People don’t realize how good the 2016 Boston Celtics are. Sure, they’re not a championship contender without a historic trade at the deadline, but they’re 6th in point differential, 7th in net rating (and 3rd in the East for both of those stats), and 3rd in defensive rating.
Despite the fact that the Toronto Raptors rank above the C’s in point differential, net rating, and the overall standings, don’t be shocked if the Celtics beat them out for the 2nd seed of the Eastern Conference. There are 2 main reasons that I say that it’s a distinct possibility.
The first and most important reason revolves around the trade deadline. The Raptors are just below the line of contention, and even if they beat the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals, I don’t see them beating anyone out West. Their shrewd GM, Masai Urihi, only cares about championships and evaluating everyone as assets, similar to Danny Ainge.
DeMar DeRozan is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and he’ll be eligible for a 5 year deal that starts at $25.3 million in the 1st year. That’s a lot of money for a guy who will be 27 by that point and only had a single season at this level — in a contract year. DeRozan is from Los Angeles, and the odds of the Lakers not offering him every penny they can are about the chances of Bill Belichick ever working for the Jets again. Uriji might realize that he can pinch the Lakers in a trade and swipe D’Angelo Russell and other pieces from the Lakers. After all, since Dr. Jerry Buss’ death, his version of Sonny and Fredo Corleone have been running the Lakers, and I could totally see them giving up way too much for DeRozan. Uriji might be smart to move on him. It’s highly unlikely, of course, but it’s not out of the question. In that case, the C’s would clearly usurp the Raptors.
Even if DeRozan doesn’t get traded, I expect the Celtics to make a move at the deadline to bolster their already formidable roster, which leads me to my 2nd point: The Celtics are damn good, and they’re built for the stretch run. From now until April, the Celtics will face multiple teams who either are resting their starters, have given up on the season, or are facing injuries. Boston, on the other hand, has depth on depth on depth.
The Celtics are built for the later points of the season, and that’ll come in handy when they’re chasing the Raptors over the final 7 weeks of the season. I’m not saying it’s likely, but they’re only 4.5 games back. Don’t count them out of having home court in the Raptors-Celtics 2nd round series.