Written By Austin Hall (@ADWAustin)
Since I became a Boston Celtics fan, during their 2002 Eastern Conference Finals run, every preceding season came with a reasonable expectation that more or less came to fruition. They were either: a) a middling team of Paul Pierce and a bunch of randos that may or may not make the playoffs; b) tanking; c) up-and-comers; or d) contenders. Whichever season we thought we’d get, we’d get. This year was supposed to be a contending year — and it was anything but.
There was in-house fighting. Leaks. Stupid quotes. A lack of leadership, both from players and coaches alike. No direction. No plan. No team. From the start, we kept waiting for them to turn it around, and they never did.
Kyrie Irving is an interesting case in the center of all this: a supremely talented basketball player, arguably top 10 in the world, who doesn’t seem to grasp how much his quotes to the media may affect his team or even himself. This is perfectly fine for an immensely talented athlete, but not one that is a ball-stopper who takes more bad shots than Kobe. The Celtics offense around Irving resembled a one-on-one style that has been eradicated from the NBA since the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors became powerhouses. They move the ball until a good shot is created.
At his best, Irving dribbles like he’s actually his on-screen character Uncle Drew and either puts up an incredible shot that goes in or throws a pass at the last second to an open teammate. At his worst, the play collapses, he misses, or his teammate misses, and that’s the end of the possession.
As you know, it didn’t work, and the Milwaukee Bucks trounced them 4–1, two series earlier than everyone assumed they would end up.
So what now? Irving will probably become a free agent, and the Celtics brass will do everything they can to sign him to a contract extension, though I highly doubt they’ll pull it off. Hollywood and Broadway are calling, after all. They probably won’t get Anthony Davis (AD), one of the five best players in the league right now, regardless of what you’ve heard. Al Horford, arguably their most efficient player, has a player option. Terry Rozier seems to want out. What’s left is Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and a bunch of question marks. For the first time since ’02, they have no identity, which seems worse than tanking or, God forbid, “The Process”.
Here’s the bottom line, and Celtics brass isn’t going to like it: Irving is gone and AD isn’t coming. They’re going to pray for Horford to exercise his player option, try to re-sign Marcus Morris, and make Jay & Jay a force to be reckoned with. Brad Stevens needs them to pass the ball around until they find a good shot. They need Smart flying around the perimeter with constant switches on defense. Boston needs Horford, Aron Baynes, and Robert Williams to continue to give them second and third chances on offense. The fans need to hope that Hayward can at least become a good swingman, who can spell Brown or Tatum when they need a break. This was a similar team to what they had last year when they went to the Eastern Conference Finals, and this year when Irving was injured. The stats don’t reflect this for the most part. (Irving, for instance, led the team in PER, assists, VORP, FT% and 3P%). Still, you can’t tell me the Celtics didn’t look better swinging the ball around instead of waiting for Irving to shoot.