After last season concluded I thought the Celtics had a long way to go to become contenders. They were beaten pretty badly in the playoffs by the Nets. Right after that Danny Ainge left the team as General Manager and Brad Stevens was no longer the coach. Stevens inexperienced in the ways of being a GM would now succeed Ainge. The first thing he needed to do was hire a coach.
As Brad interviewed candidates he also consulted with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart as to their recommendations for the job. My thoughts at the time were why consult with these three when you may trade them. When you watched the Celtics of last year and early this season you saw a team that just wasn’t in sync. I couldn’t understand how a team with two outstanding offensive players was average at best.
Brad hired Ime Udoka to succeed him. Brad also made a few trades bringing back Al Horford and acquiring Josh Richardson. He also lost Evan Fournier to free agency and to get Horford had to trade Kemba Walker and his number one draft choice. The immediate question after acquiring Horford was, is there anything left in his tank. Most people thought it was a high price to pay to get off Walker’s contract. Stevens later in the summer signed Dennis Schroeder as a free agent.
The season began and Boston continued their middling ways going twenty and twenty-one half way through the season. Earlier in the season I wrote a piece criticizing Udoka. Boy was I wrong.
A couple things happened along the way that helped propel the Celtics to an outstanding second half of the season. Early in the season Marcus Smart called out Tatum and Brown for their shoot first mentality. This came after a horrible loss to the Bulls on November 1. Though Brown and Tatum didn’t immediately change their game but over the next few months they completely bought into the team first mentality.
Udoka began to use Rob Williams as more of a free safety. Williams usually guarded the weak side corner player. This freed him up to become the shot blocker he is and he became an intimidating player that opponents shied away from challenging at the rim. Williams has become an outstanding rim defender. Smart has always been a good defender and Brown and Tatum continue to be good defenders as well. Couple all this with a rejuvenated Al Horford and the Celtics statistically have put together one of the best starting fives in the league.
Brad at the deadline traded Schroeder and Josh Richardson in separate deals. In return he got Daniel Theis, a dependable backup big and Derrick White another good defender and a player that usually makes the right play. The deals also opened up more playing time for Peyton Pritchard. Pritchard has become a valuable backup and an out standing three point shooter. It also has given Grant Williams more playing time. Williams is good defender and a valuable backup four.
The most important factor in Boston’s turn around is the great strides Brown and Tatum have made. Both have recorded triple doubles this year and Tatum has become a second tier MVP candidate. Brown has put himself in the conversation for being a top twenty player in the league.
The second half of the season has seen the Celtics take off. They are number one defensively in a number of categories and since their loss to the Knicks on January 6 have gone thirty-three and eleven. What’s most impressive is that in those wins they have held their opponent under one hundred points eighteen times, won by twenty or more ten times and by thirty or more seven times.
I’m not predicting a title this year but because they are young one could be coming in the future.Their future is bright and it’s all due to the hiring of an inexperienced GM and Coach.
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