Over his first six seasons as the head coach of the Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens has himself as one of the NBA’s elite. Stevens spent his first five seasons elevating the abilities of mediocre talent.
It all started in 2013 when Stevens took over for Doc Rivers in the first season of the post-Big Three Era in Boston. The Boston Celtics were projected to win below 20 games in Stevens’ first season. The Celtics scrapped their way to 25 wins that year. Over achievement took Boston out of the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes in the 2014 NBA Draft. Which didn’t end up hurting the Celtics in any way, shape or form.
Over the next three seasons, Boston made the playoffs. The first two playoff runs came to abrupt ends in the first round. The group had its breakthrough in 2017, led by a story book run by Isaiah Thomas. The Celtics found themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals. Stevens helped Thomas become a budding superstar after years of being a career sixth man. After getting dismantled by the Cleveland Cavaliers that year, Danny Ainge decided it was time for a change. Ainge realized the Celtics needed elite talent to become true title contenders. Boston signed Gordon Hayward, traded for Kyrie Irving and drafted Jayson Tatum in the following offseason.
Boston entered 2018 with hopes of dethroning LeBron James atop the Eastern Conference. Six months later, Boston entered the playoffs, back in their status quo role as underdogs. After season-ending injuries to both Irving and Hayward, playoff hopes looked bleak. Led by expert coaching and young talents, the Celtics were only minutes away from an NBA Finals berth.
The Celtics came into this season with expectations of grandeur. James left the East for the Los Angeles Lakers, opening up a spot on top of the conference. Tatum and Jaylen Brown were another year older, with a deep playoff run under their belt. The returns of Irving and Hayward were imminent. Boston entered the year with rekindled title aspirations.
A Brad Stevens’ team is once again defying the expectations set upon them
The Celtics entered the season as the favorites in the conference. Despite being the most talented and the deepest team in the conference, Boston has yet to show it. 64 games into the season the Celtics find themselves only 12 games over .500. They are looking at a whopping 10.5-game deficit behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 1 seed. If the playoffs started today, Boston won’t be hosting a first round series. Boston is ways away from where they hoped to be.
You can point to a plethora of issues for the Celtics this season.
Charles Barkley took heat on opening night for predicting the Celtics would struggle. His reasoning, was the Celtics have too much talent and therefore too many mouths to feed. In a rare occurrence, the Round Mound of Rebound was 100 percent correct.
There has been an obvious disconnect between Boston’s veterans and youth all season. Both sides are contributing to the problem so it is isn’t a finger pointing issue from the fans.
The youth have yet to take the expected next step in their development.
Brown struggled with his confidence early in the year. He allowed his offensive woes to impact his defensive effort. His lack of effort on the defensive end of the floor frustrated veteran teammates. He possesses a defensive prowess that few on this team have but he chooses not show it on a nightly basis.
Tatum is the most consistent and productive of the young players. His issue is his love affair with his mid-range game. Mid-range jumpers divert from the Celtics’ core offensive philosophies. Inefficient, early mid-range jumpers has killed the Celtics offensive flow all season. Tatum is the most responsible for this flaw.
Terry Rozier’s decline from a starting caliber point guard in May to a below average backup is baffling. In the playoffs, Rozier showed all the tools needed to be a good lead guard in the NBA. This season, he has been the Celtics most disappointing player. He can’t buy a bucket on most nights. Only averaging a point more per game in the biggest role he’s played in his career. Most nights, he is more concerned with his shot count than he is with running the offense. Rozier peaked during last off season, this off season, not so much. Scary Terry’s been terrifying for the Celtics. In a bad way.
The struggles from the youth on this team have been evident all season. It’s the result of inflated egos entering the season. Inflated egos have become struggles with confidence throughout the year. As the kids learn their place in the NBA, they need veterans to lean on in the locker room. This hasn’t been the case in the Celtics locker room. Tatum, Brown and Rozier have found themselves thrown under the bus by the veterans. Specifically from Irving and Marcus Morris.
No help from veterans at times
Lets face it, the kids have had their issues adjusting to high expectations this season. The veterans haven’t handled things much better if we’re being honest.
Despite flashes of promise, Hayward is still not showing the consistency of a player who possesses any confidence. Hayward plays heavy minutes on a nightly basis despite not deserving them at all. Hayward still hasn’t found any speed and burst on his drives to the basket. His jumpers aren’t falling either. On most nights, he is a zero on the floor. A $30 million zero. Stevens’ insistence on playing Hayward 30 minutes a night is frustrating when he is giving you nothing.
While he is playing much better basketball as of late, Al Horford’s been a step slower for a large part of this season. He’s been dealing with a knee injury all season. His decline in quickness and burst has affected the Celtics ability to run and defend the pick and roll. Horford’s been the stable member of the roster on and off the court, which is huge for the Celtics. Horford makes a huge impact on some games but goes missing for stretches at times. He needs to get rested and healthy.
When every other Celtic not named Kyrie Irving struggled to remove the seal from the basket, Morris stepped up. Morris also took the defensive responsibility of guarding the opponents best player. Morris was the Celtics’ most consistent player early in the year. He earned himself a spot in the starting lineup. Over the past few weeks, Morris has been horrible, shooting below 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from three. A cold streak is understandable, the issue with Morris is; HE KEEPS SHOOTING THE BASKETBALL. The Celtics have one wing who is afraid of shooting the ball and another who can’t stop shooting. I get having balance but holy crap.
Irving doing the Celtics no good right now
Of course, there is Kyrie Irving, who has done the Celtics no favors over the past month or two. Ever since the road trip to New York in which he discussed his pending free agency. Irving has been insufferable. Irving is fighting a one-sided fight against the media that no one asked for or cares about. On the floor, his efforts have been inconsistent lately. His turnover rates soared the past few games and his defensive efforts dropped.
He is showing every sign of a player who has one foot out of the door and is looking toward his July 1 decision. Irving’s free agency and disengagement from his teammates has had an obvious effect on this team. A guy who left LeBron so he can become a leader has shown no signs of actually taking on that responsibility.
The issues with the Celtics do not exclude the coach. Every time Brad Stevens walks into the locker room, he looks at a dumpster fire. He’s shown little to no interest in switching up anything that would help the team in anyway.
Stevens’ magic not there anymore
Many questioned how Stevens would handle a locker room full of egos when things turned bad. They were right to do so. Stevens is not connecting to these guys at all in the locker room. He’s coached teams willing to go to war on a nightly basis in years past. So he’s only had to focus on the x’s and o’s of the game up to this point. This season is different.
Not only is Stevens struggling from a locker room perspective, he is struggling on the floor too. Boston’s missed his in-game brilliance this season. The Celtics have struggled with running efficient offensive sets and there lineup rotations all year.
For much of this season, the Celtics offense has looked identical on every play. It is either swing the ball around the perimeter and take a three or four guys watch one go in isolation. It is a frustrating, annoying way to watch basketball.
Stevens’ identity has always been his ability to get the best out of his players, and expose the weaknesses of opponents. Going into last season, the Celtics offense was set to be a beautiful ensemble of ball movement. We can all remember the offense in the preseason that got the juices flowing.
Since Horford has been a Celtic, Boston’s thrived with Al as the ball handler in the high screen and roll. This has been non existent in the Celtics offense this season. Boston has a big and two wings that can be the ball handler in the screen and roll to catch defenses off guard. Horford, Tatum and Hayward can all handle the ball with Irving as the screener, the offense would be scary. The offense thrived with this when Thomas was here. Somehow, Stevens has refused to go back to it.
Lineup changes need to be made. There’s no reason that Brown shouldn’t be back in the Celtics starting lineup. The improvement and effort he has shown over the past few months lines up with the struggles of Morris. It’s not like making the move would hurt the bench, it already sucks. The move is best for Brown’s confidence and can give Morris a much needed kick in the ass.
The season starts in the playoffs, as we’ve heard from the thousand times Kyrie’s said it over the past two weeks. The Celtics have a month and a half to find an identity. This road trip against elite competition might be Boston’s last opportunity to right the ship and regain some faith in one another going into the playoffs. Its unlikely because this team blows right now.
The rest of the regular season and Boston’s playoff run will define what the future of the Celtics looks like. Do they establish themselves as title contenders for years to come? Do they enter into an unexpected detour into a continued rebuilding phase? Time will tell.
What Brad Stevens does next should define what the future of Brad Stevens entails.
PS: Marcus Smart gets no blame. We all love you Marcus.