Was the Boston Celtics’ COVID-19 problem during the 2021 season self-inflicted? Apparently, it was a poorly kept secret within NBA circles.
Sports Illustrated NBA reporter Chris Mannix recently said in an appearance on NBC Sports Boston that the C’s played it fast-and-loose with the NBA’s COVID protocols this past season.
“The Celtics were among the teams that I know of that didn’t take COVID very seriously,” Mannix said on NBC Sports Boston (as played Tuesday on WEEI-FM). “They would continue to go out on the road and would find ways to skirt the rules at times when they were traveling. They didn’t take these protocols seriously, not as seriously as some other teams did.”
According to Mannix, the Washington Wizards even blamed Boston for its own outbreak earlier in the season.
“Washington, when they had their COVID issues back in January, early February, they blamed Boston. They complained to the league that the Celtics because of what they heard about the players going out — out in Florida, I believe it was — that they believe they contracted their issues through the Celtics. They believe they were taking it seriously, and the Celtics weren’t. ? Most of the league knew what was going on with the Celtics and how they weren’t really taking the COVID protocols seriously.”
The numbers do not lie, either. Fansure.com has tracked the NBA’s COVID-19 protocol reporting for the entire season, and the data certainly backs up the reporting of Mannix. The Celtics far and away led the NBA in player-days missed to COVID protocol with 157. The next closest team was Dallas with 118, and only five teams missed at least 100 player-days.
Evan Fournier tested positive immediately upon his arrival following a trade with Orlando. That was deemed a false positive, but he then entered the protocol again shortly thereafter. Just three players missed more time in the COVID protocol than Fournier this season. Right behind him on that same list? Celtics big man Tristan Thompson, who missed 26 games, one less than Fournier. Three more spots down that list is Celtics guard Romeo Langford.
All told, 11 Celtics players spent time in COVID designation over the course of the season.
Then-president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said in late April that “a few” players also chose not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, in addition to some others on the staff.
“Some didn’t feel like we have enough information. Some feel like they just don’t do any vaccinations,” Ainge said in an April 22 appearance on “Toucher and Rich.”
The vaccination debate is one thing. The Celtics’ apparent refusal to follow protocol, however, clearly affected their ability to put the best team on the court every night. That’s the tangible impact. The intangible side of would seem to point an obvious leadership void. Where exactly said void stems from — either the front office, coaching staff, players or some combination of all — is hard to say from the outside.
However, it is yet another head-scratching development that points to clear issues within the organization, issues that led to the recent front-office shake-up and an ongoing search to replace Brad Stevens as head coach.