That is the opinion of NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, who believes Brad Stevens’ men should be able to go one better than they managed in the previous campaign to reach the NBA Finals next season.
The Celtics were dealt a cruel blow after marquee free agency signing Gordon Hayward was ruled out of the entire season just minutes into his debut when he suffered a gruesome leg break.
And Boston were forced to deal with further misfortune when point guard Kyrie Irving was ruled out of the postseason following a knee operation.
Despite losing arguably the team’s two best players, the Celtics surpassed all expectations to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, taking LeBron James to seven games in a series Boston might feel disappointed not to have won.
But the future looks bright for the youthful franchise, with rookie Jayson Tatum and second-year pro Jaylen Brown thriving under the pressure of picking up the slack in the absence of Irving and Hayward.
Speaking on NBA.com’s Hang Time podcast, Schuhmann explained why he was confident the team would be able to improve once again next season to challenge for an NBA championship.
“I think so,” Schuhmann said when asked if it would be a foregone conclusion to see the Celtics in the NBA Finals.
“You’re talking about the team that had the number one defense in the league last year and now they’re going to have an offense with Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier a year older, Marcus Morris… so I think the team should be a top-five team on both ends of the floor in my mind.
“There is variables with both Toronto and Philadelphia but I don’t know how you would not put this team [Boston] at the top of the list [in the East].
“They should have been in the Finals this year if they didn’t shoot 7/1000 from three-point range in Game 7 in Boston against Cleveland, so we’re really talking about a team that should have been in the Finals as it was without Irving and Hayward.”