On this episode of the HoopsHype podcast, Michael Scotto is joined by Jay King, who covers the Boston Celtics for The Athletic. Scotto and King discussed Boston’s first half of the season, Danny Ainge’s comments that the team isn’t good enough to win a title, potential trade targets, the job Brad Stevens has done, and the long-term future of the team. Listen to the podcast above or check out some snippets of the conversation in a transcribed version below.
1:27 Celtics impressions from the first half of the season
King: First of all, they miss Gordon Hayward. That’s been a big deal. It’s not just that they miss him because he’s really good, but they didn’t really replace him with anyone on the perimeter that’s been useful for them. Having one fewer guy who’s very good at basketball has hindered their ability to survive injuries. They’ve had injuries all season. Kemba Walker was out for 11 games at the beginning of the season. Jayson Tatum has had Covid. Jaylen Brown has been in and out of the lineup with knee problems. Marcus Smart has missed I don’t know how many games now. It’s been a long time. All their best players have missed time. They’ve only played 28 minutes, I think, with their best four players all on the court together in Smart, Walker, Tatum, and Brown.
4:37 Examining Danny Ainge’s comment that Boston isn’t good enough to win a title and a look the Celtics trade talks over the years
King: The talk about missed opportunities I think is very complicated. I think the obvious missed opportunity was when they went out and got Kyrie Irving. When you look back on that roster, it was loaded. Kyrie, Tatum, Brown, Hayward, Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Aaron Baynes. Absolutely loaded with great players. To not keep that team happy and together, and their dream was to go out and acquire Anthony Davis, for that to not materialize, and for the Kyrie thing to go the way it did, that was the biggest missed opportunity. I think, to some extent, that was their swing for the fences. If you look at all the other trade talks, the Jimmy Butler trade idea, the Paul George idea, a lot of those talks would’ve involved moving either the pick or Tatum or Brown, so it’s hard to say those were huge missed opportunities because passing on those allowed them to keep the two guys that are the franchise cornerstones now and will be in Boston for at least the next four or five years beyond this one.
That’s where the conversation gets really tricky. I do think they squandered a chance to build a sustainable contender, and I do think the dreams were very big. If they handled the Kyrie situation differently or maybe gone after a different player that wasn’t Kyrie because he’s so volatile and the chances of things going wrong with him, I think were bigger than the Celtics probably acknowledged when they first made the deal. But you look at that deal, and they had Isaiah Thomas, who was at that point damaged goods, Jae Crowder, and the No. 8 pick. That’s a good deal to get Kyrie. If they didn’t do that, they’d be stuck with Isaiah. The poor guy. I wish he were healthy and still putting up 30 a night.
10:30 What trades can the Celtics make to improve?
Scotto: Walker has dealt with injuries and his name had been floated around previously during trade talks around the draft. You look at a guy like Smart who’s on a decent contract and then you’ve got picks and some of the young guys they have off the bench, but I don’t know if that’s enough to get a marquee guy or a third star. I don’t see it.
King: I think the Jerami Grant and Nikola Vucevic ideas, obviously the Celtics have a big trade exception, and either of those guys would fit into the trade exception. The Celtics have all of their own first-round draft picks in the future, so if they wanted to load up some level of picks, three first-round picks, they could go after somebody good to very good. I think the calculus for the front office needs to be, is there a player out there right now who’s worth that, and how much would he help the team? Would Grant, if you go overpay for Grant to make the Pistons want to give him up, does he make that team a contender now or in the future? If you load up those picks now to go after Grant or Vucevic, then maybe you waste an opportunity in the future.
Bradley Beal, for example, obviously he’s in a situation that I don’t think anyone would be too surprised that at some point he ends up wanting out of Washington even though he’s been committed to that franchise so far. He’s very close friends with Tatum. We’ve seen how much power players have to kind of steer their way to the organization they want to go to if they’re forceful about it. We’ve seen it with James Harden.
"We’ve never never ever been on the same team”
Bradley Beal is excited to team up with fellow St. Louis native Tatum on Team Durant 🙏 pic.twitter.com/aEaKGh85x8
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 5, 2021
You look at the trade exception possibilities, and I think there are some realistic ones like Harrison Barnes. The Kings have been very bad lately. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if the Kings decided to move on from Barnes. I don’t think the price for him would be what it would be to get Grant or Vucevic.
Scotto: A short-term upgrade that I look at for the Celtics that I think could be had, and you could use the trade exception, is a guy like Andre Drummond.
18:10 Evaluating the job Brad Stevens has done as Celtics coach
King: I think he’s a very good coach. I think his success speaks for itself. I think the year when everything went wrong with Kyrie, that team had so many internal dynamics that it was just very tough to deal with. I don’t think he did a great job of doing that. I think he’d be the first one to tell you that. I’m not sure it was his fault, but he didn’t fix it. This year, it’s been another tough job with the injuries they’ve had.
If you look at his history, I think generally, the Celtics have exceeded expectations. The year they almost made it to the Finals, they lost Kyrie and Hayward to injuries, Tatum was a rookie, and Brown was in his first year playing big minutes. That was an incredible coaching job. Probably last year’s coaching series against the Heat was the only series that they’ve lost while favored under Stevens.
23:20 Has Boston met expectations this season?
King: I think if you looked at the beginning of the season and said Walker’s going to be out a while, Tatum’s going to be out a while, Smart’s going to be out a while, they just lost Hayward, they’re going to be in fourth place, you would’ve said, ‘Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.’ But, I think the way they’ve gotten there, and how close they are to some of the teams behind them, is where it’s rocky. It’s been a rocky first half of the season. They’d be the first ones to tell you they’re not connected enough and haven’t played well enough… Tatum has discussed how he’s been short of breath since coming back from Covid.
27:53 Where will the Celtics finish by the end of the season?
King: I think they’ll finish somewhere where they are now. I’d guess fourth place sounds about right.
29:00 Boston’s long-term future
King: I think things changed for their organization when Kyrie left, but I think they changed even more because now they can feel comfortable that Tatum and Brown are the guys. Now, it’s all about building a team around them to help those two guys get to the championship level and, beyond that, keep them beyond their next contract. I think it’s fair to wonder how Kemba fits into all that long-term.
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto
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