The Boston Celtics lost out in the NBA Finals last season, but they kick off the 2022/23 campaign as favourites.
The Eastern Conference champions meet the Philadelphia 76ers in the first match of the regular season having strengthened this summer.
The Celtics have moved out in front in the betting and they're +450 favourites to win the NBA Championship. They're part of a big four in the Eastern Conference alongside the Sixers, Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat. However, Boston are +220 favourites to make it out of the East.
The Larry O'Brien trophy hasn't returned to Boston since 2008, but here are five reasons why the Celtics are title favourites.
The Celtics had a massive shake-up in the summer of 2021, as Danny Ainge departed as president of basketball operations.
Head coach Brad Stevens was announced as his successor, after eight seasons on the bench. Stevens' first move was to appoint Ime Udoka as his own replacement, which turned out to be a masterstroke.
Udoka had a mixed start, as they finished the calendar year with 17 wins and 19 losses. However, the turn of the year brought a turn in fortune, as the Celtics went 33-12 to finish the season. That red-hot run gave them something to build on in the playoffs. After three Conference Final defeats in five seasons, Boston jumped that hurdle and returned to the Finals.
Now that Udoka is settled, his team can hit the ground running. There should be no awkward bedding-in period this time around, while he's likely taken a lot from their playoff run.
Last season's Finals run was a breakthrough year for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The pair – 24 and 25 respectively – are now hitting their stride in the league. This side now has the right blend of youth and experience after a few deep playoff runs.
There's no development focus for the Celtics anymore, they are in win-now territory. Outside of two-way contracts, the youngest player on their roster is 23-year-old Grant Williams. At the other end of the spectrum, they have the experience of Al Horford and Danilo Gallinari to lean on.
A great mix of ages with continuity in the team marks Boston out. As their core players hit their peak, this roster is perfectly built for them to deliver a Championship.
Udoka’s turnaround last season came thanks to their defensive schemes settling, which showed in the New Year. They had the best defensive rating of any NBA team in 2022, with their solid defence helping them through the playoffs.
Point guard Marcus Smart was named the Defensive Player of the Year last term, with Robert Williams III and Al Horford both getting votes. However, they had elite defenders across their rotation. Given how they finished last year, they look set to be the strongest defence in the league in 2022/23.
In early July the Celtics made a move to respond to their Finals defeat, landing Malcolm Brogdan from the Indiana Pacers.
They didn't lose much in return, sending Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan, Aaron Nesmith, Nik Stauskas, Daniel Theis and a 2023 first-round pick to Indiana.
Boston sacrificed a pick and some end-of-rotation depth to land a guard who gives them great ball-handling and passing. The thing which hurt the Celtics time and time again in the playoffs last season was their turnovers. While Brogdan will start on the bench, he's a great option to bring in when the Celtics are struggling in possession.
The Celtics might not be done there, as they've engaged in talks about trading for Kevin Durant. Their potential package could include Jaylen Brown and picks, which is likely to be the best the Nets can get. Adding KD to the mix would make the Celtics even better, and likely cut their title odds further.
One big thing which helps the Celtics' title hopes is that their Eastern Conference rivals aren't making big moves. The Bucks have stood still, while the Miami Heat lost PJ Tucker without adding anyone new. While the Sixers added Tucker, they handed the 37-year-old a big contract.
The fit for Tucker in Philly is questionable, as the Sixers arguably need more energy and threat rather than an ageing defensive-focused forward. Compared to the rest of the East the Celtics look clear favourites, having improved since beating the Nets, Bucks and Heat last season. Boston look on course for a return to the Finals, marking them out as the frontrunners before the season gets underway.