The Celtics have gone from overachievers to underachievers, and Boston president of basketball operations Danny Ainge might have no one to blame but himself.
The C’s sure looked like they were building toward something special in recent years, with Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford all filtering through Boston as the organization drafted future franchise cornerstones Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
There’s just one problem: Irving, Hayward and Horford all left town, for various reasons, and the Celtics never quite pushed all of their chips into the middle of the table.
Now, Boston is left with a flawed roster and fairly limited assets after being too patient with its once-stocked cupboard of draft picks.
“Boston would make an accountant proud: They’re frugal. They develop players. They draft well. They’re smart. They did everything right. They got the smart head coach. They win every trade,” Cowherd said on FS1. “And I watched them (Sunday) blow a lead to a very average team, the New Orleans Pelicans, and my takeaway is this morning the Celtics are sixth in the East, their roster doesn’t have a legitimate big, Kemba Walker’s deteriorating physically and they don’t have enough good players.”
Tatum and Brown are great, obviously. And Walker is good, too, when healthy. Same goes for Marcus Smart.
But is that enough to truly contend for a spot in the NBA Finals? The Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks certainly appear better equipped for deep postseason runs.
“I know other GMs look at the Celtics and go, ‘Oh, they’re so frugal and they develop and they accumulate drat picks.’ They’re just not that good. They’re just not that good,” Cowherd said. “They need another star. They have no size. They tried to trade Kemba Walker in the offseason because they know he can’t play back-to-backs, he’s deteriorating. Danny Ainge last week on Boston radio, to his credit, acknowledged he doesn’t have enough good players.”
In other words, the Celtics’ undoing ultimately might be their unwillingness to roll the dice for another legitimate star.
Obviously, acquiring an impact player is easier said than done. But Cowherd pointed to the Los Angeles Lakers (LeBron James and Anthony Davis), Toronto Raptors (Kawhi Leonard), Golden State Warriors (Kevin Durant) and Cleveland Cavaliers (James and Kevin Love) as recent examples of teams that won championships after going all-in for superstars. Maybe Boston should have done the same?
“You always know your team is kinda limited in any sport when they have to play a certain way to win. If this team doesn’t play exactly how it’s scripted,” Cowherd said. “They always say, ‘Baking is just following directions. Cooking is kind of artistry — it’s making it up as you go.’ The Celtics are in the baking category.
“Like, you have to follow the directions of Brad Stevens perfectly or they can’t win. And in the end, congratulations on being patient, saving money, being frugal and winning trades. You’re just not that good of a basketball team. You don’t have enough good players.”
The NBA trade deadline is March 25, and the Celtics have the largest traded player exception in league history, giving them additional flexibility amid their wheeling and dealing.
Whether it’ll open the door for Ainge to make a significant move remains to be seen. But it’s clear the C’s need to do something, or else their championship window might close before it ever really opened.