LeBron’s move west to LA has created a shift in the power structure in the Eastern Conference, and Gordon Hayward believes the time has come for the Boston Celtics to return to the top of the conference.
James-led teams have been crowned Eastern Conference Champions and vied for the Larry O’Brien Trophy each of the last eight seasons. But in 2019, it’s a near certainty that someone new will represent the East in the Finals, and it could well be Boston.
During a recent appearance at an Xfinity store near TD Garden for a “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” event, Gordon discussed the upcoming season and opportunity for his team. And while he believes the Eastern Conference will still be a tough test, G-Time thinks he and the Celtics have what it takes to achieve their goals and reach the Finals this coming season.
“The East is still going to be a tough conference; I think a lot of people are writing the East off,” Hayward said. “There were some surprises last year in the East, and there are still going to be teams that have young talent that gained a lot of experience last year that will be tough matchups for us. That said, I’m confident that we’ve got everything we need to make the run at the whole thing.”
Indeed the East is primed to be more competitive than is being advertised.
The top regular season team in the conference last season, the Toronto Raptors made a big move last week when they swapped out DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard, which will give them a new look, and one of the best players in the game when healthy. With young, up-and-coming stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and an added year of experience the Philadelphia 76ers, who gave Boston quite the fight in last year’s playoffs will also be a force to be reckoned with. Likewise, the upstart Indiana Pacers led by Victor Oladipo, added some pieces this offseason, as have the Washington Wizards.
But, no matter who stands in their way, Gordon and the rest of the Celtics will be ready.
Boston is coming off back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances, and last season they got there despite being without Gordon and Kyrie Irving who both missed the playoffs due to injury. Because of those absences, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier were thrust into bigger roles and they thrived in them. Now, the Celtics will have their two stars back along with loads of young talent and the veteran presence of Al Horford at center.
And with those experiences in hand, Hayward believes the Celtics are better for it moving ahead.
“We’ve got a lot of depth,” Hayward said. “We basically signed everybody back, so we’re going to run it back. I’m very excited, very excited for what we can do as a team. Last year was a great year, although we had some injuries, and obviously not for me individually, but a great year for the Celtics, as far as guys getting experience in being put in situations they probably wouldn’t have been put in. That’s invaluable, so I think we’re looking up.”