Now that the NBA season has been on pause for over two months, a lot of the NBA world is ready to get back to action. Players want to play, coaches want to coach, scouts want to scout and front offices want to…front office? In lieu of actual basketball, the next best thing is to talk about basketball.
With that in mind, CelticsBlog reached out to several NBA executives and scouts to get their outsiders view of the Boston Celtics. The focus was especially heavy on Boston’s young core building blocks of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The responses were illuminating to get an understand of where the league sees Boston as being at now and where they still need to improve.
We’ll break it up by topics discussed. Please note: All of the comments given were under the promise of anonymity. Even in this relaxed environment, NBA personnel are very limited in what they can, and will, say on the record about another team’s players. “Thou shall not tamper” was apparently left off the Ten Commandments due to space concerns.
Overall Thoughts on the Boston Celtics as contenders
·From an Eastern Conference front office executive: “Ahead of schedule? Is that even a thing anymore? They were bad for like a year. I guess the big learning is when you own your own draft picks and someone else’s, you can rebuild pretty quick. But to be real, I think they’re very good. Maybe a year or two away from being really special. The challenge for Boston is this: When Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are good enough, will Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward still be good enough?”
·From a scout for a Western Conference team: “Whenever I see them, I think they’ve got an abundance of guys I wish we had. Not just the top guys, but they’ve got some really great role players too. It’s also important that Danny Ainge got the right veterans in there around (Jayson) Tatum and (Jaylen) Brown. Kemba (Walker) just wants to win after being on bad teams his whole career. And (Gordon) Hayward is like the perfect third or fourth guy. It’s fits his whole makeup. Then, everyone else plays a role and they’ve got perfect guys for that.”
·From a scout for an Eastern Conference team: “I see them a lot, because we’re in the same conference. I don’t see them winning a title with this group. (Kemba) Walker is slowing down. Gordon Hayward is fine, but that’s all. I like some of the kids, but it’s getting crazy with calling Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum the next great duo.”
·From a Western Conference front office executive: “I’m glad we’re on the opposite side. They’re set up really well with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Kemba Walker is the perfect fit with those guys. When they’re better playmakers, Walker can just be a spot-up guy. I bet we see late-career Kemba shoot like 45% from three, because he’ll get wide-open looks off those two.
But here’s where it gets hard for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens. Ainge has to balance how expensive they are. They could have three maxes, or basically maxes, plus Hayward on whatever his next deal is. That’s a ton of money. Ainge needs to nail his draft picks, which is hard to do in the late-20’s. And then Stevens has to keep everyone happy. That’s not easy, as we all saw last year.”
Thoughts on Jayson Tatum
·From a Western Conference front office executive: “Love him. Love everything about him. He was the top guy on our board too. It would have been (Markelle) Fultz, but we had guards. Jayson Tatum was an All-Star this year, right? It’s going to be a decade or more before we see him miss another one. The best part? He got better after the All-Star game. That tells me he really wants it.
He needs to get stronger and fill out some more. That’ll help him around the rim. It’ll also help him rebound better. And he’s just figuring out passing. I don’t think he’s ever been asked to do anything but score in his life. But those things come for young kids. Danny (Ainge) hit a grand slam with that trade and pick.”
·From a scout for an Eastern Conference team: “He’s a handful man. When he was a rookie, you could body him. It wasn’t that he didn’t like contact, but he wasn’t strong enough to handle it. Last year, you had to decide jumper or layup? This year? Forget about it. We play him to get him off his jumper, but it’s so hard. He’s just too damn big. That lift with his length means almost no one can bother that step-back shot.”
·From another scout for an Eastern Conference team: “We try to make him dribble. He’s not a great ballhandler. He’ll put his head down and get himself in trouble that way. Anything else, you’re toast. We put in some doubles and traps on him too, because he’s only just now figuring out passing. But by the end of that same game, he was reading it. He’s so big, it’s hard to bother his vision.
The other thing you can do is attack him on the other end. But he’s a really smart defender. Everyone focuses on the shots and stuff, but he might be better on defense than offense. Watch him sometime. He’s got everything you want in a defensive forward.”
·From an Eastern Conference front office executive: “He’s the best. We tried to talk trade during his rookie season and Danny (Ainge) wasn’t having it. They knew right away. I think Gordon Hayward getting hurt was the best thing for both Tatum and (Jaylen) Brown. They were able to just play. And they delivered.
What’s really impressive for me is that both of those guys took last year’s mess in stride. They didn’t pout and didn’t ask for trades. And now look? It’s their team. For a couple of guys in their early-20’s, that’s impressive. Talent is one thing; mindset is a whole other thing and they’ve both got both.”
Thoughts on Jaylen Brown
·From a scout for a Western Conference team: “I wasn’t high on Brown. I liked him, but as a good role player. He made a leap this year though. Just being able to dribble is huge. There are only so many Clyde Drexler’s and there is a reason he’s in the Hall of Fame. I think Brown also improved in a bunch of small ways, as far as understanding the game. Now, I’ve got him just behind (Jayson) Tatum.”
·From a Western Conference front office executive: “Love him too! (laughs). I can’t say we had him very high on our board. That pick seemed like a reach. Now, he (Danny Ainge) looks really smart for snagging Brown. He’s got everything you want size-wise, and his playmaking is coming. My favorite part about Brown is that he’s so damn smart. If Jayson Tatum needs to be the ‘star’, so be it. Brown will be the Robin to his Batman.”
·From an Eastern Conference front office executive: “We had an idea of throwing him a max offer sheet as a restricted free agent, if we could make the cap space happen. If nothing else, Boston would have had to match it. Danny (Ainge) did good to get him for less than the max. I think Brown is the perfect 1A guy. He can be your #1, but he doesn’t have to be. Some guys have to be, and there can only be one #1 on a team. You saw that last year in Boston. I think that’s the reason they can make it work. (Jayson) Tatum and Brown are just perfect partners.”
·From a scout for an Eastern Conference team: “Our book was to let him dribble himself into trouble. It’s crazy to think guys can get to the NBA without being able to dribble without looking at the ball, but they do. It takes a hell of a lot of talent, but some guys have it. Anyway, Brown would either turn it over or commit a foul. He was just out of control. And man did he drive Kyrie (Irving) crazy playing that way. This year, everything has slowed down for him. It’s all because of the better handle. He can see the floor now. He still needs to learn how to pass better, but that will probably come. And on defense, I’d put gum on his shoes. Then he can’t bite on every shot-fake he sees. So many stupid fouls that way.”
Thoughts on the Celtics rookies
·From a scout for an Eastern Conference team: “I think they stink. Well, that’s a little harsh. I mean they’re fine, but there isn’t anyone special in the whole bunch. (Grant) Williams is a backup role player for his whole career. That’s fine, but whatever. The Indiana kid (Romeo Langford) can’t shoot. How can you be a shooting guard if you can’t shoot? Carsen Edwards will be a G-League All-Star for years. The best of the bunch is Tremont Waters. He can play. I think he’s eventually a pretty good backup point guard. So, great. A bunch of backups. You need backups, but none of these guys are special.”
·From a Western Conference front office executive: “I like all of them, but to a point. (Romeo) Langford is fine, but will he get there with so many guys in front of him? I do like Grant Williams a lot. I think he’s much better than the other Williams (Robert Williams). He’s at least reliable. The (Carsen) Edwards pick was a waste and a miss. They should have figured out a way to move salary another way and have kept Matisse Thybulle.”
·From an Eastern Conference front office executive: “Here’s where Danny (Ainge) nailing the (Jaylen) Brown and (Jayson) Tatum picks back-to-back works against him a little. Now, everyone expects every pick he makes to be awesome. That’s not how it works. We all have misses. I think this group has some misses.
I think Romeo Langford can be good, but he’s never getting more than 15-20 minutes with the Celtics. That’s tough. I think Grant Williams is basically a finished product. He’ll improve his body some, but he’s already so smart that he understands how to play. That’s not coming much more. I’d trap him in the gym and make him shoot a thousand jumpers a day. That’s his only way to being more than a role player. I do really like Tremont Waters. He should have the roster spot over Carsen Edwards. Danny loves those little guards, man. He went 1-for-2 this year.”
·From a scout for a Western Conference team: “I told our GM to go get (Romeo) Langford. I think he’s a big-time talent who is going to get trapped. He’s never playing over (Jaylen) Brown or (Jayson) Tatum. They’ve got Gordon Hayward there too. And Marcus Smart isn’t going anywhere. That means Langford is probably trade bait. Danny Ainge will probably get a mint for him, knowing how they work.
The rest? Meh. They’re fine. None are bad. But none are special either. But look where they were all drafted. It’s hard to get special players that late. They’ll have good careers, but no All-Stars in the bunch.”
·From another Eastern Conference front office executive: “The rookies? They’re all whatever. The kid who is going to be special is Robert Williams. He had some issues in college, which caused him to drop in the draft. Then he started out poorly in the NBA. Boston took care of that and now he’s on track. It’s hard to find bigs who can do what he can athletically, but also have feel for the game. That kid is a great, I mean great, passer. He’s got a lot further to go, but he’s like a more athletic Al Horford for them, minus the shooting. I think you can run some offense through him eventually.
Also, I bet Vincent Poirier has moments next year. It was a really hard transition for him. Daniel Theis did it because Theis can shoot. Poirier is strictly a rim-runner. He was starting to figure it out a little bit when we got shut down. I bet next year, he’s the third center behind Theis and Williams and (Enes) Kanter is gone or deep on the bench.”
How do you see the Celtics future?
·From an Eastern Conference front office executive: “I don’t think anyone in the East was beating the Bucks this year, but Boston had the best chance. Has the best chance? Maybe that’s better. They’re just so hard to defend. I think Danny (Ainge) runs it back mostly intact next season. Gordon Hayward was really good and no one noticed it. He’s going to opt in, and the Celtics are fine with that. I wouldn’t be surprised if they win the conference next season.”
·From a Western Conference front office executive: “Next season. That’s the year. Both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will be All-Stars. Kemba Walker is going to have the lowest numbers of his career, but he’ll be wildly efficient. And I bet Gordon Hayward pushes for a third All-Star for Boston. I think they’re one or two players way from being a real title contender. Maybe one of the kids steps up, but I bet Danny Ainge has some plans to get them what they need.”
·From a scout for an Eastern Conference team: “They’ll be in the mix this year. It’s all going to be a mess, so who really knows? Next year, they should be even better. And some of the other teams might be worse. But I think they’re still pieces away. And, I know this is blasphemy, but how long is the leash on Brad Stevens? He’s been there a long time for a guy who hasn’t at least gotten to the Finals. That’s something to think about.”
·From another Western Conference front office executive: “Maybe they can win it this season. Hopefully this time off let Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward get right. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown should be fine. The layoff might hurt them less than most others.
If not this season, maybe next year. But then it gets really hard. Walker on a max, Tatum will be coming up to his max, Brown is basically on a max. Hayward is probably getting paid at least $20 (million). I know Danny (Ainge) says their owners are great, but that’s a lot to pay for a good, but not great team. They have to be real contenders by the end of next year, or it might be time to start looking other ways around Tatum and Brown.”