Some simple truths apply to basketball at every level. The game is top-loaded. Whoever has the best player usually wins. Or perhaps the best two players. That's how it is in 3 on 3 ball in your backyard, that's how it was in your 8th grade Boys Club League.
How often do the Celtics have the best player on the floor? Let's say Kyrie is our star. Is he better than the other team's star? How often? Kyrie has quarters where he looks like the best player on the floor. Flashes. But he's not consistently better than the opponent's best player. Even Luka Doncic seemed like a better player.
Now let's look at the two Celt max contracts, Al and Gordon. How often are they better than the other team's max players, assuming they have two? Are they better than any max players on other teams?
Now let's move to another problem. The assumption has been that the Celtics youth is much better than the opponent's, based on our high draft picks over the last several years, and based on some early success shown. But have these players continued to progress? Are they really outshining young players on other teams most nights?
So this is where we're at.
- our stars are not as good as the stars of other decent teams
- our max contract guys are performing at the bottom of the max contract barrel
- our young players are no longer rising up the curve(Brown, Smart), are not quite living up to last year(Tatum) or have regressed(Rozier).
Is it really more complicated than that? Our elites are not that elite, and our young players are not rising very fast.
Some other things to note: there are a lot of young players around the league starting to rise, so the "bad" teams are becoming more competitive, and some of the elite teams are struggling.
Blame Stevens if you want, and he needs to do a better job. But the reality is that if your best players are not better than the opponents, you'll probably lose most nights, unless your young players are rising...and here they are not.
That's not panic. It's cool evaluation. It's not a criticism of Ainge, who runs one of the best staff in the league. Luck is part of this.
How can this be fixed? A lot of little things will create improvement, as has been better discussed elsewhere. But I would suggest one simple thing MUST happen. A superstar must emerge. A young superstar.
And Tatum is literally the only possibility.
I don't see any major leaps coming from any other direction. Irving will have his Uncle Drew bursts. Hayward will keep improving. Jaylen may or may not level up a beat. Rozier might get it back some.
And Tatum might not emerge is a superstar. That might not be his destiny.
But if he does not, I don't see this team becoming a contender.
So can he? It won't happen this month. What we need to see is a couple of solid leaps over the span of the season. We're seeing flashes. He has to start hitting his midrange and his threes. He has to make more decisive drives. And he has to create better. This CAN happen. And as it does, other players around him will respond. They'll feed off that energy...if they're winning, and if he's passing and creeating. We need a true superstat. It won't come from anyone else on this roster.