A roster like this is very rare. How many times have we seen a Big Three of All Stars in their primes paired with such a talented young core? The salary cap and basketball gods don’t often allow it. They may not have the top end talent of a Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant or the Warriors out west, but this season provides a unique opportunity to capitalize on one of the sweetest spots of Danny Ainge’s quick turnaround of a rebuild.
That, of course, might also be its undoing. With starter-level talent running nine deep on this roster, there have seemingly been issues of simultaneous deference and selfishness followed by hesitation and self doubt that’s thickened this cloudy team malaise.
But I still believe.
Because as difficult as this grand experiment has been, that hasn’t dissuaded me from believing that this will be a special year. At 9-9, it may not seem like it, but we’re halfway there. The offense is generating open shots, the defense has been rock solid, and the team has avoided angsty drama that has chewed up teams like the Timberwolves and Wizards.
All things considered, the defense is fine. Despite huge performances by Kemba Walker, Jamaal Murray, and even Trey Burke, the Celtics still boast a top-5 defense. The issues are still on offense and that was always going to be the more difficult puzzle to put together.
The NBA game is all about focal points and for two seasons, the Celtics had Isaiah Thomas, a laser beam of white hot energy that could burn a hole into any defense. The jitterbug point guard was the focal point of a team that was the #1 seed in the East and went to the conference finals, but was never thought as a legitimate contender because of it’s all-around talent level.
After a transformative summer that netted Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes, Semi Ojeleye, Daniel Theis, and Kyrie Irving, that island of misfit toys was replaced by an arsenal of unparalleled firepower. This is no longer a matter of complementary players figuring out how to orbit a franchise star or two; this is advanced organic chemistry with a dozen combustible elements where the right mix changes every night.
To Stevens’ credit, it’s a paradox of sorts. How do you develop consistency when the system you’re trying to develop relies on unpredictability and randomness? I’m stumped to even think of an appropriate analogy. For all the second guessing about rotations, bellyaching over mid-range jump shots, and speculating about potential trades, the ceiling of this team is still incredibly high. We know they haven’t reached their potential. These frustrating losses now are just pretext. They may not figure this out until after the new year or before the February trade deadline, but they’ll figure it out.
But I still believe.
Marcus Morris alluded to some early season failings affecting the psyche of some of the younger players. Stevens has reiterated that as talented as this group is, they lack the toughness and “personality” of past teams. Confidence and toughness may ultimately be the catalysts that ignite this team, but those don’t come without two more important elements: faith and patience. The blowout against the Bulls and statement win over the Raptors was supposed to be that moment after a 1-4 road trip. A week later, the Celtics are staring down a three-game losing streak and more questions than answers.
I still believe.