The outlook is beginning to look rather bleak for the Boston Celtics. A young rebuilding team struggling through some growing pains is one thing, but a lack of effort is another. The mounting frustration is beginning to show from a team that has lost three straight games and 7 of their last 9 since captain Rajon Rondo was shipped out of town to signal the waiving of the white flag on this season.
Last night's loss to the Charlotte Hornets may have been a boiling point for Brad Stevens, who watched his starters come out flat in the first quarter and lacked any hint of urgency as they quickly fell behind. After the game Stevens expressed his dissatisfaction - not only in his players but in himself.
"I've got to figure out how to coach this team better," answered a deflated Stevens. "I'm not doing a very good job. We're not playing well, and we're playing almost -- it's not good basketball. We've got to do a better job playing good basketball. I'll figure out the rotations later, once we start playing good basketball and once we are all focused on very good basketball. And that's on me. I've got to do a better job."
As noble as it is for the coach to throw himself under the bus, a lack of effort falls primarily on the players. Stevens can scream at his players or give all the inspirational speeches he wants to try to motivate this team, but ultimately it comes down to the players caring enough to put in the effort.
Part of the problem is that this roster is a mixture of young players that aren't ready to take control of the situation yet and frustrated veterans (many of whom are on expiring contracts) that are counting down the days until they get traded or can move on in free agency. Wins will be hard to come by for rebuilding teams when the focus is primarily on developing their young core, which can make it difficult for some veterans who don't expect to be around long enough to benefit from that development.
Being forced out of a winning culture to join a struggling team can't be easy for the three recently acquired additions from Dallas, yet newcomer Jae Crowder still recognizes the need to play with more effort.
"The coaching staff is trying to figure it out, and us as players are trying to figure it out," explained Crowder. " But [players] shouldn't have to figure out playing hard."
"It's not even Coach, I think, for the most part. Guys, as NBA players, should always come here ready to play hard," added Crowder. "It's not on the coaches. It's not on anybody. It's on us as players. And I think that's first and foremost for us. We just have to hold ourselves accountable. You always have to come ready to play without a coach yelling at you, without any of that stuff happening. You should always come ready to play a basketball game. That's what we're here for. That's our job."
Last night was the latest example of the Celtics not being ready to play basketball from the opening tip, which means they weren't doing their jobs. The first step toward fixing their issues is to come prepared with the right mentality to play hard every night. That's on the players.
That being said, Stevens wasn't entirely wrong when he said he wasn't doing a good job of coaching this team. In the above quote from Stevens the coach admits to having not figured out his rotations yet. Players are more comfortable when they know what their role is.
Jared Sullinger referenced an issue with how the team is playing. "We can't play hero ball; we don't have heroes." The term "hero ball" refers to when a player begins to rely on isolation plays to go one-on-one against his defender. Superstar players can get away with it because they have the ability to create their own shot and beat their defender off the dribble. Boston doesn't have a player that can consistently do that. The concept of hero ball also goes against the philosophy of the system Stevens is trying to implement, which is at least partially based on the San Antonio Spurs' pace and space style. Ball movement is vital for this system and Sullinger's concerns about hero ball show the team is moving away from that. Part of the coach's job is to ensure the team is running the offense as planned, which doesn't appear to be happening lately.
This Celtics roster doesn't have enough talent to be a playoff contender, so the losses they are piling up are understandable. However, the lack of effort is unacceptable. Stevens is a good coach and shouldn't be scapegoated for the team's record, but as the losses pile up the coach is in danger of losing the locker room. He needs to find a way to turn things around quickly in order to avoid frustrations from boiling over because if his players give up on him there may be no coming back from that point.