A lot is on the line in the Atlantic Division this season, but who is under the most pressure?
The Eastern Conference continues to lose more and more story lines, making sure all the attention is going to the few legitimate teams that are left. Fortunately, the Atlantic Division has two of the teams that will be watched closely this season, and both the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors will be under tremendous pressure.
At a basic level, the Celtics are under more pressure and have more on the line because they are expected to be better. The Raptors are not being held to the same standard, meaning just a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals could be seen as a successful season.
For the Celtics, that is absolutely not the case. The Celtics still need to prove that they can be competitive with the Cleveland Cavaliers in a playoff series, but being competitive is not going to be enough.
It would be hard to call the Celtics a disappointment if they end up losing to the Warriors in the Finals, but anything short of that is absolutely unacceptable.
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The Celtics have the immense talent, they have the young stud of a coach. They cashed in all their assets, and put an end to one of the quickest rebuilds ever.
The Celtics transformed their roster this season, and what follows is a transformed perception of what the team needs to be. Kyrie Irving needs to be able to be the number one option on a championship team, Gordon Hayward needs to prove that he is just more than one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the NBA, and a whole bunch of young players need to prove they are ready for the NBA.
At that level, there is no doubting that the Celtics are the team in the Atlantic Division with the most on the line, but that might be more about the outside perception, than the reality of the team.
While it is true that Ainge cashed in his assets and made the win now moves this offseason, he did not shorten the window of this team at all. Irving and Hayward are 25 and 26 years old. Al Horford is the only significant player on the team that is over 30 years old.
The Celtics have the pressure to win now, but failing in their first season will not change any of their future plans.
Even if the Celtics are a massive disappointment, this roster is not made to be at their peak this season. This roster is built to peak when two of their best talents, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are entering their primes.
The beauty is that both Irving and Hayward should still be in their primes when that time comes, and that is the point when this Celtics rebuild will have the most on the line.
For the Raptors, this is their make or break season. They are fully invested in their trio of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka. All of their top talents are currently in their prime, and if things do not work out this season it is hard to imagine them having an opportunity to improve their roster.
If the Celtics disappoint this season, then they will move onto next season and figure out how to make all this talent work together. If the Raptors disappoint this season, it will be completely correct to question whether or not they will even be able to win with this group, meaning it might be time to start their own rebuild.
Even if the Celtics are expected to be better this season, and their standard of disappointment will be higher than that of the Raptors, the Raptors still have a lot more to lose this season.
They have top players who still have not proven they can carry their team through the playoffs. They have a coach who could be on the hot seat if things do not go well, and they have a GM who is simply out of options and flexibility with the roster.
This is legitimately one of the most important seasons in the history of the Raptors. This could be the last chance they get with the most successful core of players in the history of the team.
One thing that has persisted for the Celtics is patience, and that will be true this season. Even if the outside world freaks out if they are disappointing, the organization itself will be just fine. For the Raptors, disappointment is a lot more likely to cause all kinds of inner turmoil, meaning they have more on the line this season.