Expectations are rather high for the Boston Celtics heading into the 2016-17 campaign. They are coming off a year in which they won 48 games, sent Isaiah Thomas to the All-Star Game and proceeded to sign Al Horford over the summer.
Naturally, people are anticipating bigger things from the Celtics than the past couple of years.
However, what should we consider to be a “successful” season for Boston?
It’s kind of difficult to say at this point.
When you look at the Celtics’ roster, you certainly see the potential, especially defensively.
A frontcourt tandem of Horford and Amir Johnson definitely looks good on that end of the floor, and perimeter defenders such as Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and even rookie Jaylen Brown are enough to make any coach salivate.
Throw Thomas in the mix, and you have a team that is capable of winning over 50 games and making a run in the playoffs.
That being said, the Eastern Conference has improved as a whole, and Boston was just knocked out of the first round of the postseason.
As you can see, you can kind of go either way on this.
Let’s be honest: fans tend to overrate their own teams.
I mean, for crying out loud, a disturbingly large faction of New York Knicks fans think their team is a serious contender in the East.
So, I am sure there is a decent of C’s fans who expect the Celtics to make a serious run at the finals.
But is that asking too much?
The Celtics are going to be a good ballclub. That much we know. It would be incredibly disappointing if Boston came out and put together a campaign that was worse than last season, or even on par with it.
That is not the objective here.
The mission is to show improvement.
That’s why the C’s signed Horford.
Danny Ainge and Co. didn’t land Horford to win a few more games. They went out and got him to be taken seriously.
At the very least, the Celtics should be a second-round playoff team this coming year, and, at worst, they should be a top four team in the conference.
To be perfectly honest, they really should be top three, but you have to leave room for things like injuries and other teams overachieving.
On paper, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the only team in the East that is clearly better than Boston. Other contenders include the likes of the Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers, but the C’s should be better than the latter two.
While many Celtics fans are preparing for a run to the Eastern Conference Finals, the fact of the matter is that there would be no shame in losing a hotly-contested second-round series to the Raptors.
After all, Toronto did make the conference finals last season as a No. 2 seed. There is still a possibility that the Raptors are the second-best team in the East.
Do the Celtics have a higher ceiling? Probably, given their defensive potential, but Kyle Lowry and those boys won 56 games a year ago. They are still good.
All things considered, Boston is still a player away from being a legitimate title contender. It is good enough to not be taken lightly, and that is certainly a major step.
Still, it’s hard to look at the C’s as currently constructed and say, “You know what? This team has a real shot at beating the Cavaliers.”
The Celtics are probably a top-6 team in the league right now. With the improvements they have made and the Western Conference weakening, that does not seem like an outrageous statement.
The Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers and the Cavaliers are the only four squads that are clearly better. The Raptors could be, and the Utah Jazz do have an outside shot of reaching that territory.
The fact that Boston has a chance of being a top-5 team is pretty darn good and demonstrates how far it has come since the dark days of summer 2013.
But, at the same time, you can’t place your expectations too high.
What should be considered a “successful” season for the C’s is a notable improvement from last year, with Horford making a clear difference and the young guys getting better.
You should expect no less than a second-round playoff appearance, and should the Celtics lose, expect a tight, hard-fought series with the Raptors.
Do they have a chance of meeting the Cavaliers in the conference finals? Of course, but let’s not set the bar too high right now.
You will just be setting yourself up for the potential disappointment.
Just enjoy the ride, C’s fans. Things are looking up.