When Brad Stevens was hired in 2013, there was video cut together rather quickly of all the times Stevens uttered one of his favorite phrases: “It’s a process”. While not nearly as famous as “Trust the process” in Philadelphia, it was something Stevens said regularly throughout that first rebuilding year, as he encouraged patience and hope.
As the Celtics moved in to the 2014-15 season, the phrase continued to uttered, as did the rebuild. There were signs here and there that Boston had something building, but things really took off after Danny Ainge acquired Isaiah Thomas at the Trade Deadline. The Celtics became the type of scrappy underdog bunch that the people of Boston rally around. They got swept by the Cavaliers, but it didn’t matter so much. After a short, one year absence, the Celtics were back in the postseason. Hope abounded for the future.
In 2015-16, the expectations were raised, but only a little. They weren’t going to sneak up on anyone this time, but had enough to be a good team. They proved that true, even more than expected, by winning 48 games. The playoffs were a letdown, as the team fell 4-2 to the Hawks, but rationalized by Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk being hurt. We told ourselves, “This is ok. We weren’t even supposed to be here yet. Better things to come when we get more help for IT!”
In the summer of 2016, the team signed Al Horford and got close with Kevin Durant. Don’t let anyone tell you differently, it was close for Durant. But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Still, with Horford in the fold, all the regulars back, minus Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger, and several young players off impressive Summer League performances, the stakes were raised.
Did the team deliver this year? Probably over-delivered if anything. While they may be a historically weak one seed, that isn’t their fault. Boston doesn’t pick the conference they play in or build their own schedule. They played the hand they were dealt and won 53 games and hit the postseason for the third straight year.
Think about it for a second. 25 to 40 to 48 to 53 wins. That is a remarkable rise and in an incredibly quick manner. Yet, for Celtics fans (really Boston sports fans in general), it isn’t enough. We pride ourselves that we don’t hang division banners. We tell ourselves, and anyone who will listen, that hanging banner 18 is what matters. We honor the past 17, but thirst for the next one. The same exists across the Boston sports landscape, where having solid seasons but failing to win a championship are just a failure and diversion until the next sport comes around, where we put the same expectations on that team.
All of this creates an atmosphere where winning trumps all, as it probably should. After all, if they keep score and hand out a trophy, you might as well try to win it. But all too often, we forget that there is a journey to get there. It takes time. It’s a process if you will. When you focus only on the end result, frustration creeps in. That frustration turns to negativity. Negativity turns to anger, which turns to hate, which turns to suffering, which turns to the dark side. Oh wait. That is a different story altogether.
Back to the point, don’t let the anger and frustration take you so far that you forget about the hope. The Celtics have won 53 games, have a remarkably good cap situation, top odds for the number one pick in the NBA Draft, good players who are still on the young side and even more draft picks yet to come. Despite someone (ok…it was me) writing that things might not being quite as rosy as they seem, you would still take the situation in Boston over at least 25 or so of the other NBA franchises.
So, while we all get frustrated that our team is failing against a team most felt they should beat, led by a player we cast away nonetheless, it is important to remember the process. Most franchises would navigate the rebuilding wilderness for at least a few years after trading away the core of their most recent title team. The Celtics have bounced back quicker than anyone ever could have imagined and are set up for long term success. And this team has shown us that they are at their best when things look their worst. I wouldn’t count them out just yet. It’s a process after all.