There’s a wise old adage in sports that goes “it isn’t smart to make changes just for change’s sake.” So, you would be correct in questioning my intelligence as I suggest that the Celtics really need to make changes for change’s sake.
Let’s step way back to look at the big picture. Does this team seem good enough to make a run in the 2nd half of the season and establish themselves as contenders for the title? Let’s be polite and answer that with a “not very likely.” Is there a move or set of moves that Brad Stevens can accomplish by Feb. 10th that would vault them into that discussion? I would argue that it would take adding a 3rd star to make that a realistic scenario and the odds of landing a guy like that mid-season seem slim.
So let’s continue the train of logical questions. What is the most likely way for this team to achieve their ultimate goal of a championship? I would argue that maximizing Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown is the first, second, and third through 10th most important goal. Some of that requires continual growth on their part. The rest involves putting the right pieces around them and providing them with the right coaching.
Humor me for one more question: does it seem like this current roster mix is maximizing the Jays? The results thus far would indicate the answer is no. Ergo, there are changes that need to be made.
Granted, not all change is good. Bad trades can set a team back years. Short sighted trades can provide marginal benefits in the immediate and create a cascade of issues in the future. On the flipside though, some deals look like a step back in the present, but have long term benefits. And then, of course, there are your garden variety “shuffling the deck chairs” trades that are somewhat net neutral (but may end up being good in the long term).
We’ve already heard from multiple sources that the Celtics are committed to building around Jayson and Jaylen (and they have a lot of love for Robert Williams III). So, you can pretty much rule out a blockbuster “break up” trade. Everyone else, however, is on the table on some level.
It would be hard to imagine a trade package made up from players in that “everyone else” group returning a significant difference maker that vaults this team forward. However, based on the struggles this team has faced this year, I would suggest that some kind of change is necessary. Said another way, if you are focused on building around the Jays (and I think that is the right plan) then you have to keep tinkering with the fit until you find something that works.
The counter to my argument is that the building blocks are in place already. The young players just need to develop into their roles. Furthermore, continuity and familiarity will breed better chemistry over time. My response to this line of thinking is to point out that bad habits can develop just as easily as good ones. A couple of young, developing players are always necessary, but this squad has at least four of them and isn’t really playing them enough to develop them properly (nor is there enough time for legit practices).
Danny Ainge did a whole lot of things right in his years as the GM. But if I have a quibble or two, it would be around the way he held onto draft assets too long and failed to consolidate them into difference-making players. Thus far, Brad Stevens has shown at least a willingness to pull the trigger when it becomes obvious that change is necessary. He moved on quickly from Kemba Walker and he’s already made a cash cutting move with the Juancho Hernangomez deal.
Here’s hoping he follows that up with a move that changes the dynamic of this team in the short term and puts them in position to make further progress in the long term. Not an easy task, but I think it is possible to thread that needle. The alternative is to keep doing the same thing and hoping for a different result. I believe Einstein had something to say about that. (Update: Nope, apparently he never said that quote and I feel dumb using it for about the 40th time on this blog. So I refer you back to the first paragraph of this post while I go rethink my whole life.)