Winning championships is hard. In today’s game, it seems like the formula is to either have 3 stars or two stars and an ideal supporting cast around them. On paper (and in my heart) the hope was that the Celtics had their two stars and could put together an ideal supporting cast around them. If there’s one thing that the last two years has taught us is that probably isn’t happening.
Even though last year was a different team (in theory), eight rotation players from last year’s squad are still here, including most of the core. Even putting aside last season, we now have a pretty good sample size of what this team is. Blame injuries if you want, but even down Jaylen Brown, there’s no excuse for how this team has played lately.
I’m getting increasingly tired of hearing about this team coming out flat, not giving full effort, and not playing with pride. I don’t have a problem with Udoka saying it. The team asked to be held accountable, so that’s what he’s doing. By the way, I don’t think Udoka has been perfect either. But he’s a rookie head coach and based on his resume and recommendations, I’m very willing to give him a lot more time to figure this out.
Even when we have both stars healthy, they are far too inconsistent to be considered major threats in the East. Part of that is simply a talent problem. There are a lot of good players on this team, but not enough great ones. To make the two star system work, you almost need elite level support players. Steph and Klay work in part because they have Draymond who is an elite 3rd guy. Giannis and Middleton didn’t win a title until they added Holiday. For one thing, Tatum isn’t on that MVP level (...yet?). For another thing, I love Marcus Smart as much as anyone, but I’m not sure he’s on that Draymond/Holiday level either.
It is easier to contend with three stars because there’s more room for error. If one is having an off night (or injured for a few games) there’s still 2 others to pick up the slack. Three stars does take up a lot of the salary cap, so filling out the rest of the roster can be tricky. But as we’ve seen, if you build a contender, the vets min guys will come.
Call me crazy, but I’m still all the way bought in on Tatum and Brown. They may not yet be the best versions of themselves, but I’ve seen enough to have faith that they will be, and soon.
So great, let’s go get a third star. Easy, right? There’s the rub. I don’t think you’re going to find a third star available during the season for what the Celtics have to offer. I don’t think Dame Lillard is going anywhere and while I think Ben Simmons is going somewhere, I don’t feel like the Celtics have a competitive enough trade package to beat out other offers.
At this point I’ve moved past the urgency to make a trade to right the ship. I think they’ll certainly kick the tires on smaller deals and may even pull off a deal before the deadline. But I don’t have any high hopes that it will be for a legit star. And if that’s the case, then we’re just shuffling deckchairs and setting things up for next year.
With that in mind, I’m going to take the patient approach. I sincerely hope that we’ll use the rest of this season to evaluate the talent that we have (with a particular emphasis on developing the younger guys). Obviously Tatum and Brown need a little more experience in the role of lead dogs. So they’ll continue working on their games and developing more consistency from night to night. Every season involves some level of development and evaluation. This year just seems a little more pivotal to whatever the team does this offseason with their much ballyhooed financial flexibility.
Am I punting on this year as a fan? Not entirely. Just lowering my expectations. I tend to go into every year thinking that we could contend for a championship if all the pieces fall into place. Thus far this year most of the pieces have fallen apart. I won’t consider any season without a banner to be a “success” but I’ll be looking for smaller victories as the season progresses.*
*Please note: I reserve the right to panic, overreact, and jump on and off the bandwagon as many times as I choose to. Who knows, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised and look like an idiot a few months from now. Wouldn’t be the first time.