NBA stars are the strongest members of any organization. Whether it’s specific moves on the roster or filling a vacant coach position, those who influence the team’s outcome on the field are most likely to have a greater say in the pieces they want around them.
This was not always the case for Boston Celtics, but as Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown have separated themselves from the rest of the team as the organization’s current and future pillars, that’s changing.
Tatum and Brown haven’t been handed the keys to the franchise when drafted with the No. 3 pick in consecutive years. Both made it to a team already trying to compete for championships. The complementing pieces were for veterans like Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, and even Gordon Hayward.
Neither of them can confirm their needs and desires yet. Surrounded by stars and a lot of veterans, they had to acclimatize.
The result was not that bad. Boston’s annual success afforded the duo the opportunity to hone their skills under the spotlight of the match. Fast forward several years, and Jays are coming off the best season of their careers as they become only the second pair of Celtics under the age of 25 to make the All-Star.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are only the second pair of Celtics teammates to receive All-Star Under-25 honors (Cousy/Macauley, 1953)
– Celtics stats (celtics_stats) February 24, 2021
But an unintended consequence of the unorthodox schedule popped up its head last season, as the Celtics finished seventh in the East and were eliminated from the first round in five games.
The team wasn’t built for Tatum and Brown on arrival, which means the proper pieces weren’t in place by the time they rose to their current status.
A first floor general with severe defensive limitations is not the archetype you first choose to play alongside existing iterations of Boston’s top men. But the Celtics brought in Kemba and Walker at a time when neither of them reached the all-star level.
Kemba’s scoring punch was expected to replace production left by Kyrie Irving. Who knew Tatum was about to take on those responsibilities?
Injury issues were the ultimate undoing in the relationship between Walker and the Celtics. However, Tatum’s breakout seasons followed by Brown largely eliminated the need for the once-dynamic scorer even at full health, creating a strange dynamic between three players who all need the ball in their hands but can’t make it to others consistently.
Brad Stevens is an exceptional coach, but the best work of his eight years managing the Celtics usually came when he was trying to do more with less. That was when he had a group of players, nobody was running the show, his complex menus and gameplay calls would work best.
The somewhat equal opportunity offense made sense during, say, the 2018 playoffs when there was no Celtic to lead the way. Less so when Stevens has two Offensive Engines ready to dictate everything.
Stevens ended up simplifying his crime to fit the needs of his stars. The isolation and capture groups have increased in recent years while the pass and pass numbers have declined. It was what he and Brown wanted and wanted, but was it ideal for everyone involved in the short and long term for a head coach to ditch the principles that made him so respected in the first place? Is this a fundamental problem for the coach, or more importantly, the stars who want to deal with it?
Stevens also lacked the communication skills many Celtics wanted and has struggled in his absence in the past few years, according to Jared Weiss, Athletic player. This will likely include Tatum and Brown.
So by the end of his tenure as head coach, Stevens wasn’t running things the way he wanted and wasn’t defining roles or fostering bonds and chemistry the way the players wanted. At one point, his past success and the prowess he ascribes to his name seemed to be the only reason he still roamed the sidelines. Your classic square wedge was trying to fit a round hole.
Perhaps senior officials in Boston felt that the sheer talent of Tatum and Brown could take the organization where it wanted to go. This theory was disproved last season when the Celtics finished with the 500.
One season of such disappointment deserves a pass, but continuing to demand Tatum and Brown conform to their surroundings when they earn the right to shape their surroundings in their image could be the turning point in a potential crash on the streak.
Given this alternate schedule, the Celtics took action early in the off-season.
Walker was replaced by Al Horford, which had more to do with injury and salary, yet still came with advantages on the field.
The Celtics needed someone who could feed the others. They finally got it at Horford, whose ability to serve as a hub for the game industry and a conduit between the two sides of the floor takes a great deal of the play industry’s pressure on Boston’s leading scorers.
Alhorford said Jason Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams reached out to him after the deal. Horford said he wants the Celtics to take advantage of the summer, improve individually, and then “start rebuilding it again” once the team is back together.
– Jay King (@ByJayKing) June 24, 2021
And on 36.8 percent of three in 5.4 attempts per game last season, Horford’s shot off the center position gives Tatum and Brown more room to do what they do best.
Ime Udoka was part of the team that coached Tatum and Brown in 2019 Basketball World Cup He left a positive impression that helped his subsequent candidacy. But one of the main reasons the seven-year-old veteran secured the position as Boston’s head coach stems from the communication skills the Celtics have been searching for.
“It’s all about relationship. “You have to build that foundation off the field a little bit,” Odoka said at his introductory press conference. “You can’t train everyone the same way. What motivates others may embarrass others, and so you find that balance there.”
Tatum and Brown are arguably the best young duo in the league and have passed every test taken in their path. But overcoming that last hurdle to propel Boston to the Finals requires some help signed for the franchise to meet it.
They did, and they are sure to pay dividends for everyone involved.