The offseason always starts with an airing of grievances. Let’s start here. I have a lot of problems with the New York Times’ coverage of the Boston Celtics. The story revisits a lot of narratives about the Celtics that I was sure we had moved past.
There are two types of Boston sports fans: those who yell about firing or trading everyone after any loss — and those who, in a quieter voice, call for firing or trading everyone after any loss.
This isn’t a grave offense, but it’s missing out on blaming the great boogeymen that Boston’s Angry Radio Men love to scapegoat: the “green-teamers.” These are the people who say the team can do no wrong and that losing is fine as long as everybody has a good time. Do these people really exist? Probably not, just like not everybody is calling for everybody to be fired and traded. Also, I’m pretty sure he was just partially joking about Boston rabid fans, so let’s move on.
You cannot help but wonder whether they have enough to get over the hump. For years, Danny Ainge, the president of the Celtics, has resisted trading players or picks for stars like Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Anthony Davis; the trade with Cleveland for Irving in 2017 was a notable exception.
There are two things I take issue with here. First, I don’t like the framing of “Danny Ainge never trades for stars except for when he does.” Is it me, or are only the Celtics held to this standard? When Sam Hinkie’s 76ers accumulated picks and prospects it was called “The Process.” When Danny Ainge does it, it’s hoarding.
Second, Jayson Tatum is as good as at least two of the three players mentioned there. Trading him and other assets for Paul George or Jimmy Butler would mean the Celtics came out behind. Packaging everything for Anthony Davis could have been catastrophic.
The Celtics have not won a title since 2008. At what point does a rebuilding team become rebuilt? And will it be strong enough to withstand the returns of several top opposing players who have been injured, including Irving and Kevin Durant for the Nets — another obstacle in Boston’s way?
To answer the first question, Jaylen Brown was drafted in 2016 and Jayson Tatum was drafted in 2017. Our best player is 22-years-old and has played three seasons of professional basketball. You do the math.
As for the second question, I don’t know, but here’s what I do know: the Celtics are solidly in the top four teams in league right now. Tatum (age 22) is about to get a maximum extension that runs out when Kevin Durant (age 32) is in a nursing home.
This off-season is crucial for Ainge. After this draft, he won’t have the treasure chest of picks he has typically accumulated. He can either pick around the edges and hope the young players improve enough to get to the finals or he can cash in some chips and hope to acquire more top-level talent.
I just like how Ainge running out of draft picks is potentially a bad thing when having a ton of picks has also been described as bad.
There is also the question of what the Celtics should do about Gordon Hayward. He has a player option for next year that is slated to be roughly $34 million. Hayward, 30, had a good season, averaging 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists on 50 percent shooting from the field, looking fully recovered from his horrific 2017 leg injury. But he struggled against the Heat after returning from a serious ankle sprain he sustained in the first round against Philadelphia. (He missed the birth of his son to stay with the team for the series, so hopefully Boston fans — known for being rational — cut him a break.)
Hayward is unlikely to get that much money from any other team this off-season, or ever again, given his age and the recent playoff performance. However, even if he stays, it’s an open question whether he fits with the Celtics going forward.
To be fair, this article isn’t the only one driving me insane in the Hayward discourse. Everybody is driving me insane.
No, it is not a question whether or not he fits with the Celtics. He fits. Hayward played in 52 regular season games this season and was in the starting lineup for all of them. The Celtics easily had one of the best starting lineups this season, as would be expected of one of the four best teams. Hayward has accepted every role the Celtics have given him since signing with Boston.
He started as a wingman to Kyrie Irving and was later relegated to the bench after a slow return from the first ankle injury. Since then, he’s been completely usurped on the pecking order by Jayson Tatum (reminder: he’s 22) and potentially Jaylen Brown. The Celtics traded Terry Rozier for Kemba Walker (conveniently excluded from all “Danny Ainge never trades for stars” discourse) to make every piece fit more snugly than before.
Hayward is seemingly an odd fit because he didn’t surface in any of the videos that surfaced of his teammates wrestling, swimming, and playing volleyball on Disney’s campus. His social media posts are indistinguishable from corporations posting bland advertisements of mixed race couples posing with their children in front of a new car.
But on the court, he fits. Financially, the Celtics are capped out. So, he probably opts in now and the Celtics pitch him on a team-friendly deal later. Or they don’t. But for now, he fits.
Deb’s article credits the Celtics for being a great young team with the necessary ingredients for success while correctly pointing out how their bench wasn’t good enough. I didn’t ignore any of that, but I’m also unsure of how any of these points limit Boston’s future ceiling.
The Denver Nuggets got as far as the Celtics did with a young roster and only one player older than 30. Is their ceiling low? Are they doomed when the Warriors bring back Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson next year? If the Warriors are healthy, does it jeopardize Denver’s entire future? Because if Boston is limited, then so is Denver, but I don’t hear anyone questioning their direction or growth.
Boston has a strong group of rookies to help them grow. The five-month pandemic break basically gave them an off-season to improve, which could explain why Grant Williams looked more like a second-year player already and Robert Williams shined in his limited minutes. As is tradition, they also have three first round picks in the upcoming draft. Jayson Tatum just made an All-NBA team in his third season and Marcus Smart made First Team All-Defense. Jaylen Brown (borderline All-Star) and Kemba Walker (All-Star starter) are signed for the foreseeable future. By every possible measure, the Celtics’ ceiling fits the profile of a contender. For now and for later.