When you talk about the Boston Celtics, the time has come to abandon the championship talk and wonder whether they can even make the playoffs.
The Celtics keep digging and have found yet another low spot in their hole, embarrassing themselves Sunday afternoon by choking away a 24-point lead to the New Orleans Pelicans. The overtime loss in the Big Easy underscores just how difficult it has been for the Green to find any sort of consistency this season as Brad Stevens’ team fell to .500 yet again.
As it currently stands, the Celtics’ 15-15 record has them sixth in the Eastern Conference but with only a two-game cushion over the No. 10 team, the Miami Heat.
There’s plenty of blame and excuses to go around, but just how much should be assigned to Stevens? Well, if you ask president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, little to none. Ainge recently said the problem is roster construction, which is his area of expertise, admitting this team isn’t built to win a title right now.
However, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith made a fairly compelling case as to why Stevens is at fault, wondering why the eighth-year head coach can’t get more out of a team led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
“But in the end, when you have a star like Jayson Tatum — and make no mistake about it, ladies and gentleman, that brother is a star, Jayson Tatum is a star, and guess what, so is Jaylen Brown — you should be better than a .500 team,” Smith said on “First Take.”
Undoubtedly, Stevens’ job is difficult right now. Kemba Walker either isn’t healthy or is in some sort of biblical funk after going 5-of-21 from the floor and making just one of 12 3-point attempts in New Orleans. Walker has made fewer than 42 percent of his shot attempts in 10 of his 15 games this season. And, as Ainge already admitted, the roster isn’t very good right now.
But Smith correctly pointed out part of a coach’s job — the best coaches, at least — is to get the most out of what you have available. Losing as many games as you’ve won when you have two elite young stars is a tough look.
“And when I look at Brad Stevens, here’s what I see: I see a guy who knows the game of basketball and can coach his butt off. My question is the motivational skills that he has available to him in his arsenal,” Smith said. “Are you the kind of guy who can galvanize the troops and maximize the potential around you?
” … It’s something about you, as a coach when you shove aside the X’s and O’s — because everyone knows what the other is doing — that’s able to peel something out from inside of you and say ‘OK, I’m gonna maximize the potential, potential you did not even know you had.’ That’s the element I have not seen from Brad Stevens.”
In Stevens’ defense, that’s something he did very well at the start of his career. Some of those Celtics teams played way above their heads, and Stevens deserves credit for that. But if that’s the case, he likely deserves some blame for underperforming in recent years. More specifically, the drama surrounding this team dating back a few seasons should fall on the coach some, too.
If Stevens can’t turn this thing around, at what point do we start wondering about his job security?
“I have not seen that (motivational difference) yet, and as a result,” Smith said, “I think you’re gonna hear a lot of noise about Brad Stevens if this stuff continues in Boston with these guys struggling. You’re going to hear a lot of people talking about ‘Why have we raved about Brad Stevens so much?’ Fair or unfair.”
At this point, it’s probably still unfair to wonder about Stevens’ long-term job security. Walker clearly isn’t right, Marcus Smart is out and will remain out for a bit, and the roster simply isn’t deep enough to contend for an NBA title.
But that we’re even having the conversation tells you how bad things are for the Celtics right now.