Boston Might Already Have the Superstars They’re Chasing
Danny Ainge started this version of the Boston Celtics with one of the most lopsided trades in sports history. He sent aging stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets for like a gazillion first-round picks. Over the last few years, Ainge has hired former wunderkind Brad Stevens and turned those picks, plus his own, into Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier. Finally, he held the remaining assets waiting for the right moment to strike on the most prominent names in basketball. He hoped to thrust the Celtics back into title contention quickly. In the end, Ainge may have been holding out for what he already had.
Ainge drafted two very talented players in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Moreover, both have shown flashes of superstar talent since entering the league. They combined to vault the Celtics into contenders despite the superstar duo of Kyrie Irving, and Gordon Hayward injured most of the year and the entire playoff run. Al Horford and a bunch of young talented players rolled to the eastern conference finals. The chemistry of the veteran big-man and the young stars seemed to gel throughout those 2017 playoffs. With Tatum playing the role of Batman in addition to Brown’s Robin the Celtics pushed LeBron’s Cavs to seven games before bowing out. At this point, the media touted Ainge for the moves he made to align this supremely talented group of players. The team looked poised to be the class of the eastern conference.
Then came 2018
Boston now had two blossoming stars in Jayson Taytum and Jaylen Brown. Additionally, the team that seemed to find itself and roll to the eastern conference finals was adding a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. LeBron had moved on to live the Hollywood life in LA. They were ready to roll the eastern conference with only a young Sixers squad a legit threat to take the now-vacated throne. Then Kyrie happened, the player and the person began to eat away at the chemistry they delicately built over the previous season. Then Gordon Hayward was not Gordon Hayward, but could he be expected to be after that injury. Two core pieces come back, and the Celtics take a step back, what the heck happened?
The Kyrie Effect
What happened was Kyrie Irving becoming the focal point of the offense again and stagnating, if not regressing, the growth of both Tatum and Brown. Coach Steven’s success as a head coach has been elevating the play of role players and borderline stars within his system. The problem, Kyrie Irving has never really played system basketball(even before LBJ). Kyrie has been known to hold a dribble and create a play for himself before working within the system. With LeBron James at the helm in Cleveland that worked. Those two players freelanced based on game flow and had veterans in place that made it possible. Kyrie thrived in the Cavs isolation style.
Coach Steven’s system must dictate the flow of the offense to create success. Kyrie’s ball dominating game works against Steven’s system creating inconsistency within the offensive flow. Add in Irving’s detached personality and desire to be the man. All that chemistry built the season before, gone. Kyrie Irving’s greatest strength, isolation basketball, conflicts with the motion, team concept Steven’s uses to escalate play. Getting Kyrie his shots and adding more isolation play further bogged down the offense. In the end, you have a team that is fighting itself as much as the opponents every night.
I understand that every system needs a focal point and the Tatum/Brown combo must be the focal point for this Celtic’s team to grow in addition to the Kemba Walker signing. Kemba is coachable, and a better leader than Kyrie can ever be. While Kemba’s usage last year lead to career numbers, he can produce regardless. His advanced stats prove this over the last four years.
Ainge must unquestionably allow his picks to grow into the talent they possess. Furthermore, Tatum and Brown must understand that now is their chance to take center stage. The Kyrie experiment failed, he’s a Brooklyn Net, good luck to the Nets. Gordon Hayward may or may not ever be what he once was, or Ainge could trade him for additional cap space. In the end, this team’s success comes down to the talent Ainge has amassed finally being given a chance to take ownership of this teams future. In my opinion, letting Tatum and Brown develop is how Boston acquires the superstars they crave to add more banners in the rafters of TD Garden.