Welcome to Boston.com’s Sports Q, our daily conversation, initiated by you and moderated by Chad Finn, about a compelling topic in Boston sports. Here’s how it works: You submit questions to Chad through Twitter, Facebook, and email. He’ll pick one each weekday to answer, then we’ll take the discussion to the comments. Chad will stop by several times per day to navigate. But you drive the conversation.
With Jaylen Brown done for the year, it’s reasonable to start looking ahead to next year, right? There have to be changes. What’s the one – you only get one – that you would like to see the Celtics make? I think they need a new coach. – Aaron F.
Well, before anything else, I’d find out who is sticking pins in a voodoo doll of just about every player on the roster and try to make peace. The biggest issue – not the only issue by any means, but the biggest – has been a lack of continuity. NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Forsberg tweeted a complete list of the team’s injuries and games missed the other night after news of the Brown injury broke, and it’s just ridiculous.
🚑 2020-21 Celtics in a snapshot ⤵️
183 games missed. Add 4 more for Jaylen Brown. Maybe more for Rob.
And now it’s guaranteed: Zero games played with their top 7 available the entire season. pic.twitter.com/fbC5NgsV92
— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) May 11, 2021
Their best seven players never played a minute together. Kemba Walker would score 32 points one night and not be there the next night. COVID-19 affected Jayson Tatum, Evan Fournier, Robert Williams, Tristan Thompson, and Romeo Langford this season. Tatum, Brown, Smart, and Williams were among those that missed significant injury time. I would have liked to see what they would have looked like with their full team together, but they never had it.
But there are issues beyond health. They just don’t play the way their coach wants often enough. Tatum, Brown and Walker too often played my-turn basketball. The supporting cast didn’t hit enough open shots. Marcus Smart made bad decisions despite good intentions. They began way too many games in a state of lethargy.
Some of it doesn’t reflect well on Brad Stevens, and I’d be really interested to hear people who say he’s an elite coach, like Jeff Van Gundy on WEEI Monday, explain the details of why his peers see him that way. Because while some of his achievements are overlooked – the Celtics, after losing Al Horford and Kyrie Irving, weren’t projected by anyone to reach the East Finals last season – it’s been awhile since it’s been obvious to the regular fan why he is so well-respected.
Much of it doesn’t reflect well on the players, either. The slow starts are inexcusable. So are the bad shots. Tatum is a wonderful offensive player who has improved all around, but he has that young Kobe Bryant flaw of believing the best way for the team to get going is for him to force his own offense. He must become a better passer. Brown keeps getting better and better, but he plays with his head down too much and needs to be better at sharing the ball. Some of the kids can make open shots; Payton Pritchard has been solid from Day 1, and if you don’t like Aaron Nesmith, you’ve stopped watching. They need to be a bigger part of things next season. Nesmith should play 30 minutes a game now, minimum, in Brown’s absence.
As annoying as they’ve been this season, I don’t think they should do anything drastic. Trading Tatum and Brown would be foolish; the growing pains are frustrating, but improvement and maturity aren’t linear. They’re excellent players who are trending the right way and at least seem to care about the right things.
With a new contract, Stevens isn’t going anywhere anyway unless it’s his own decision. Firing Ainge would be outright stupid. You don’t hear complaints about his drafting anymore, and they were misguided anyway. Most gripes about his decisions are with the retrospect of hindsight. No one wanted Terry Rozier, who played selfishly his last season here, over Kemba Walker. When Kyrie Irving quit on them two years ago, it screwed up the best-laid plans, and losing Al Horford and Gordon Hayward – the former surprisingly — only exacerbated that. It’s a tribute to Ainge that they have as much talent as they do.
I’m a member of the Marcus Smart appreciation society, but I’d be open to trading him. It’s going to be tough to re-sign him, he’s a respected player around the league, and I wonder if he’s regressing just a little. He’s had some significant injuries, and wasn’t the same player defensively this season. And seven years into it, he’s still too distracted by the officials. Same for Tatum.
If Ainge could find a taker for Walker that paid 90 percent in return value, he’d be the frontrunner for executive of the year. He still has his electric moments offensively, but the inability to play back to back has killed continuity. It’s hard to fathom that he’ll be fully healthy ever again.
To answer the question, the one thing I want them to do? Get healthy, and run it back. If they’re like this next season, in presumably a more normal year, then it will be time for changes. But not yet.
But what does everyone else think? What’s the one thing you want the Celtics to do this offseason? I’ll hear you in the comments.
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