The basketball games can’t start soon enough.
We need something basketball related to talk about. And I’m using that corporate “we” to include the players, coaches, front office, fans, media and anyone else even remotely related to the Boston Celtics franchise.
After trading for Malcolm Brogdon and signing Danilo Gallinari, the trajectory of this team was pointed straight up and the vibes, as the kids say, were immaculate.
(Insert record scratch sound here)
First there was the constantly swirl of Kevin Durant rumors which pulled Jaylen Brown in like a black hole. Then there was Gallo’s injury. Then there was the news that Robert Williams would need surgery. Then the final Wojbomb cherry on top of the sundae was news that Ime Udoka was suspended for the year (and most likely done with the team forever).
Bad vibes man, bad vibes.
So how do we move collectively past this and get back to the joy of Celtics basketball?
Note: None of this is to diminish the very important real life impacts of the Udoka situation. All of that is far beyond the importance of basketball and should be treated as such. However, it is largely outside the lines of basketball and needs to be addressed by the team and the parties involved.
The team press conference and Media Day served as a chance for everyone to answer all the uncomfortable but relevant questions. It was a good opportunity to get the elephant in the room topic addressed and communicate the team’s position (as much as they were able to share during an ongoing investigation). But there’s a lingering shadow over the season before it even has a chance to get under way.
Ime Udoka the basketball coach was an absolute gem. He was the right mix of intelligence, poise, and authority needed to raise the standard and hold this team accountable. He was laying a foundation for success that should have been era-defining. Instead, he’s gone in the blink of an eye and rarely discussed by name anymore.
In short, the Celtics badly need more of what Udoka brought last year, without haivng Udoka around to bring it. Elevating Joe Mazzulla achieves a measure of continuity. He can keep the ball rolling in the same direction because he was part of the staff that achieved it last season. But every coach is different and he’ll have his own growing pains on the job. Ime was able to overcome those early bumps in time to steer this squad to the Finals. Will lightning strike twice for the Celtics and rookie head coaches?
The answer likely boils down to an oft repeated trope (which is nonetheless true): This team will go as far as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown take them. Or put another way, the responsibility flows down to the players, and in particular the veterans and stars.
There’s a pretty good chance that they are up for the task. Tatum, Brown, and Marcus Smart have actually gone through a number of ups and downs together in their still relatively brief careers. There were the overachieving years with Isaiah Thomas, followed by the abrupt trading away of Thomas. There was the unexpected success when Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving were hurt, followed by the team-wide implosion in 2018-19. There was even some early success in Kemba Walker’s tenure (the Bubble run) only to be followed up by more injuries and inconsistencies. The trend would indicate bad things ahead, but the hope here is that the key veterans have been through these ups and downs and have learned a thing or two about avoiding them in the future.
The bottom line is that winning cures all vibes. The pieces on the court are still in place to win a lot of games. The basketball games start on Sunday. They can’t come soon enough.