He’s put up big numbers, but Kanter’s teams have never made it past the Conference finals. Kanter reached the brink of the finals this past season with the Portland Trail Blazers, but after hitting unrestricted free agency for the first time, he chose a new home for one reason.
“It’s my ninth year in the league and I understand that, for many people, the money is important,” Kanter said in an interview with HoopsHype on Sunday. “For me, the most important thing is being with a team that you’re really happy on and playing with a team that’s competing for a championship. That’s was the big thing for me. For everybody else, the money matters [more]. For me, the No. 1 thing was winning.”
Of course, the Celtics entered the 2018-19 season as title contenders, but things quickly went astray.
They reached the Eastern Conference finals the year before without All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, but Irving never seemed content — eventually leaving for the Brooklyn Nets — while Hayward couldn’t regain his old form. Youngsters Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown couldn’t spread their wings with too many cooks in the kitchen.
Now the Celtics are regrouping with a new point guard at the helm. Kemba Walker has emerged as a selfless star, seemingly perfect for the crowded locker room, and actually played a role in recruiting the big man who was selected six picks ahead of him in the 2011 NBA draft.
“He was in my draft class, so I’ve been watching him a lot ever since he was at UConn,” Kanter said. “I know what kind of character he is and what kind of leader he is. He’s the type of point guard and type of leader who makes everybody around him much better. That’s what makes him really special. Of course, he’s an amazing player. But off the court, the leadership he brings to the team and the relationships he develops with all of the other players is very important. He was definitely one of the biggest reasons why I chose Boston. I really want to play with Kemba.”
Can the Celtics still win a title?
Even without the high expectations of last season, the Celtics still field a quality team, especially in the East. The Toronto Raptors will be without Kawhi Leonard. The Nets won’t have Kevin Durant next season. And the New York Knicks are still the Knicks.
Westgate gives the Celtics the ninth-best title odds at 25/1, while their over/under of 49.5 regular season wins is tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the seventh-best mark. FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projections offer similarly rosy outlook with the third-most talent in the East and a 2 percent chance at a title.
But with more than three months until the start of the regular season — and more than eight until the postseason — plenty is up in the air. The Celtics have the young talent to run with almost any team, and Kanter has reason to be optimistic.
“The reason I went [to Boston] is for a championship,” Kanter said. “I feel like the team is really young and willing to learn and we have an amazing group of guys. I feel like we can beat any team on any floor. All we have to do is just be good friends and stay together. Let’s just go have fun! It’s definitely going to be a very, very exciting season.”
Whether the Celtics have a better title chances than the Blazers is another question — as is whether they could have afforded him back. But at least he won’t have to deal with the crowded West again.
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