I have a confession: I’m a scoffer.
Not out loud, that would be rude. Not even online, that’s not the kind of poster that I want to be (most of the time). Just in my head.
Naturally I typically have pretty strong opinions about the Celtics. I hear and read about people’s opinions about the team and when they differ from mine, I have to admit, I scoff.
“Brad Stevens should be fired!” Right, and he’d be hired by someone else in exactly 2 nanoseconds.
“Danny Ainge can’t draft!” Ok, then explain Robert Williams, Payton Pritchard, Terry Rozier, and several other non-lottery first round finds.
“Trade Kemba Walker!” To whom?
I could go on, but you get the point. Here’s the thing though, I also scoffed at people calling out Kyrie Irving as the root cause of the Celtics problems in 2019. I supported him all the way till the Bucks series when everything crumbled apart one last time. (I’m not saying that he was the only problem, but he wasn’t exactly part of a solution either) I also scoffed at the idea of trading Gordon Hayward the year before his contract ran out. In short, I’ve scoffed at a lot of things that I found out later I was wrong about.
So why am I bearing my soul now? Why the sudden dining on humble pie? Well, it just occurred to me that even though I pride myself on understanding the team that I cover, I don’t really have all the answers. In fact, as the team sits at under .500 once again, I would go so far as to say that I don’t have any answers.
So let’s do a quick review of the questions that I have no answers for. As far as I’m concerned, everything is on the table and I’m not ruling anything out.
Is Danny Ainge the right GM for this team going forward?
I would like to think so, but I don’t know. I’ve liked a lot of what he’s done through the years, but there are certainly missteps along the way that make me question his decision making. Sure, he built a title team, but that was 13 years ago. Sure, he orchestrated the Nets deal that eventually landed us Tatum and Brown, but could he have done more with those picks? Is he still the right man for the job of building around Tatum and Brown? Or should the front office get some fresh perspectives?
Is Brad Stevens the right coach for this team?
Stevens is widely respected around the league, but there are now two clunker years on his resume. Again, not all his fault, but he hasn’t figured out the right way to turn things around either. Have the players tuned him out? Has he been too slow to adjust to the way the game has changed recently? Has he properly identified his players’ strengths and weaknesses and is he putting them in position to succeed? Does he know how to connect with “stars” or is he better suited to take underdog teams further than they normally would?
Is there something about Jayson Tatum’s game that limits his teammates?
Perhaps the most important job the Celtics have in the next few years would be maximizing Tatum’s potential. “Keeping him happy” is different but related. I tend to believe that if you achieve the former, the latter will take care of itself, but that’s easier said than done.
Much has been made of his shot selection, playmaking, and lack of generating free throws. Is that a product of his own style of play and/or agenda? Or is there something in the mix of players and scheme around him forcing him into making the best chicken soup from the ...ingredients provided.
Is Jaylen Brown an ideal 2nd star or a centerpiece trade chip for the ideal 2nd star?
I’m a big, big fan of Jaylen Brown for a lot of reasons. I would like to see him retire as a Celtic. However, in the spirit of putting everything on the table, I’m leaving open the option of pursuing a superstar in the offseason (Beal? KAT?) and lacking the treasure trove of picks we’ve had in the past, the team has to at least contemplate packages that include some of our favorite binkies like Brown, Marcus Smart, or Robert Williams.
What is Kemba Walker’s real value?
In an ideal world, Walker would provide the team a dynamic scoring punch while supporting Tatum and Brown. This season has been anything but ideal and I don’t know how confident we can be in the future.
Trading Walker is always an option, but at the moment he has negative value and it would require spending picks to offload him onto someone else’s books. Perhaps the stretch run and playoffs can provide him an opportunity to recover some of his trade value. Or conversely he might prove his worth as piece of the team going forward. The contract makes that awfully hard though.
How important will it be to re-sign Evan Fournier?
On one hand, the Celtics “only” gave up 2 second rounders for a guy on an expiring deal. The team can’t feel forced into overspending for him so much that it hampers the team down the line.
On the other hand, the opportunity cost of using a big part of the TPE is significant. Not to mention the collateral moves that sent away Daniel Theis. Then you consider that the team won’t have a lot of other options for adding talent once Tatum’s deal kicks in, and you find yourself in a position where the Celtics kind of need to pay Fournier (or find a way to convince him to create yet another TPE in a sign-and-trade).
The early results on his fit seem to be good, but is he the right long term solution?
Are the kids going to be just alright?
Rob Williams III might be a real difference maker, but sooner or later the Celtics will have to decide if they want to pay him or stick to the approach of inexpensive center-by-committee.
The Celtics really need two or more of the other “kids” to develop quickly. Pritchard seems like an ideal backup point. Romeo Langford has 3 and D type potential (if, you know, he can actually hit 3’s). Aaron Nesmith might be the same, except reversed. Grant Willams seems like he needs to be the 8th best player on a really good team. Luke Kornet seems fine as a 3rd string center placeholder. Can any of them exceed expectations?
Is it too late for this year?
Looking at the big picture, I think a lot of the excuses (COVID, condensed year, injuries, etc.) are valid and a lot of teams have had similar issues (to varying degrees). But this team simply hasn’t responded in a way that you would expect or hope.
It is possible that the loss of Gordon Hayward left us short-handed in a way that had trickle down effects we couldn’t overcome. Lower rotation guys were forced into larger roles than what they could handle and injuries and COVID restrictions only exacerbated the issue. Is Evan Fournier the plug to that hole that we need? Is Kemba Walker playing in every playoff game (because there shouldn’t be back-to-backs) going to help the pieces fit better? Or is all of that just a pipe dream on a ship that has already sailed past Provincetown?
Bottom line: I don’t know. So no more scoffing for me (this year).