The Celtics’ new season is here. So let’s get it started with these 12 bold predictions.
■ Carsen Edwards will come off the bench and top the 20-point mark at least four times.
If you saw Edwards pour in eight 3-pointers in the third quarter of last week’s preseason win over the Cavaliers, you’re probably saying, ‘Duh.’ Still, his minutes will be limited in the regular season, and the competition will be tougher. Brad Stevens will look to him for a scoring punch when the offense is scuffling, and if he gets hot, look out.
■ Another NBA team will make a run at one of the Celtics’ top executives.
Even though last season did not unfold as expected, this franchise has been one of the more stable and successful ones in the league, thanks in part to unusual continuity within the front office. With a strong season this year when expectations are down, and good performances from the four-player draft class that does not include a top-10 pick, at least one of Danny Ainge’s top lieutenants — Mike Zarren, Austin Ainge or Dave Lewin — will have a chance to jump to a top job elsewhere.
■ Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum will be All-Stars.
Walker already has played in three All-Star Games, and just call Isaiah Thomas if you have questions about how talented small point guards fare in a Brad Stevens system. Despite the frustrations with Kyrie Irving, he had arguably the two best statistical seasons of his career in Boston, too. Walker’s scoring average will probably dip from the 25.6 points per game he tallied last year, because he now has so many other talented offensive weapons around him. But those weapons will also allow him to have the most efficient season of his career.
It’s hard to say that a player who averaged 15.7 points and 6 rebounds and made more than 37 percent of his 3-pointers took a step back in his second year, but it sure felt that way with Tatum. But his summer with Team USA appears to have given a jolt to his confidence, and if he sticks to his vow to focus on 3-pointers, free throws, and layups, his production should rise. Tatum tended to defer to Irving over the last two years and sometimes even seemed intimidated by him, but those days are over.
■ Tremont Waters will have his two-way contract converted to an NBA deal before the season ends.
Waters, the 5-foot-10-inch point guard who was taken with the 51st pick of last June’s draft, looked like one of Boston’s best players during the preseason. He can basically do everything except be tall. Look for Waters to carve up the G League with the Maine Red Claws, and if there is a trade that opens a roster spot or a positional need, Waters will get the call.
■ Irving will play both times the Nets come to TD Garden.
There is a growing belief that since Irving sat out plenty of road games against the Cavaliers while he was a Celtic, he will also avoid the furor that awaits him in Boston now that he is a Net. The difference is that the Cavaliers stunk, and the Celtics are pretty good. Irving mostly missed those Cleveland games because his team did not need him. Nets coach Kenny Atkinson isn’t going to hand out any days off just to avoid some boos.
■ The Grizzlies pick will have to wait one more year.
Boston’s treasure chest of future assets has mostly been emptied, but there is still one potential jewel left. The Celtics will receive the Grizzlies’ first-round pick next June as long as it falls outside the top six. Memphis added No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant this summer, and Jaren Jackson could be a rising star, but the Grizzlies are still a bottom-tier team.
Regardless, ping-pong balls will have a big say in this one. The top four picks are now decided via the lottery, and the odds have been smoothed a bit, making it easier for teams from outside the top four to jump in. But the Grizzlies will be one of the six worst teams, and amid their rebuild they will likely even look to trade veterans such as former Celtic Jae Crowder before the deadline. If the pick does roll over, it will become fully unprotected in 2021.
■ Marcus Smart will make more than 35 percent of his 3-pointers again.
This might not sound like much, but before hitting 36.4 percent of his tries last year, Smart had made 30.1, 28.3, and 25.3 percent of his threes over the past three seasons. He has worked diligently on both his shot and his selection — and he doesn’t fire up percentage-crushing halfcourt heaves quite as often.
■ Everyone will be happier, but the year will end in the same place as the last one.
There’s no doubt that the Celtics’ mood has shifted. Danny Ainge has built a team around a collection of high-character, hard-playing, good guys. That will make the experience more enjoyable for everyone, but this team is still not good enough to beat the Bucks or 76ers in the playoffs, so the year will end in the conference semifinals against one of them.
■ Tacko Fall will not play a minute for the Celtics this season.
The 7-5 center was a sensation this summer, with fans clamoring for him to get the team’s final roster spot. Fall ultimately grabbed a two-way contract, meaning he can spend up to 45 days with the Celtics. The Celtics have high hopes for Fall, but he remains a work in progress. It would take several injuries for him to get an opportunity this season. The only other hope would be a late-season game after playoff positions have been locked in, when Stevens is looking to rest his regulars.
■ Gordon Hayward will do what Al Horford didn’t.
Hayward has a $34.1 million player option for next season. He is in line to have a bounce-back season, but it won’t quite be an All-Star-caliber season. This summer he will opt out of the final year of his deal and re-sign with Boston on a longer-term contract for a lower annual salary.
■ Ainge will trade for a big man — or at least try his best.
The Celtics have some issues in the interior, and Ainge already has acknowledged it several times. Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, Vincent Poirier, and Robert Williams can all be good players, but putting them up against Joel Embiid and Horford is about as appealing as North Station garage traffic. The Celtics have a plethora of talented scorers and they still have a nice collection of draft picks. Unless someone such as Theis emerges, look for Ainge to be on the prowl for some help before the February deadline.
■ Romeo Langford will play more games for the Red Claws than for the Celtics.
Langford was chosen with the 14th overall pick in last June’s draft, the highest of Boston’s four selections. But he missed summer league as he recovered from thumb surgery, he missed the start of training camp with a strained groin, and then he missed the end of the preseason with a sprained knee. These injuries are not serious, of course, but they did slow his progression a bit.
The bigger issue for Langford is that he is a wing, and this Boston team is clogged with talented ones such as Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Hayward. And Langford is just 19 years old, with just one uneven season at Indiana in his portfolio, so he’ll need to play.