A disappointing 15-15 start to the season for the Cs, bares the question: are the Boston Celtics actually contenders?
Is it just a cold start? Is it just the injuries that make our record so bad? Is Kemba Walker no longer a viable option as a starting point guard?
There are so many questions, but not enough answers. The simple answer is only time will tell, but it will be a very hard waiting game. It’s hard to watch the team that has made three out of the last four Eastern Conference Finals struggle so badly.
The Cs started the season 8-3, but then All-Star and All-NBA forward Jayson Tatum contracted COVID-19. This was the start of the downfall for Boston.
In this same time span the Celtics lost Robert Williams and Grant Williams, as well as Carsen Edwards and Tristan Thompson. After everyone recovered, things were looking up –15 games into the year and they finally had a fully healthy team.
And then the injury gods struck again, as Marcus Smart was sidelined for 2-3 weeks for a grade one calf sprain. All of these things combined have caused the Cs to go 7-12 since that 8-3 start.
They have gained momentum at times, beating the Clippers, but then dropped two in a row. They beat the Raptors, then dropped two in a row. Beat the Nuggets, then lost to a Hawks team that was on a four-game losing streak.
Boston hasn’t been able to string together a good week of basketball pretty much all year, and this has many wondering if they even deserve to be mentioned with the East’s best.
Things have become so bleak, that when General Manager Danny Ainge was asked if the Cs can contend, he simply stated, “I do not.”
The Boston Celtics have underwhelmed tremendously in 2020-21
As brutal as it might sound coming from the guy who is supposed to make roster changes, he is right. As currently constructed this team does not seem capable of winning a championship.
The the only reason Boston is a .500 team right now is because of the All-Star/ near All-NBA level of play from both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
If the Boston Celtics want to have any chance of making a deep playoff run, they need to bolster the roster big time. Whether this be with the Gordon Hayward TPE, or the Kanter TPE, the front office needs to make a move.
Some possibilites that have been proposed are pursuing the likes of John Collins and Harrison Barnes, and Cavs center Andre Drummond, just to name a few
Like said in previous articles, Ainge is looking for “shooting with size”. Most of the names that have been linked to Boston, outside of Drummond, are exactly that, which is a plus.
However, I am worried Ainge does not pull the trigger on any trade before the deadline, even with his disheartened comments.
Ainge has not made a trade of much substance since the Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving blockbuster, and I believe he is afraid to lose a trade. Most of the times when the Cs are linked to a name, it fizzles out, and the two sides ultimately can’t find a middle ground.
I am more than willing to bet the “middle ground” is Ainge attempting to fleece the other team.
Many fans are calling for Ainge’s head, outraged at the willingness to say they aren’t great, but the unwillingness to act upon it. However, there is blame to be given all around.
Brad Stevens has had very questionable rotations, giving end of bench players significant minutes. Ainge obvioulsy wont pull the trigger on any deal. Kemba Walker has been extremely sub par to this point. The Jays, and Celtics in general, have been terrible fourth-quarter producers.
If no trades are going to be made, this team has to do some soul searching and find their real identity. It has largely been a struggle working last year’s All-Star starting point guard Kemba Walker back into the mix, though it is hard to find any rhythm starting on a minutes restriction, being the third option, and not playing on second nights of back-to-backs.
The first few weeks for Kemba were…rough, to say the least.
Over the first seven games, posting averages of 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, on 36 percent shooting from the field and a 48 percent true shooting percentage. He wasn’t even looking like a starter, let alone someone who started in the All-Star game just a year ago.
That type of play is not what you want to see from a player being paid nearly $35 million.
However, as of late, the 4x All-Star has picked up his play, stringing together some pretty good games. Over the last seven games, he’s averaged 20 points per game, four rebounds, and four assists on 40 percent shooting from the field and a 56 percent true shooting percentage.
For all Boston Celtics fans, this is great news, maybe slowly working Walker back into the lineup. Keeping him well oiled for a long season is the best thing they could have done.
The former All-NBA guard can be the key to the Celtics looking like the Celtics of years past. The Jays combining for 50+ points any night is practically a given now, and Walker needs to give All- Star level production as well.
But, even if the trio plays to their maximum capabilities, is it enough?
Boston is currently second to last in the NBA for bench points per game, which should be to the surprise of no one. The team is just not deep enough, and it doesn’t help that Stevens is giving players time who, frankly, shouldn’t be getting it.
Personally, I believe guys like Terrance Ross or Evan Fournier, both from the Orlando Magic, could help shore up these bench issues. Both are great shooters and scorers that can get hot in limited minutes.
Using both trade exceptions, Boston could actually get both, but the Magic would probably move just one.
Another way to help the bench is to improve the starting lineup. This would move a player, depending on the trade, like Marcus Smart or Daniel Theis back to the bench, shoring up the playoff rotation.
Now, getting back to our initial question: are the Boston Celtics contenders this season?
My answer, is no.
This is much to my dismay as a lifelong fan of the franchise, but staying as unbiased as possible, we are slightly above average at best right now. That said, even with this inconvenient truth, things can still change.
As much as I would love to see a trade, I want the Boston Celtics to find their identity with this current squad — perhaps this could be done with something simple as a few tweaks to the starting lineup.
For now, it is all a waiting game. Only time will tell if this team is ready for contention or not.