Celtics fans are lucky. It’s early August, the deadest of dead times in the NBA, and yet, we have basketball. With Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Kemba Walker competing for a spot to represent USA Basketball in next month’s FIBA World Cup, we’re getting a small glimpse into what next season might hold.
In a wide-ranging interview with NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Forsberg, a visiting Brad Stevens (when is Coach going to join the staff of USA Basketball anyway?) offered some insight into last season, the Celtics involvement with Team USA, and what to look forward to in the fall. Here’s my attempt to read between the lines:
On having four Celtics in USA Basketball’s training camp: “The opportunity to play in a structured system, to be accountable for doing a job on offense and defense, to have to learn how to play together quickly, this is a great opportunity for all these guys.”
Stevens used the word “structure” a few times during the interview and I can’t help but think that Boston will look more Spurs-like going forward. He’s had successes (Isaiah Thomas) and failures (Kyrie Irving) catering to superstars, but I’d expect a more democratic approach in 2019-2020. Fans will want to see Tatum and Brown make a developmental leap and even an All-Star appearance or Gordon Hayward regain his game from Utah or Kemba Walker do well in green, but I think we’ll see more of a “structured” system in place.
On last year’s drama and looking forward: “On the outside because there’s not much to talk about for two months in the summer, that’s kind of been a consistent story. In the inside, we moved on passed it a long time ago. It’s been a great vibe in our building. We have a great group of workers.”
Leave it to Stevens to cut to the chase. It’s hard to ignore the narrative that’s been hanging over the franchise since the end of last season. The players have acknowledged it. Brown said, “I don’t think it can get any worse than last year.” In so many words, Stevens points out the elephant in the room, too. Next season, instead of having a veteran-rich team, Boston will lean heavily into their youth movement. They’ll still rely on guys like Walker and Hayward, but it’s no secret that for Boston to bounce back from last year’s disaster, the core group repping the red, white, and blue this summer need to prove they’re foundational pieces for a franchise bringing in nine rookies next season.
On the Celtics’ center situation: “That center position for us is going to be...each of those guys brings a unique versatility to it and we’re going to lean on all of them. That’ll be a fun group because it’s not like maybe we’ve had in the past where we’ve got a guy like Horford who we played through at the three point line so much. We’ve got to play through other guys in different ways.”
Losing Al Horford was bigger than Irving’s 180°. In his place, Danny Ainge retained Daniel Theis and Robert Williams, signed Enes Kanter and Vincent Poirier, and took a flyer on 7’7 Tacko Fall. None of them can really replicate what Horford brought to the table on both ends of the floor and I thought it was really telling that Stevens said that the Celtics will have to figure out different ways to initiate the offense without Big Al. That could mean more pick-and-roll and guard play from Kemba and/or more playmaking responsibilities from Hayward, Tatum, and Smart.