Heading into the season I repeatedly used a cliched phrase. The Celtics were in position to “have their cake and eat it too.” They were legit contenders this year with a pipeline of developing talent and picks they could build upon in the future.
Five minutes into the season one of those options became significantly less realistic. This team’s designs on contending resembled a 3 legged stool. Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, and Gordon Hayward were the 3 legs and they supported the rest of the surprisingly young roster. Take away one of those legs and the whole thing topples over (at least in terms of title contention).
So the focus is shifted to developing that pipeline of talent. The gaping hole left by Hayward’s injury would be used to give younger players an increased role and on-the-job training.
Jaylen Brown went from 3rd or 4th option to a primary scoring option (2nd only to Kyrie Irving thus far). It was assumed that Jayson Tatum would be brought along slowly and most of his contributions would be a bonus. For the moment, he’s a starter and may remain that way the rest of the year.
The shared load of responsibility trickles down to the rest of the roster as well. Terry Rozier is playing big minutes and contributing. The revolving door of rookies deeper on the bench are each getting regular rotation minutes.
None of this is to suggest that this team has entered tanking mode. They are still too talented to lose games at a rate approaching the worst teams in the league. The ultimate goal (a Championship) is still the same, but the hope of achieving that goal has been pushed out at least a year (barring unforeseen incredible good fortune). My guess is that the Celtics will wind up in the 4 - 8 seed range and be competitive in the playoffs.
Far from being a team on the “treadmill of mediocrity,” Boston would be giving good, young players a prominent role in a playoff atmosphere. They still have a pick coming (eventually) from the Lakers/Sixers and of course Gordon Hayward expects to be back at full strength next season.
Jalyen Brown and Jayson Tatum in particular could establish themselves as legit future stars earlier than expected as a direct result of the increased minutes and responsibility. The Hayward injury was a horrible gut-punch event that has no positives. However, given the circumstances, there’s some forced progress that could result from it.
So it appears that the Celtics will fast for another season, but they’ve still got plenty of cake and a reservation for dessert in the not-too-distant future.