It appears that a certain four-leaf clover of a franchise has lost one of its leaves. In a whimper, the Celtics have been tailspinning for weeks upon weeks without one actor to pin the blame on. How on God’s Celtic-green earth did we get here?
This current Celtics gang is first and foremost a victim of its own success. Guru of the X’s and mastermind of the O’s, post-timeout play-calling wizard Brad Stevens has notably led a threadbare squad of spare parts and tempered expectations to win totals in the regular season that consistently equate to a sum greater than the collection of its individual parts.
Most players who have since departed have notably fallen off the deepest of cliffs since departing the C’s: Avery Bradley went from a second banana to trade filler, Jae Crowder from analytics 3-and-D stud to a bench piece and perhaps most notably, Isaiah Thomas went from superstar to sixth man. They were three of the five best Celtics players during the 2016–2017 season that made the Conference Finals. Now, they’re fodder with green tints.
Their 2014–2015 team shouldn’t have been anywhere within sniffing distance of the postseason, but Isaiah Thomas joined the squad midseason, went bonkers and pioneered the young cadre to the seventh seed. For 2015–2016, there were no major offseason additions (Amir Johnson doesn’t count), but Stevens and the crew secured home court in the first round in a season where Thomas became an all-star and Crowder produced a stunning 7.3 win shares. For 2016–2017 they splurged, breaking the bank for, at the time, slightly above-average Al Horford and used the Nets trade siege to select Jaylen Brown. With Al, Brown, IT, Crowder, Bradley, Johnson, Mahr-cus Smaht (non-Boston translation: Marcus Smart), Kelly “Game 7” Olynyk and not-yet scary Terry Rozier, they outlasted a wall of a Wizards side in seven to reach the conference finals before getting absolutely obliterated by the then-reigning champions and yet-to-be-humbled Cleveland Cavaliers.
The 2017–2018 season presented an interesting intersection. Jazzy signing Gordon Hayward didn’t last a half, and Kyrie Irving’s knee gave out for the playoffs, leading to a lack of a single “face” of the franchise for a postseason run. Would Stevens’s crafty play-calling garner the majority of the attention? Or would it be young phenom Jayson Tatum? Or wily veteran Al Horford, chasing his first ring? The faceless team was but one Lebron James master class away from the NBA finals.
On top of the three possibilities floated in the previous paragraph (and all certainly had merit), Irving and Hayward returned for the 2018–2019 season. Who should top the clover-filled pyramid in this emerging power vacuum? Maybe Irving for sheer star-power, perhaps Tatum because of his ascendency, conceivably Al or Hayward because of the size of their contracts or possibly even coach Stevens for the sake of continuity. The clear answer here is Irving, but picking one creates a clear and obvious cleavage that only leads to animosity. If the franchise unabashedly chooses Irving, the Lebron effect commences, where everyone else on the roster fears they could be heaped in a potential Anthony Davis exchange.
Choose wisely, Sir Ainge.