PHOENIX – Patience is known to be a virtue. Let’s have some with these Boston Celtics.
Boston’s 6-4 start to this season has elicited groans from many observers. The media is overreacting, some fans are clamoring for change, and even the players and the coaches have been grumbling about their performance.
There’s no getting around the fact that we all know the Celtics are better than this. They haven’t played to their potential on a consistent basis this season.
But give it time. It will happen. This season is only three weeks old.
As Kevin Garnett used to tell Celtics fans, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Or, as Aaron Rodgers once told Packers fans, “Five letters here just for everybody out there in Packer-Land: R-E-L-A-X.”
You get the point – or at least you should. This is going to take a little bit of time, and it’s going to take a whole lot of effort.
Talent, of which Boston has plenty, doesn’t always eliminate the existence or potential of struggles. In fact, oftentimes in the NBA, it creates them. There are plenty of examples in recent history.
The 2010-11 Heat team, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, got out to a 9-8 start to the season. They made it to the Finals.
The 2014-15 Cavaliers team, with James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, got out to a 5-7 start to the season. They made it to the Finals.
The 2017-18 Thunder team, with Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, got out to an 8-12 start to the season. They wound up going 40-22 over their final 62 games and earned the fourth seed in the loaded Western Conference.
The Celtics are similarly loaded to those teams, and they’re currently experiencing similar growing pains.
Things don’t snap into place when two of a team’s best players return from significant injuries, nor do they hum perfectly when four key players are adjusting to significantly different roles.
Boston is battling against both of those challenges.
Kyrie Irving went five months without playing live basketball, and Gordon Hayward went 10 months without playing live basketball. Both players are still working their bodies and their games back to where they were prior to their injuries. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Irving, a five-time All-Star, struggled out of the gates. He didn’t look like himself while averaging just 14.0 points per game during his first six contests. Obviously, his struggles impacted the team during that period. He has finally returned to his All-Star form during the last four games, however, and averaged 27.0 PPG during that span.
Hayward, meanwhile, is facing a far more steeper climb from the devastating left-ankle injury he suffered last season. No one could realistically expect him to return to pre-injury Hayward at this stage of the season. That’s likely going to take months, at the very least. He needs time to work out the kinks and rediscover his game.
While those two players are working their way back to their former selves, Aron Baynes, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum are all adjusting to new roles compared to those they played in last postseason. During Boston’s run to the Conference Finals, all four were starters, and Brown, Rozier and Tatum were looked to as primary scorers. With the returns of Irving and Hayward, Baynes and Rozier have shifted back to the bench, and Tatum and Brown are getting fewer touches and attempts than they did last postseason.
These are very different roles, and new roles with new teammates require adjustment periods. The Celtics clearly are still in the midst of theirs.
The long and the short of Boston’s story thus far is that it’s as talented as any team in the league, but it will take time for it to reach its full potential. That’s nothing new for a loaded team in the NBA.
Irving and Hayward need time to work themselves back. Baynes, Brown, Rozier and Tatum need time to adjust to their new roles, as well as the new lineups that accompany those roles.
Frustrations and questions are inevitable, but pull it back a bit. All is not as gloomy as it may seem.
The Celtics are 6-4 and could easily be 8-2, all while dealing with the aforementioned obstacles and a schedule that Brad Stevens called “a bear.” They’ll figure it out in the end.
In the meantime, do yourself a favor and heed the words of a famous old adage. Patience is a virtue, so have some.