Don’t let anyone tell you the Celtics are screwed.
The Nick Wrights of the world will tell you that Boston keeps getting worse, that Gordon Hayward’s exit is a disaster (OK, it could be) and that Jayson Tatum doesn’t deserve all that money. And while he and those of his ilk are entitled to their opinions, don’t let their negativity dissuade you from believing the truth: The Celtics, who have played in three of the last four Eastern Conference Finals, are in an enviable spot.
That doesn’t mean everything is perfect on Causeway street — far from it, in fact. But the reality is the Celtics have more to be excited than depressed about.
And, with the weirdest Thanksgiving of all time in the weirdest year of all time upon us, why not shake things up and focus on the positives?
Here are five things (in no particular order) the Celtics and their fans should be thankful for:
The Celtics president of basketball operations deserves criticism. His mid-to-late-round drafting has been suspect, and he thus far has failed to consolidate a glut of draft picks into anything meaningful.
His pie-in-the-sky strategy of signing Al Horford and Gordon Hayward, trading for Kyrie Irving and eventually pursuing Anthony Davis, while respectable in its ambition, clearly was ill-conceived.
It’s also fair to wonder whether Ainge has been too gun-shy on trades in recent seasons.
(Don’t start with the Hayward situation, and don’t believe the disingenuous coverage.)
And yet, Ainge remains one of NBA’s best general managers as well as one of its best assessors of talent. He gets full marks for drafting Jayson Tatum, and his selection of Jaylen Brown also appears to be a home run. Identifying Marcus Smart as a future “perfect Celtic” also is a feather in his cap.
Sure, Ainge has delivered only one championship, but he dragged the Celtics out of NBA hell and has turned them into a consistent contender during an era when stars want to congregate in Miami, Los Angeles and New York.
He’s very good at his job.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown
Whether Tatum, 22, and Brown, 24, develop into a championship-caliber duo remains to be seen, but it already is fair to call them franchise cornerstones. Oh, and they both are under contract for at least four more seasons.
NBA teams spend years looking for players capable of leading them on deep playoff runs, and the Celtics already have two. Furthermore, Tatum and Brown both already have playoff experience under their belts and both appear to be mature players with leadership qualities.
They also seemingly love being Celtics, something that is subject to change but nevertheless cannot be overlooked.
These kinds of players don’t grow on trees. The Celtics are in good hands.
Recent draft picks
Again, Ainge’s drafting hasn’t been perfect, but he might have turned a corner over the last three years.
The jury is out on Robert Williams, but his talent is undeniable. If he can shore up his defense, he could be the Celtics’ version of DeAndre Jordan: a rim-running athletic freak who wreaks havoc in the paint.
The 2019 class has much to prove, but the early returns were encouraging. Brad Stevens showed confidence in Romeo Langford during the playoffs, and Grant Williams looks like P.J. Tucker 2.0. Some around the NBA believe Tremont Waters could develop into a very good backup point guard.
In the 2020 NBA Draft, Ainge selected forward Aaron Nesmith at the back of the lottery and point guard Payton Pritchard with the 26th pick. The sharpshooting Nesmith profiles as a player who can contribute right away, while Pritchard has “sparkplug off the bench” written all over him.
Are these the mid-to-late-round home runs that for years have eluded Boston? Probably not, but they might be genuinely useful, valuable pieces.
The Celtics play hard, but ultimately lack of size has precluded them from holding their own on the boards against teams with legitimate frontcourt size and talent.
Thompson, whom Boston reportedly signed to a two-year contract, should make a massive difference.
The longtime Cleveland Cavalier is one of the NBA’s best rebounders, as well as a player who brings toughness and championship experience to the Celtics. He could be the center version of Marcus Morris.
Thompson also expanded his range last season, knocking down nine of 23 3-point attempts. He didn’t make any shots from long distance in the first eight years of his career.
Does Boston have one of the best frontcourts in basketball? No, but you could do a lot worse than a Thompson-Williams-Daniel Theis trio — assuming the Kardashian nonsense doesn’t mess it up.
Standing in the NBA
Some say the Celtics are in NBA purgatory, a place arguably worse to be in than NBA hell. Consistently being good, but not good enough, prevents teams both from winning titles and from drafting at the top of the lottery.
We tend to agree with that line of thinking, but we do not agree the Celtics are in basketball purgatory. That’s some glass-half-empty thinking that we won’t stand for during the holiday season.
When you’ve made it to three of four Eastern Conference Finals and have players like Tatum, Brown and Kemba Walker on your roster, you are far closer to the summit than you are the base.
Salary cap woes are real, but they are far more concerning for teams with aging or free-agency bound stars than for teams with young, star-caliber players on new deals.
Plus, Boston should be able to right its financial ship by next offseason, potentially just in time for a run at a certain player currently playing for the Milwaukee Bucks.
(We’re not going there just yet, but we’re close.)
BONUS: The NBA returns Dec. 22. That’s something we all should be thankful for.