The Boston Celtics will hope that the 2023/24 campaign is much smoother than the ups and downs they’ve experienced across the last 12 months.
They were preseason favorites a year ago until the suspension and then departure of Ime Udoka cast uncertainty around the 2022 Eastern Conference champions.
The Celtics promoted Joe Mazzulla, who got results in his first season as a head coach.
However, there was some grumbling from senior players along the way, while Mazzulla appeared to be in the hot seat with his side 3-0 down to the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals.
The Celtics’ fightback wasn’t quite enough to see them become the first team in Playoff history to overturn a 3-0 deficit. They managed to force a Game 7, which kept Mazzulla in his job.
However, the 35-year-old coach’s long-term future is up in the air.
The offseason has seen General Manager Brad Stevens make some big changes to the roster.
The Celtics enter the new campaign at +475 to win the title, the shortest of all Eastern Conference teams and second-shortest leaguewide. That has put the coach under pressure to deliver in 2023/24.
The Celtics made one of the biggest moves of the offseason this summer, as they pushed to land Kristaps Porzingis from the Washington Wizards.
The trade was one of the most dramatic we’ve seen in the league in years, as they raced to get it over the line before the midnight deadline for Porzingis to opt into the final year of his contract.
The Celtics had a deal for the Latvian big man all but done, which saw them flip Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon to the LA Clippers.
However, the Clippers pulled out over concerns about Brogdon’s fitness, leaving the Celtics with mere hours to find a third team.
That pressure was evident and the Memphis Grizzlies seemed to take full advantage. They stepped in as the third team, but instead of Brogdon, they requested 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart.
The guard has been the heartbeat of this Celtics’ side in recent years, so that was a high price to pay for Porzingis.
The original trade which saw the Celtics surrender a bench guard for a floor-spacing big man looked like a home run for Stevens.
A big issue for the Celtics in the playoffs was their focus on three-point shooting.
Mazzulla pushed his team to put up a high volume of shots from distance, but that did see them taking their chances with bad looks - especially against a Miami Heat side which defended the perimeter well.
Porzingis would have been able to drop deeper and cause some havoc to that defence, or he could have pounced on the resulting rebounds from missed three-pointers.
However, losing Smart is a massive blow. Udoka established the Celtics as one of the most fearsome defensive setups in the league, something Mazzulla inherited and didn’t change.
Smart was their defensive organiser and he brought an aggression to the court that the Celtics now lack.
While Porzingis will come straight into the starting lineup for opening night, the trade leaves a hole at point guard. Derrick White is set to step up, but he’s a defensive downgrade.
The injury concerns that the Clippers had about Brogdon suggests he can’t be relied upon as a ballhandler, meaning the Celtics have further pinned their hopes on their superstar duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Outside of the Porzingis trade, the Celtics' biggest offseason move was signing Jaylen Brown to a record-breaking supermax contract.
The guard will earn over $300 million across five seasons, the biggest deal in league history.
That’s a big bet to make on a player who admitted that their Game 7 loss to the Heat landed squarely on him.
With Tatum in line for a $334 million deal next summer, the Celtics’ cap future is tied to their two stars.
Even with the salary cap expected to rise, it’s hard to see how the Celtics can plan around the pair long-term.
Tatum, a +850 chance for MVP this season, is their best player and someone they need to keep around. However, by 2025 the pair will be earning around 70% of the salary cap combined.
The Celtics drafted the pair from picks received in the blockbuster trade which sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets.
It seems a similar future awaits the duo and at some stage, Stevens will need to consider moving one, if not both.
For the time being, they have one of the best double-acts in the league and they’ve added to it with a physical presence they’ve lacked.
Boston are firmly within their title window, but they’ve put the league’s youngest coach under serious pressure in his second year in charge.
It will fall on Mazzulla to reorganise the defense of the new-look Celtics.
He’s doing it under the shadow of Udoka’s impressive team and off the back of what was a near humiliation last year, so it’s hard to say he’s off the hot seat just yet.
Mazzulla is tied for the fourth-shortest odds to win Coach of the Year at +1000. He will need to answer quite a few questions in order to earn the award.