What’s the best part of rooting for the 2015-2016 Boston Celtics? It’s the underlying feeling that, no matter whether or not the team stalls during the rest of this season, the Celtics are headed for much greener pastures in the coming years. Their young players, trade assets, draft picks, and a smart coaching and front office all but guarantees that the Celtics’ arrow is trending upward.
However, you only need to look at the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise to realize that your Eastern Conference competition is nearly as important as your own team’s skill in the core of a team’s formative years. The Cavs rose to the top of the horrendous East in 2007 and made the Finals, where they were unsurprisingly swept. But it seemed all good, right? Of course they weren’t gonna beat the Spurs, and they’d be back in the coming years for sure.
Well, Danny Ainge traded for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in the Summer of 2007 and therefore blocked the Cavs’ path back to the Finals in 2008 and 2010, and everything came together for the Orlando Magic in 2009. Then LeBron left, and it took incredible draft lottery luck and a stunning return from King James to return the franchise to relevance.
Over the next decade, the Celtics need to avoid fare that the Cavaliers suffered in LeBron’s first stint, so let’s see how they measure up to the other teams in the East. In reverse order, here are the rankings of the top 5 teams that are most likely to cause problems for the Celtics when the Celtics are ready to contend. To be specific, let’s say the Celtics will enter contenderhood (Yup, that’s a word, look it up) in the 2017-2018 season. If analyze the next decade, we’re thinking in terms of an 8 year window from 2017-2018 through 2025-2026.
5. Philadelphia 76ers
I gotta be honest, I have no idea if I ranked the Sixers several spots too high or 2, 3, or even 4 spots too low. On one hand, Sam Hinkie has clearly underrated the human aspect of a basketball team. The game isn’t played by robots, numbers, and assets, and creating a losing culture for the 76ers will have ripple effects for a few years after the Sixers are ready to start trying. On the other hand, Hinkie or whatever GM replaces him will have SOOO many assets that it has to become something, right? They’ll have their own pick in the top 4 next year, the Lakers pick that will probably come next year and be in the top 7, Okafor, Noel, whatever Embiid becomes, Stauskas, 87 2nd round picks, and a bunch of other assets that I either don’t have the space to list or forgot because there are so damn many. The Celtics will hit their stride before the Sixers do because of how far underground the 76ers are right now, but they’ll be an issue for the Celtics in the next decade.
4. Detroit Pistons
Did you know that Andre Drummond just turned 22 this Summer? He, Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are a pretty good blueprint for a contending team in a few years, so long as Drummond keeps progressing and the Pistons front office doesn’t screw everything up. The main reason that the Pistons are so high on this list is that their young core will be hitting its prime right as the Celtics are at their peak of contention. The Pistons-Celtics battles of the late 2010s and early 2020s might be something we talk about for awhile in basketball history.
3. Washington Wizards
Short term, Wiz fans have a right to be pissed. Their team should be way better this year, and it’s a huge gut punch, even if it’s a short-lived one, to have your team take a step back when a big jump was expected. But in the big picture, Wizards fans should still feel OK with their team’s core. Wall and Beal are both gonna be members of the top 3 of a championship team. That’s a pretty good start, and they could jump to number 1 on this list very quickly if they get Kevin Durant. Admittedly, I hedged a little bit with this ranking, because they’d easily take the top spot of the rankings with Durant but they might fall to 4 or 5 on the list if they miss out on KD in 2016 or 2017 (if he picks up his option for the 2016-2017 season, which is highly possible). As it stands right now, though, the Wizards have the 3rd best odds of challenging the Celtics in several years in my opinion, so I ranked them here.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
You forgot about Jabari Parker, didn’t you? Milwaukee may be underachieving this year, but their young Buck (That was a terrible pun, wasn’t it? I’ll see myself out.) is averaging 15 points and 6 rebounds per 36 minutes before he can legally drink AND coming off of an ACL tear… and he can’t legally drink yet. He’s gonna be a stud. Even if Greg Monroe (age 25) and MCW (24) don’t become a part of the Bucks’ future plans, the Greek Freak (21) and Khris Middleton (24) are young enough that they’ll form a contending core in a few years. Championship teams almost always comprise of one Top 50-75 All Time Player and two All Stars. Among those 5 guys and everyone else on their roster, they can find at least that one All Timer and an All Star, right? Milwaukee might be the only team in the East other than Boston and Philadelphia who should feel alright going forward if they play badly this year.
1. Brooklyn Ne- Hahahaha Celtics Have 4 Of Their 1st Round Picks!!
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs at #1 isn’t as obvious as you’d think, is it? LeBron is already slowing down in the regular season, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are not exactly durable, and the Cavs have traded or will trade any potential rebuilding asset in their war chest for a win-now piece. There will be panic and distress all over Northern Ohio if the Cavs haven’t won by June 2017, but that doesn’t mean they can’t contend after that. In fact, Kevin Love’s 5 year contract this past summer instead of a 1 or 2 year deal all but insured their title contention in a few years. Love is 27, Kyrie doesn’t turn 24 until March, and The King Stay King, meaning LeBron will still be at least close to what is is now come playoff time every year. In 4 or 5 years when LBJ is in his mid 30s, Love is in his early 30s, and Kyrie will have already plateaued as a player, the Celtics will have a better chance than in just 2 years, but the Cavs will be a thorn in the Celtics’ side for the better part of the next decade.
Other Teams that Didn’t make the cut:
For the Bulls, Jimmy Butler is already 26 years old, and I don’t see the Bulls either hitting on a guy later in the draft or having enough assets to get another star. I don’t know how they’d get Carmelo, but even if htey could, their title window won’t be much past the 2017-2018 season and the opening of the window for these rankings. The Hornets and Raptors don’t seem to have the ability to get a superstar in the near future, I don’t buy into the young core of the Magic very much. For the Knicks, Carmelo and Porzingis will reach their primes at different times, and the Hawks are a cautionary tale for any veteran-comprised team to max out at a 2nd round loss, because the Hawks will be in no-man’s land for awhile soon. The Heat were the toughest omission along with the Bulls, and I didn’t include them only because Wade, Bosh, and Dragic will be 36, 34, and 32 by the end of the 2018 playoffs. And the Ne- HAHAHAHA 4 First Round Picks!!!