It’s still hard to believe that the 2019 Kyrie Irving-led Boston Celtics failed to get out of the second round of the NBA playoffs this spring.
It’s even harder for fans to come to grips with that when you consider that virtually those same Celtics — minus an injured Irving and Gordon Hayward — were a single win away from an Eastern Conference title the year before.
But when Irving officially agreed to a deal last month to leave Beantown and continue his career with the Brooklyn Nets, C’s fans across the nation could breathe a sigh of relief. Danny Ainge’s failed superstar experiment was finally over.
Sure, we all would’ve loved for the flashy, talented point guard to make Boston his home for years to come and help bring an end to the franchise’s decade-plus championship drought. But as this past season rolled on, it became more and more clear that Irving wasn’t the right fit; the second round playoff setback was just the nail in the coffin.
Boston has already turned the page towards a new chapter. No, the new-look Celtics aren’t the favorite to be crowned 2020 league champions, nor will they be picked as the top team in the East. But adding a solid new block of talent and subtracting the drama and baggage tied to Irving might just be the perfect recipe to success.
Over the next three days in The Salem News, I’ll dive into each player on this year’s current depth chart and what to expect when the regular season rolls around two months from now. Keep in mind that none of these positions are set in stone, with guys like Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown likely candidates to play multiple roles.
For today, let’s start with the guards.
POINT GUARDS: Kemba Walker, Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters
Irving’s (and, subsequently, Terry Rozier’s) absence left the Celtics in need of a starting point guard, and the front office did a pretty darn good job filling the void with the capable Kemba Walker. Before signing with Boston, the 6-foot-1 microwave had spend his entire eight-year career in Charlotte. He quickly became a fan favorite and eventually a three-time all-star, racking up 25.6 points and 5.9 assists per game last season.
Walker figures to be a seamless fit; his offensive skill set rivals Irving in that he can score with the best of them, and his locker room presence has been described as nothing but pleasant and positive. He’s a team first guy, a leader and a heckuva player.
At 29 years old Walker is two years Irving’s elder. But he’s also never dealt with a serious injury, having played in at least 79 of 82 games in each of the last four seasons. He might not have been the top priority for Ainge and Co. this offseason, but signing Walker was undoubtedly a no-brainer. Walker plans to don jersey No. 8, the same one crowd favorite Antoine Walker wore during his Celtics tenure.
Serving as Walker’s backup will likely be rookie Carsen Edwards. The Purdue University product strutted his stuff on the national stage during the Boilermakers’ NCAA tourney run this past March, and continued to show off his scoring prowess during the C’s Summer League action.
Listed at 6-foot-1, Edwards certainly isn’t the biggest point guard in the league. But hes physical, fearless and deadly from the outside. He posted nearly 20 ppg. on better than 50 percent shooting in the Summer League, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t grow into that type of nightly threat. As a second round pick (No. 33 overall), Edwards could very well be the steal of the draft.
Finally, fellow rookie Tremont Waters (second round, pick No. 51) slides into the picture as an insurance plug. Under a two-way contract that requires him to play at least half the season with the Maine Red Claws in the G League, the 5-foot-11 playmaker out of LSU would likely only see time with the C’s if an injury were to occur.
SHOOTING GUARDS: Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Brad Wanamaker, Javonte Green
Ahh, some familiar names. Let’s start with Jaylen Brown. After regressing early on last season, the 22-year-old became on of the most consistent Celtics in an otherwise disappointing campaign. Many fans and journalists were lobbying for head coach Brad Stevens to give the young talent more minutes, as he was often held out late in close games in favor of the underachieving Hayward. All signs point to a breakthrough 2019-2020 season for Brown.
Marcus Smart, the heart and soul of this team, was another important returning piece. His early season success from long distance may unfortunately have been a fluke, but he more than makes up for it with his hard-nosed defense and contagious energy. Smart is the guy you hate playing against but love playing with — and the Celtics need that.
The seldom-used Brad Wanamaker returns for a second season in Boston. The 30-year-old appeared in just 36 games last year but was effective when called upon, connecting on nearly 48 percent of his field goals and 41 percent of his threes. He’s proven to be a serviceable reserve and at this point, a wily veteran worthy of spotty minutes.
Javonte Green was a surprise addition this offseason. The 26-year-old averaged nearly 20 points in Europe last season, but went undrafted out of Radford back in 2015 and has yet to play in an NBA game. Clearly the Celtics liked something about the 6-foot-5, 220-pound athletic specimen; whether or not that’s enough to give him playing time remains unlikely. Green is also on a two-way contract with the G League.
COMING WEDNESDAY: A look at the 2019-20 Celtics’ forwards.
Nick Giannino can be reached at NGiannino@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickGiannino_SN