My first NBA power rankings go live next week, and I had a dilemma: What even are the Boston Celtics?

The Celtics bet big on Kyrie Irving, then lost him for nothing to the Nets in free agency. To make matters worse, Boston also lost Al Horford – to the Sixers of all teams – and had the gall to replace him with Enes Kanter. Horford did everything for Boston, from anchoring its defense and shutting down Giannis Antetokounmpo, to manufacturing offense with his court vision and screen-setting. The Celtics’ grand plan to replace him might be second-year big man Robert Williams, but is he ready to make the leap they need? Only time will tell.

The Kemba Walker signing was a smart one. Walker is the next-best point guard in the conference behind Irving, and his heart on the floor compensates for his lack of size. But this Boston team isn’t a legitimate contender in the East, right? How am I supposed to rank them?

Here’s what we know: The East is a two-team race to the NBA finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. Inserting another team into the championship race is negligence.

But where do the Celtics fall in line after that?

There’s Indiana, which lost Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young and Darren Collison, but signed Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb, and also traded for T.J. Warren. The Pacers will stay afloat until Victor Oladipo returns. That makes them about as dangerous as it gets, especially if Indiana finds a way to help Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis coexist.

Then of course there’s Brooklyn, one of the clearest winners of free agency after landing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant this summer. The Nets are now loaded and have one of the deeper rosters not only in the conference but the entire league. But Durant is unlikely to return from his Achilles injury this season. Brooklyn will be good but not championship-level good until he returns to the court.

You can’t forget Toronto, either. Yes, it lost Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in free agency, but it had a darn good record without its finals MVP.

Can they sustain that over the course of the following season? I doubt it, but Toronto has a good mix of veterans and talented young players. How far does a starting five of Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry get you? Or do they start Serge Ibaka, move Siakam to another position, and bring Powell or VanVleet off the bench?

Then, of course, there are the Celtics, the team in question. Will they be worse than last season, a byproduct of outgoing greater than incoming? Or will they be better than their disappointing 2018-19 season, a year of inner turmoil among a team lacking adequate leadership. Despite it all, Boston won 49 games. It’s hard to envision matching that win total this time.

Irving opened up during the Nets’ media day. He said he was dealing with the death of his grandfather last season, admitting he didn’t know how to handle those emotions, and attributing that to the result on the court. Boston replaced him with Walker, a leader by example who’s had teammates rally around him at every juncture of his career, from high school to college to Charlotte.

But while Walker is an electrifying playmaker, he’s not Irving. Kanter is not remotely Al Horford, and Boston still has the Tatum-Hayward-Brown dynamic to figure out. Robert Williams may be the key to its success, but it’s never wise to heap much responsibility onto a second-year player who only played in spurts as a rookie.

Are the Celtics going to run a Walker-Tatum-Brown-Hayward-Kanter lineup? Forgive me if I’m low on this rotation, but I don’t like that lineup over Brooklyn, Toronto or Indiana’s best.

Maybe General Manager Danny Ainge isn’t done wheeling and dealing. Bradley Beal is the best “available” player on the trade market, and the Celtics could potentially have three first-round picks in the 2020 draft, dependingwhere the ping pong balls land for Memphis, whose protected first-rounder belongs to Boston. Can Ainge convince the Wizards into finally trading Beal? They might not find another team that can offer a better package of picks and players, unless Brooklyn or New Orleans empty the deck.

The Celtics are at an interesting juncture, having dealt most of their assets yet still boasting a roster without a generational talent. Tatum eventually could be that player but has strides to make. It takes a player of that stature to win big in this league: Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and LeBron James cover the past, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid cover the immediate future.

Can the Celtics win big without that talent? What can they even do this season with the roster as is?

I liken this Celtics team to the Lob City Clippers, who blew up the Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan core in favor of Doc Rivers wanting to remain competitive while building for the future. The Clippers stockpiled assets from the Griffin trade, then the Tobias Harris trade. They parlayed those picks and players into landing Leonard and Paul George this summer. Mission complete: The Clippers may be championship favorites.

But the Celtics tricked off their assets for Irving, and now have only two other first-rounders to haggle with: Milwaukee’s (a guaranteed late-first) and one from Memphis, which might not convey if the Grizzlies land in the top seven of the draft order. This is their last season to make something of all the wheeling and dealing they did, unless a Tatum or Brown trade is on the horizon.

The Kyrie Irving Celtics imploded and Ainge is keeping the ship afloat before his next big move. What’s the plan in Boston? Keeping the team as currently constructed caps this season at mediocre (by Celtics standards) at best. Pulling off a trade makes them better but does it make them championship contenders?

The Celtics are at a crossroads before their season even begins. They’re good but not great, and great is the barometer in Boston. That’s why they’re such a confusing team to rank this season. The Celtics project to be good but will they be good enough?

Probably not. And that’s the dilemma.

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