Times are tough and it seems like darkness hangs over the heads of Celtics fans everywhere. Most fans didn’t expect the Celtics to be a great team this year, and even the most fervent optimists only saw the Celtics as a fringe playoff team. However this recent stretch of losses has been hard to watch. Not only is the team losing, but also they don’t seem that competitive. Let’s be honest, if you’re watching the games, every Celtics player looks horrible right now. They don’t operate as a cohesive unit, turning the ball over at a high frequency. There’s no flow on the offensive side of the ball and the defense seems apathetic at best. For a team that started the season with such competitive spirit, it’s difficult as a fan to watch the most recent games and feel anything but disappointment. To put it bluntly, the Celtics have become hard to watch.
As fans, we were sold on the promise of youth and development. We were prepared to watch a team that would lose games, but ultimately make measured improvements over the course of the season. We’ve been disappointed to see Olynyk flounder in his development, Sullinger’s game plateau and maybe even regress (possibly due to injury), and Jeff Green fail to reach his potential on a regular basis. If you read the threads at the bottom of Celticsblog articles, you know that the "blame game" has already started. Knee-jerk reactions are always going to surface in every situation; however there seemed to be greater optimism at the beginning of the season that has now turned sour. It seems undeniable that this team is not developing as the season continues.
So what gives? What changed? Are we to believe that Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford were the glue holding this Celtics team together? Is it Brad’s fault? Is it Rondo’s? I don’t think the blame can be given to any player or coach. I think that right now, the Celtics are merely humans, reacting in very human ways to what is going on around them.
Morale is defined as the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person or group at a particular time. If you are looking to blame the team’s woes on something, look no further than morale.
The last time the Celtics won consecutive games was December 13, against the Knicks and then December 16, against the Timberwolves. After that game the Celtics were 12-14, in the playoff race, and remarkably atop the Atlantic Division standings. The outlook seemed impossibly bright for a team that was not expected to make much noise.
Since that time, the Celtics are 3-18. What happened? Morale came into play, big time. If you look at the headlines for the Celtics in the days following those last back-to-back wins you’ll notice something: trade rumors. Actually, trade realities. Suddenly, Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee found themselves about to be shipped off for Omer Asik. Two weeks later, Courtney Lee was shipped off for… cap space. Another ten days later it was Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks’ turn to be swapped for… draft picks. All of a sudden, Keith Bogans can’t be bothered to show up any more. A team that had been playing for themselves and their coach were now struck with the undeniable reality that the very organization they worked for didn’t care if they won or lost, and in fact, didn’t care if most of them were around at all.
We’ve heard it over and over. Anyone on the Celtics is available for the right price, anyone. The team obviously succeeded in blocking those thoughts out for a while, but when rumors became more than just rumors, the task became too much too handle. You can say ‘it’s part of the business’ all you want, but put yourself in those shoes. Imagine going to your job, day after day, never knowing if it was your last day. Maybe tomorrow you get shipped half way across the country to work with new people, in a new system, away from your family. Be honest with yourself, how long could you continue your work unaffected by that reality? One week, two weeks? Your morale would take a dive. You might not even realize it was happening until it was too late.
This is the reality of a team that is not built to win. At some point, you lose morale. As fans, we can turn the television off, we can start looking forward to the draft, we can play with the trade machine. As players and coaches, you are forced to continue. You are forced to endure. It’s nobody’s fault. It just is; it’s just life.