O'Connor: Celtics still in good shape, even without Durant


The Warriors are armed and ready to trounce the rest of the league with Kevin Durant joining an already loaded roster. Assuming Durant re-ups his contract next summer, they're a safe bet to win at least two titles. Probably three. Maybe even four or more.

It might feel like there’s no point in even bringing your ball to the park. No point in even getting excited about any moves the Celtics make. But nothing is written in stone and the games still need to be played. We just witnessed a season in which the Warriors won 73 games and everyone expected them to win the NBA Finals.

Circumstances change. Players change teams. Injuries happen. Even with the rising salary cap, Golden State will be challenged to build a strong supporting cast around their core of Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. So there’s a chance – even if it doesn’t feel like it – that the Warriors can be beaten. The Celtics will continue focusing on controlling what they can control.

And they're still in great shape moving forward.

It’s hard to swallow this thought right now, but the Celtics are still in a unique position to build something special. They have a strong roster that should win at least 50 games, an elite head coach, and two unprotected Nets first-round picks.

It's those tickets, even without Durant, that could enable the Celtics to build a team that can go toe-to-toe with the Warriors. Competitive teams rarely select at the top of the draft, but the Celtics have already done it before and could again in 2017 and 2018. Over the last 40 years, only 10 teams have won at least 45 games and used a top five pick in the draft. Here’s the list:

Greg Ballard Washington 48 1977 4
Mychal Thompson Portland 58 1978 1
Magic Johnson LA Lakers 47 1979 1
Kevin McHale Boston 61 1980 3
James Worthy LA Lakers 57 1982 1
Charles Barkley Philadelphia 52 1984 5
Sam Bowie Portland 48 1984 2
Len Bias Boston 67 1986 2
Darko Milicic Detroit 50 2003 2
Jaylen Brown Boston 48 2016 3

Two of those teams won a single championship (Washington and Detroit). Two became dynasties (Boston and the Lakers). Four of the players are Hall of Famers (Johnson, McHale, Worthy, Barkley). You’ll also find Jaylen Brown, who could be a cornerstone even if we don’t know it yet.

The Celtics might’ve missed out on Durant, but if they play their cards right and the Nets struggle as much as everyone expects them to, they’ll be right back in the conversation for another star next season. Due to their tremendous flexibility, that could happen through the draft, the trade market, or free agency.

The chase for a transcendent star doesn’t stop. The Celtics aren’t ready to defeat the Evil Empire Warriors -- no one is at the moment -- but adding Al Horford makes them even more appealing as a free-agent destination. Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin will both be unrestricted. So will some impactful players like Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward and Serge Ibaka.

Don’t underestimate how much relationships matter either. If the Celtics actually did make a good impression on Durant, the talk throughout the NBA could be that Boston is the team geared to take down the Warriors.

It’s hard to stomach right now, at a time where fireworks on the Fourth of July felt like destiny for the Boston Celtics, but there are many roads to Banner 18 and the Celtics are already far ahead of schedule.

Kevin O’Connor can be followed on Twitter: @KevinOConnorNBA

Contact Us