During the late 90’s WWE when Dwayne’ The Rock’ Johnson was at the height of his wrestling career, he used to enter the stadium to his “know your role” theme music. As we approach the new NBA season, Danny Ainge should give The Rock a quick call to inquire about obtaining that track’s rights so that a not-so-subtle reminder can ring out before every home game.
Brad Stevens echoed this sentiment in a recent press conference. “Your role is what you need to do to add value to winning when you’re in the game. It’s not whether you’re starting, whether you’re coming off the bench. It’s your job when you’re in the game.”
It’s been a while since we’ve heard the Celtics coach talk about players fulfilling their role. Usually, Stevens errs on the side of positionless basketball and fluidity in play. That was then. Gordon Hayward leaving Boston and the influx of even more youth has forced Boston into rethinking their approach.
Young minds crave structure. Consider the first, second, and third-year players as Bane from Batman, reborn in this hierarchical system, molded by it. By the time the young’uns taste autonomy, they will already be men.
Placing raw talent into defined roles with precise instructions isn’t new or groundbreaking. Coaches like Greg Popovich and teams such as the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat have continually developed high-end talent by gradually refining their players, away from the spotlight. Otherwise, it becomes blinding. Not all players are destined to be multi-faceted superstars.
Previously, Stevens had faced limitations that negated the impact a hierarchy can bring, either due to too little talent or too much. The only time in the coach’s tenure where you can pinpoint defined roles is during the Isaiah Thomas years, and even then, the Celtics found themselves classed as an overachieving team amid a rebuild.
Regardless, those Thomas years were some of the most successful and memorable of Stevens’ tenure so far. If the Celtics coach can replicate that success with an improved offensive system, Celtics fans are in for a fantastic year.
That said, the Celtics aren’t a rebuilding team anymore. Having resident All-Stars in Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker has seen to that. Factoring in another season of growth for Jaylen Brown and the veteran leadership that Marcus Smart and Tristan Thompson will bring, this Celtics team could do some real damage once a structure is in place.
What are the benefits, you ask?
Imagine the Celtics, embroiled in a close-fought battle. In recent seasons there’s been no telling who will end up with the ball down the stretch. Now though, with each player knowing their role, there will be no second-guessing, no unnecessary extra pass to appease a star player. Instead, the ball will find the team’s most deadly option, and if that option is locked down, the ball will find the second in command.
Herein lay the problem with the egalitarian offense of seasons past. A player who hadn’t touched the ball in three or four minutes could end up with the rock in his hand, tasked with hitting a game-winning shot despite being cold; that’s a boatload of pressure for anyone - even certified killers.
For too long, Boston has been a team primarily comprised of role players operating without a role. Now is the time for that to change, especially if we want to see Tatum and Brown continue to evolve along with their younger counterparts on the Celtics bench.
Luckily, in Tristan Thompson, the Celtics have a veteran presence who will have no issues holding players accountable when they step outside their role to the team’s detriment.
“We’ve got to hold each other accountable each and every day, whether it’s in practice or in a game. I think we are the ones that have to push each other and challenge each other because we’re going to go as far as we push each other. And I think we need to hold each other accountable, and I think they understand that, and they want to take that next step.”
For now, the Celtics need to focus on defining their roles and operating to the best of their ability within that structure’s confines. Once the players develop an understanding and buy-in to the accountability Thompson is speaking of, we will see this roster’s true colors.
After incorporating additional shooting via the draft and improving the veteran presence on the roster via free agency and Evan Turner’s backroom acquisition, all that’s left is for every roster member to know their role within the system. Otherwise, those who don’t conform may well end up smelling what The Rock is cooking.