Last season the Boston Celtics played and succeeded without their two marquee players, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, and nearly made it to the NBA Finals behind the steady play of Al Horford and surprise breakthrough of youngsters Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier.
This year, health permitting, Boston will have the entire band back together for a run in the weakened Eastern Conference. The Celtics’ impressive roster has led many to assume that they have a leg up on the field, with the 76ers and Raptors being the only teams standing between Boston and a date with Golden State. Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver dig deeper into this notion and consider how the Celtics will keep their stars happy throughout the season.
Ben Golliver: Can I throw you a Barkley take? He said Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum aren’t just going to get out of the way for guys like Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward who are coming back healthy. He thinks that there are going to be some tussles for shots and touches and that kind of stuff in Boston, and that Brad Stevens has a tougher job with the Celtics next season that most people understand and that he’s not ready to sort of crown the Celtics as the early favorites in the East. He likes the Raptors as potentially a team that could knock off the Celtics.
What do you think about that whole line of thinking? Is there truth to this idea that there’s only one basketball for Boston and not everybody’s going to be happy with how the distribution breaks out next season?
Andrew Sharp: I definitely don’t buy that, and we sort of did this with the Rockets a year ago. There was some real traction and I might have even said it, worrying about Chris Paul and James Harden. I don’t remember saying it, but who knows? The Boston thing, man. I’ve just watched them be so good in so many different ways that I find it really hard to believe that now that they finally have real superstars and real talent that Brad Stevens is going to struggle to clear that hurdle.
I understand the people who say that managing egos and keeping everybody happy is it’s own kind of riddle that every coach of a great team has to deal with. But we’ve seen Brad Stevens excel is every other conceivable way, and so I just have a hard time believing he’s going to go into next year and get halfway through and the Celtics are going to be a mess. That’s a bridge too far. I’ve been a Celtics hater through and through for years now, but they are going to be awesome next year. I would be surprised if they win fewer than 60 games.
Golliver: I feel like there’s a greater likelihood that everybody dubs them the East superteam than sort of this blowup potential. I think having the media completely eating out of your hand helps here, because if Kyrie cuts back his offense and distributes a little bit more we’re going to get 1,000 columns about how Kyrie is actually the most valuable, ‘Look at how he’s doing less and it’s paying off more for Tatum and Brown.’
There’s that angle, and I also think that even though Tatum loves the moment, loves taking the big shots staring down LeBron in the playoffs and all that, I don’t view him as a fundamentally selfish or me-first type of guy at all. He’s sort of the guy where we don’t know what his ceiling could be. His ramp-up could be absolutely huge. If he was solely focused on maximizing himself as an offensive player that would kind of screw up what they’re trying to do there. I just don’t think he’s that type of guy and I think that winds up really making Brad Stevens’s life easier than maybe Barkley or other skeptics might be expecting.
Sharp: And the only thing I’d add to qualify what I’m saying… I think there is some truth to what Barkley is saying long-term. Those problems are just not going to be relevant next season, I don’t think. But I think long-term you look at the roster construction there and wonder where Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum want to go and where the Celtics want to spend money and it’s clear that something has to give the following summer, and that Boston is going to have to choose between one of those wings, between Kyrie, how much they pay Horford. There’s going to be some really interesting choices up there eventually, but it’s not going to be a problem on the court next year.
The thing I’m most curious about is how committed they will be to Jaylen Brown going forward, because there are definitely people up there who are diehard Jaylen believers and then there are people who are more like me. If you asked me which one of those Celtics seems like sort of a system player, Jaylen would be my pick and he might be the guy you want to sell high on, but they’ve shown no inclination to want to do that so far.
Golliver: I don’t think you have to be in a rush to do that. The discussion should wait until at least next summer. Can you pitch Jaylen for this coming season on being their [Andre] Iguodala, the guy who doesn’t need lots and lots of shots to have a huge impact on the game? I think you might be able to pitch him that. The other thing, too, is that you can scale back Horford’s offense. He’s not a guy who really cares about his scoring number, I don’t think. Maybe you could find more opportunities for the wings by basically turning Horford into more of a facilitator, which he’s already great at, rather than sort of a scorer/facilitator.
Sharp: Jaylen will be on his rookie deal for another year or two after this year so that’s another reason we’ll have to wait and see.