Wednesday, June 2nd. One day after the Celtic’s were booted from the playoffs by local villain Kyrie Irving, league wide villain Kevin Durant, and league wide villain #2 James Harden. The Nets, led by their big 3, beat the Celtics 123-109 and won the series in a gentleman’s sweep of 5 games. This Series was under the microscope from the beginning due to former Celtic Kyrie Irving’s comments about playing in his former club’s city. Kyrie said “I mean it’s not my first time being an opponent in Boston. So, you know, I’m just looking forward to competing with my teammates, and hopefully we just keep it strictly basketball. You know there’s no belligerence or any racism going on, subtle racism and people yelling (expletive) from the crowd. But even if it is, it’s part of the nature of the game and just gonna focus on what we can control.” This came from a press conference days before the series kicked off. These have not been the first claims of racism heard by opposing players playing in Boston. Even Celtic’s own guard Marcus Smart has since come forward saying that he’s heard such pleasantries exchanged while on the court at home. Then came game 4. What seemed to be the last game in Boston as the Nets won by a final of 141-126. Jayson Tatum coming off of a 50 point performance dropped a game high 40 points in the loss. This would send the series back to Brooklyn with the Nets leading 3-1. After celebrating the win on the floor of TD Garden, Kyrie deliberately walked over to mid court and dragged his foot across the face of Lucky, the Celtics’ mascot. A 21 year old fan, presumably intoxicated, saw Kyrie commit this act of utter disrespect, proceeded to play vigilante for his team, and threw his water bottle at Kyrie as he tried leaving the floor. The fan was then apprehended and promptly arrested. (If you haven’t, read my article here on ISM titled “Where to Draw The Line” all about this topic happening across the NBA) In Game 5 the Nets took the lead in the first quarter and never gave it up. The Celtics, for another year, were eliminated from playoff contention.
The very next morning rumors started to swirl about movement within the organization. Rumors of GM Danny Ainge’s retirement to him possibly being interested in other organizations. Then the Celtics announced that Ainge would be stepping down from his long tenured position. Ainge, who played alongside Larry Bird, and won a title with the Celtics in 1984 and 1986, then again as GM in 2008 with Paul Pierce, KG, and Rondo. There has been plenty of criticism over the years of Ainge, from his continued success with the Big 3, to the IT-Kyrie trade, to declining to trade pieces that were not fitting into their organization i.e. Terry Rozier. Then there was this season, Gordon Hayward got himself out of Boston after declining his option. In order for him to maximize his contract he would have to be a part of a sign and trade. People say Danny asked for too much from Hayward’s home town Pacers and was forced to trade him to the Charlotte Hornets. In return the Celtics got a conditional second round pick and a $28.5 million trade exception, the biggest in NBA history to date. When you lose a player of that caliber and all you have to show for it is a trade exception and a second round pick, the fans are not going to be too keen. The Celtics then drastically under performed this season going a measly 36-36 when preseason win total predictions had them around 52-20. All of these accumulated to the Celtic’s GM stepping down.
The only thing that was more shocking than the news of Ainge stepping down, was the fact that his successor was already in the system, head coach Brad Stevens. It later came out that Brad was “worn down” since last year’s bubble defeat to the Heat in the conference finals. This marks the first year in the last 5 years that the Celtics will not make a conference finals appearance. This shakeup by Boston has since sent shock waves around the NBA. While Ainge moves on to retirement, the Celtic’s new boss has some key decisions to make this off season.
The biggest task Steven’s faces is his first task, replacing himself. Names such as Jason Kidd, Mike Brown and Lloyd Pierce have been floated around as suitable replacements. Star Jayson Tatum made his voice heard Wednesday afternoon when he took to Twitter. Tatum, 22, responded to a tweet sent out by former Celtic Evan Turner. Turner stated that the rumors of him being the next head coach were false. Jayson’s response “Was hoping they would be true”. Could the Celtics’ young star lure Turner, who has been considered for some time as a good future player turned head coach. The same Net’s team that just kicked the Celtics from the playoffs are led by first year head coach Steve Nash. Luckily for Stevens no important player’s contracts are up at the end of this season. However, that does not mean Brad will be forced to make some calls to move some players in and out of the organization to get the team where they should be. Kemba and his knee have been an issue his whole stay so far in Boston. Marcus Smart’s overall fit with the team as a player and leader has come under scrutiny for the past few years. Then the long run questions, do you split up the J-Team and move on from one of them in pursuit of another star? Or do build around the two of them together, and fit proper role players around them that allow the two of them to thrive? Do you find them a third scorer to take some of the pressure off? Of all the young talent on this team, who is worth an extension to keep for the future and who do you trade away for other assets? Only time will really tell if this partnership between Stevens and the Celtics will work out. So far it’s been a little underwhelming but we shall see.