BOSTON (AP) The emergence of an All-Star and lots of victories made the Celtics one of the biggest surprises in the NBA this season.
It also left Boston with lots of questions following its second straight first-round exit from the playoffs - this one, a six-game loss to the Atlanta Hawks - with a young roster that probably still needs a few more pieces to make the next step.
It has lots of draft picks and salary cap space to play with, which promises to make the summer an active one for the Celtics.
''This is probably the closest them I've been on. I love being around the guys. But everybody sees it. We do need a little more,'' said point guard Isaiah Thomas, who averaged a career-best 22.2 points and was named to his first All-Star appearance in February. ''(Celtics President Danny Ainge) will do his part. I know he will and this organization will come back even better.''
The rebuilding project that began three years ago under coach Brad Stevens is clearly ahead of schedule. The franchise that hit the reset button after the departure of Doc Rivers and its Big Three has gotten production from a young core anchored by Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder.
Under Stevens' defensive-minded approach Boston blossomed into one of the NBA's stingiest teams.
''You go from...under .500 and barely making the playoffs and kind of eking in at the end by winning six straight, to being in the mix for being a top-four seed in the East. And so yes, there's progress,'' he said.
As much as Stevens recognizes the improvements, he said he also knows the bar only goes up from here.
''People have told me all along there's two really tough tasks, right? One is getting to be a very good, competitive team at a top 10-15 level on offense and defense and give yourself a chance to be in the discussion we're in now. And that's been a path in the last three years to get there,'' Stevens said.
Here are some other things to note as the Celtics head into the offseason:
HEALING UP: Before the Celtics can think about potential roster changes, they first have to make sure the players they have are healthy. Seven-footer Kelly Olynyk was only able to suit up in four of Boston's playoff games after aggravating a right shoulder injury in Game 1 against the Hawks. Guard Avery Bradley was lost for the playoffs in that game with a strained right hamstring.
Olynyk said he planned to get multiple opinions from doctors on what his next step will be. They haven't discussed a need for surgery, though he said nothing has been ruled out.
DRAFT PICKS GALORE: Ainge is known for his deal-making abilities and will have eight total draft picks in June, including three in the first round. The biggest, is the Nets' unprotected first-round pick Boston acquired in 2013 when it traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn. The Nets finished with the league's third-worst record and have about a 16 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick in May's lottery.
Ainge has made it clear to Thomas that he wants him to be involved in the wooing of potential free agents this summer, and is in a symbolic move will send Thomas to represent the team at the lottery.
''I can get a few guys here,'' Thomas said. ''I'm gonna do my job...I'm gonna do the best I can to put my recruiting hat on.''
DECISIONS, DECISIONS: Boston only has a handful of decisions to make with the roster it currently has. Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger are both restricted free agents who could be expendable. Meanwhile the contacts of Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko aren't fully guaranteed for next season if they are waived by July 3. The most interesting question is what to do with unrestricted free agent Evan Turner. His second year in Boston was his best season since 2013-14, but his production will certainly garner interest around the league. He said he wants to return, but that could depend on just how high his price tag winds up being.
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