With the Brooklyn Nets getting set for their first matchup of the season with the Boston Celtics, albeit without star guard Kyrie Irving who is nursing a shoulder injury, it’s tough not to think back to last season and where it all went wrong.
Last year’s shortcomings were a central topic for Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge when he sat down with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols for an interview and Ainge gave his insights on the disappointing year.
But if you were expecting a Kyrie bashing from Ainge after Irving had a tumultuous last season in Boston before signing a 4-year, $141 million deal with the Nets this offseason, you won’t get it.
Instead, Ainge tried to take the blame off Irving’s shoulders and put it on his own.
“Kyrie for his first year-and-a-half was terrific for us,” Ainge told Nichols. “I really liked and was hopeful that it was going to be a good marriage going forward, but he really wanted to go home and that’s his choice. I don’t know why he gets all the blame. I’m the one who should be blamed for last year. We put a team together that the pieces didn’t fit. We had a lot of talent, a lot of expectations, but it’s certainly not Kyrie’s fault.”
"I do think it was my fault."— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) November 26, 2019
1-on-1 with Danny Ainge on what went wrong last year with Kyrie, how the front office pivoted to find an even better fit in Kemba Walker, and how his time with Larry Bird & Kevin McHale affected his reaction to Gordon Hayward's latest injury. pic.twitter.com/uw3gz5viVx
In the interview, Ainge expressed that he wished he did some things differently last season, most notably tweaking the roster.
Ainge said the Celtics had at least eight players who all viewed themselves as equal to each other — Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown leading the C’s to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018 with Irving and Gordon Hayward sidelined with injuries contributed to that dynamic — and that made it difficult to define roles.
“In hindsight, I wish I would had cleaned out the roster a little bit to make it easier for Brad (Stevens),” Ainge said. “We had a deep roster. We were built for a longer run. We had a lot of young guys that had a lot of success without Gordon and Kyrie and the guys that had success without those two guys felt it was their time for the spotlight. It just didn’t mesh.”
This season with the C’s prized offseason acquisition in Kemba Walker running the point, Ainge can see a difference in the team.
And not necessarily in the level of talent that the C’s still possess, but the enjoyment the team is clearly exuding on the court.
“You can see the joy. We didn’t have that last year,” Ainge said. “Even when we were playing well, we didn’t really find the happiness in playing and the joy with playing with one another.”