observers doubt the Celtics remain title NBA Finals contenders, Smith believes the presence of Jayson Tatum, who reportedly agreed to a max-contract extension Sunday, will keep the team in the hunt for the sport’s biggest prize.
“Yeah for sure,” Smith said when asked whether the Celtics will be NBA Finals contenders. “You start off with Jayson Tatum, … I always measure guys by playoff basketball and I looked and watched him in the (NBA Orlando) bubble: 25, 10 and five (points, rebounds and assists per game, respectively) and he’s 22 years old. So you’re looking at a guy that’s ready to play now, be the No. 1 option, (NBA) All-Star but then still has tremendous upside. I think (Celtics president of basketball operations) Danny Ainge and those guys have a gem in Jayson Tatum.”
Penn roots his opinion on the Celtics’ championship chances in Tatum’s excellence and the quality of his supporting cast, which will include new faces like Tristan Thompson, Jeff Teague and first-round 2020 NBA Draft picks Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard.
“They’re still in the mix,” Penn said. “You’re only as great as your greatest player, and he’s (Tatum) their greatest player. Jaylen Brown right there with him. They committed full max money to both those guys, and they’re franchise pillars.
“… Now they hit their prime, and what’s interesting to me is Tristan Thompson added as a major, role-playing, rebounding, dependable big man. You bring (Jeff) Teague as a veteran. And Smitty, I like who they added on draft day. The shooting of Nesmith, the best shooter in the draft. And then Payton Pritchard, he’s a Danny Ainge-type player, I can tell you that. He’ll make some noise. So I like the Celtics overall.”
The Celtics will begin training camp soon, with the Dec. 22 start date for the new season fast approaching. They’ll have 72 regular-season games to hit their stride before testing their NBA Finals credentials in earnest.