These Teams Pose Biggest Threat To Celtics After James Harden Trade

Philadelphia would be an even larger afterthought if Joel Embiid wants out


Oct 31, 2023

The James Harden-76ers saga concluded early Tuesday morning, and expectations for the Boston Celtics grew larger following the reported blockbuster trade.

Philadelphia traded Harden and multiple players to the Los Angeles Clippers for multiple expiring contracts and multiple first-round picks, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The reported trade came after months of drama between the All-Star guard and president of basketball operations Daryl Morey over an alleged broken promise of not trading Harden during the offseason.

It might be too soon to learn what the ripple effects of the reported trade will have on Joel Embiid, whom teams reportedly have trade offers for if last season’s MVP requests a move.

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Embiid helped the 76ers get off to a 2-1 start, and he’ll be asked to carry the team for the rest of the season. Boston’s success over Philadelphia in the postseason shows a limited ceiling for that strategy.

The Celtics’ 3-0 start made them the favorites to win the NBA title at +370 and the lone favorite to win the Eastern Conference at +165 on FanDuel Sportsbook. Philadelphia’s odds grew to 30-1 to win the NBA Finals and 11-1 to win the East.

Unless the Sixers make another move, Tyrese Maxey and Embiid should not severely threaten the Celtics. Let’s look at the other contenders and their case against Boston based on odds to win the East.

Milwaukee Bucks (+170)
The Bucks made a splash trade for Damian Lillard and the results were mixed through three games. Lillard showed in his team’s opener against Philadelphia that he can turn it on at any time and be a deadly 1-2 punch with Giannis Antetokounmpo. But Khris Middleton’s health could limit Milwaukee’s ceiling, and it is a bottom-10 team in defensive rating. However, the Bucks are No. 3 in pace through three games, which means teams have to be able to keep up offensively if Lillard and Antetokounmpo get hot. Boston is capable of that, but the Bucks still are the top threat to the Celtics.

Cleveland Cavaliers (+900)
The Cavs have been overlooked by the public, especially since they were ahead of the 76ers before the Harden trade depending on which sportsbook you looked at. Cleveland already has been hit with the injury bug, with Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen all suffering ailments. The Cavs’ numbers are below average because of their injuries, and while Evan Mobley and Allen can be tough to deal with when healthy, this Cavaliers team needs to show it in the postseason, especially after losing in five games to the New York Knicks last season.

Miami Heat (+1300)
The Celtics beat the Heat last Friday, and it appears Miami is taking the same approach to the regular season that it did last season. The Heat are 1-3 through four games, but top starts like Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo already are resting in games. Let’s not forget Miami barely made it into the playoffs last season when it needed to beat the Chicago Bulls in the play-in tournament to clinch the eighth seed. Also, the Heat had to shoot out of their minds to make it to the NBA Finals. Miami is hoping players like Jaime Jaquez Jr., Nikola Jovic and Orlando Robinson can become something. But it’s hoping its success in the playoffs can replicate itself as it just hopes it can be a top-10 seed.

The Celtics are fifth in net rating but 21st in pace to start the season. Jayson Tatum played like an MVP contender during Boston’s 3-0 start and players like Jrue Holiday, Derrick White and Kristaps Porzingis look like the core pieces president of basketball operations Brad Stevens envisioned when he made his aggressive offseason moves.

It’s still a long season and the effect of the in-season tournament still is unknown. Will Boston’s performance in the inaugural tournament affect the team’s confidence? Of course, health is on the minds of every Celtics fan, but injuries are hard to predict, and it’s foolish to do so. To use another sport, Kirk Cousins rarely got injured during the season but suffered an Achilles injury last Sunday.

The Harden trade, which happened while many on the East Coast were asleep, showed anything can happen in the NBA. But one thing is certain: Boston has zero excuse to make a run at the NBA Finals.

Thumbnail photo via Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports Images

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