NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Indiana Pacers

Celtics coach Brad Stevens shouts instructions during an April game.

LAS VEGAS — I arrived here last Thursday fully believing that unless the Celtics could acquire some tall people to play defense, they were naught but entertaining middle-class fodder in the East.

They should be able to move the ball well and execute some soaring dunks with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown taking off from the wing. But when push comes to shove comes to playoffs, they are going to get beaten up inside.

That still might be the season’s outcome for the Celts, but a number of NBA coaches and execs have been raising their eyebrows and taking a different look at the conference since Kawhi Leonard took his talents to Venice Beach and the Clippers.

Upon further review, the East doesn’t look so menacing.

“It’s wide-open,” one general manager said. “Wi-i-i-de open. Right now, I’d say you’ve got five teams that if they won it, I wouldn’t be surprised: Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Toronto, Boston and even Indiana. Indiana’s going to be in there, too.”

And he allowed that Brooklyn with Kyrie Irving but without Kevin Durant is a wild card in the deck.

There is, of course, time for deals to get done and the balance of power to shift, and we’re conveniently making this a parochial thing and leaving out the fact that whoever emerges from the right side of the map will be lunch for the Western Conference representative. (“Unless they beat each other up,” one exec said. “Look at what happened to Golden State this year. A couple of injuries, and who knows?”)

But as we sit here less than a month after the last dribble of The Finals, there is no team in the East that doesn’t come equipped with a few or more questions.

Milwaukee had the best record in the entire league last season, and it’s easily favored to collect the most regular-season wins in the East. The Bucks did well to retain Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez, but everyone agrees the departure of Malcolm Brogdon is a major blow. In addition to his scoring and defense, Brogdon was a settling factor when Eric Bledsoe’s game got a little wobbly. And I think Nikola Mirotic leaving for Europe could hurt, as well.

In their places, the Bucks are bringing in Wesley Matthews and Brook’s brother, Robin. They clearly did not want to spend to keep Brogdon, a restricted free agent. We’ll see if that was a mistake.

Much of the attention on Philadelphia from a Celtics point of view has been related to the free agent agreement with Al Horford, and there’s no doubt he should work well with Joel Embiid and offer some needed veteran stability. But the discussion around here has been more about the exits of Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick and how they will affect Ben Simmons.

Butler was the guy the 76ers paid to get his own shot, and Redick was the long distance marksman who spaced the floor and gave everyone else more room to operate. So what now for Simmons, who can’t/won’t shoot from the outside? He’ll continue to be a beast in transition, but you get some interesting looks when the subject of Simmons and a new huge contract comes up. It will be very interesting to see how that all plays out.

The same could be said for the situation with the Raptors. President of basketball operations Masai Ujiri rolled the dice with Leonard last summer and it came up championship. If he’s able to successfully navigate the fallout of Kawhi’s goodbye, Canada might name a province after him — or at least a menu item at Tim Horton’s.

The Raptors have good players, but they clearly have fallen back to the pack.

As for whether all this means the Celtics, in the wake of losing Irving and Horford, will be able to seriously compete for the conference title they were being handed by acclaim at this time last year seems to be anyone’s guess. Opposing coaches have spoken highly of Kemba Walker’s fit, and there is, too, some anticipation of what Gordon Hayward will be after a full summer to continue his rehab.

“Those 30-point nights (Hayward) had last year weren’t a mirage,” one exec said. “I’m not sure how they’re going to find the right amount of time for all their wings, but if he’s back to being near where he was, he’s going to have an interesting year with Kemba.”

Still — unless Enes Kanter is willing to show the same interest in defense that he did in Portland’s series against Denver or Vincent Poirier is a revelation or another deal is made — the inside questions remain.

So the outlook for the Celtics is murky at best. The good news is that issues elsewhere in the conference will allow them to be graded on the curve.