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The Boston Celtics were eliminated from the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday night, falling to the Miami Heat 125-113 in yet another game they had a late lead in and then lost.
It was a recurring theme for the Celtics this series, who seemed to be able to match up well with the Heat for the first three quarters of every game, only to break down late to a team that was sharper, more focused, and hungrier.
For the Celtics, a season cut short by a team like the Heat, which on paper they match up well against, will undoubtedly lead to questions about what to do in the future. Is this team good enough? Is there much they can do to improve?
Let’s take a look at some options they could possibly explore this offseason.
1. Try to move Kemba Walker
Celtics GM Danny Ainge has shown time and time again that he’s not a sentimental guy, and if he thinks he can make a move to get his team better, he’s going to make that move.
One name that comes up is Walker. Walker was uninspiring in these playoffs, as the undersized guard was continually swallowed up by defenses that made a point to deny him space. He especially struggled attacking the zone, and the Celtics were left trying to get him the ball in unsettled situations to give him a chance to find a path to the bucket.
Could the Celtics package Walker to get a young big / rim protector like Myles Turner, whose name keeps popping up in trade rumors? Maybe.
2. Try to move Gordon Hayward
Gordon Hayward came to Boston with much fanfare, but a rash of unbelievably unlucky injuries has hindered his performance with the team, and he now fills the role of overqualified utility man, often the fourth scoring option behind Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Walker.
Hayward is an expiring contract next year, and may be someone the Celtics try to move … but I would bet they would wait until next year’s trade deadline to do so. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on.
3. Sell high on Marcus Smart
Celtics fans may have a visceral reaction to the above point, but again, Danny Ainge isn’t a sentimental dude. Smart has two more years left on a team-friendly deal, and if someone was willing to overpay (Golden State sending the No. 2 overall pick in a weak draft for Smart, as a rumor I keep seeing suggests?) Ainge might do it.
This is all rank speculation, of course. But Smart is a gamer and someone a lot of teams would love to have in the postseason.
4. Be patient … and run it back
This is the most obvious one, and if I were a betting man, this is what I would put my money on for how the Celtics move forward from here.
They do nothing. Why? Because they’ve got a young core that’s only going to get better, they’ve got stars who can fit together in interesting ways, and they haven’t seen what this team can do fully healthy.
Enes Kanter’s contract is coming off the books, and the Celtics could see what’s out there for a cheap upgrade at center. (The return of Aron Baynes, possibly?)
After that, this team can get right back here. Tatum and Brown will only improve with experience. Walker can score and Smart is Smart. They’ve got a bevy of young role players who will only improve.
If Hayward gets healthy, and Theis/Center TBD can provide the rim protection they need, this team is ready to get right back here.
The Celtics have options, but with a shortened offseason, the best option might be to just stay put.