Celtics could have growing locker room divide
The Celtics have been confounding for much of the season. At times they have appeared to be the juggernaut we expected to start the season. Of course chemistry issues, sideline spats and poor defense have interrupted those fleeting moments. The Crossover’s Chris Mannix gets to see Boston most often than most, and he’s noticed quite a few issues within the Celtics roster. He took to the podcast, along with Rohan Nadkarni, to discuss the problems the Celtics have faced and how they should function going forward.
Chris Mannix: I’m based in Boston so I’ve got a birds eye view of all the problems right now with the Celtics, but to start the calendar year the Celtics went 4–0 on a recent home stand. The offense, it was clicking, the assist numbers were up. I think they had at least four games in a row with at least 30-plus assists, which is kind of a golden number for NBA coaches, and Boston was starting to look like the team we expected to see before the start of the season.
Then came this past week’s trip through Florida: they were blown in Miami, they lost in Orlando. After the loss to the Magic, the veterans, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, they questioned the effort of the young players on the team once again. What do you think of the latest twist to the Celtics’ season?
Rohan Nadkarni: First of all, Kyrie Irving turning into the preachy veteran is a development I did not see coming at the start of the season. Frankly, it strikes me as a little hypocritical of Kyrie to be this guy. Let’s parse his statements a little bit: First, he was questioning the effort of the young guys, he said what’s going to happen when we make the Finals or something along those lines. Those guys almost made it to an Eastern Conference finals without Kyrie Irving last year, OK.
Mannix: They almost made an NBA Finals.
Nadkarni: Exactly. They were one game from the NBA Finals, that’s what I meant to say. So for him to come off and be like, ‘Let me teach you guys how to do…’ When has Kyrie lead a team without LeBron James to those heights? This is the kind of stuff he complained about in Cleveland, is it not? He didn’t like being paternalized the way LeBron did and now he’s doing the same thing. It just strikes me for an absurd thing for Kyrie Irving of all people to say, frankly. For the vets to chastise this young core—Al Horford, I think, has a little bit more authority there—but to me the young guys aren’t the problem. Again, they were great last year. They were one LeBron James away from making the NBA Finals.
I maybe wasn’t the biggest believer in them but I do think things have swung too far the other way. I don’t think there’s any catastrophic big-picture issue there. Sometimes teams don’t play well in Florida. There are reasons teams don’t play well in Miami, and I believe that was a back-to-back for Boston. Like you said, they had those four games in a row, 30 assists, offense was looking great, they’ve been a little better with this different starting lineup. I do think that maybe they’re going to be fine, but I just don’t buy Kyrie Irving as their veteran leader.
Mannix: Kyrie’s got to have some accountability himself.
Nadkarni: His Cavs teams were notorious for not giving a s— during the regular season. They hardly played defense two out of those three years he was teamed up with LeBron. Come on, man.
Mannix: Look, and I don’t want to be the Kyrie defender because I have some issues with how he’s conducted himself and certainly how he’s played at times this season. I mean, I was on the broadcast after the game—I don’t know if you watched that Orlando game—it was interesting toward the end. There was a moment in that game, I think it was with three and a half minutes left in the game, the Celtics were charging and looked like they had the momentum. Orlando looked like they were about to fold and Kyrie in transition, Boston down four, he pulls up for a 27-footer in transition with numbers. Now, I know he’s got the perpetual green light with this team but that to me was a huge momentum swing, because the Magic turned around and got five unanswered, and that was really the difference in that game.
People have pointed to that final play, and we can examine that. There was some dissension there beginning in the huddle where Kyrie looked like he was strongly disagreeing with something to do with the play call, and then the execution of it of course was not the way it was supposed to go, but Kyrie killed that comeback himself. That three-pointer, I was banging my head against the table when I saw that, Rohan, because if you go to the basket you can get two. Kyrie went to the free throw line like 12 times during that game, which is a lot for a guy who is averaging like 3.5 free throws per game this season. You go to the basket, you get fouled, maybe get an and-1 and you’re right in that game—down two, maybe down one. That to me was a huge one, so I have some issues with how Kyrie is conducting himself.
All that being said, there is some pretty clear evidence of a lack of effort on the part of some players on this team. The Jaylen Brown in situation in Miami, that was a lack off effort on the defensive end getting back in transition that Marcus Morris spotted and Marcus Morris called out. I think Marcus Morris at this point has enough equity on this team to do stuff like that. You can certainly argue, if you wan to run down the most valuable Celtics this year, it’s Kyrie Irving at one and it’s Marcus Morris at two. Marcus Morris might have one of those 90-50-40 seasons. Those are reserved for the Steve Nash’s and Kevin Durant’s, players of that line. Marcus Morris has a chance to join that line, so he was pissed off and he said something to Jaylen Brown and that’s not the first time that I’ve heard veterans grumbling at some of the defensive effort from Jaylen Brown.
Jayson Tatum hasn’t had the kind of you that you expected and Terry Rozier has been a bit of a disappointment. His field-goal percentage and his three-point percentage are both down. You expected his points to go down, his minutes to go down. You didn’t quite expect such a tailspin in the field-goal percentage. There seems to be a reasonably sized divide between the veterans in the room and the young players about how this team is playing and maybe who should be playing.
Article written by Chris Mannix and Rohan Nadkarni #SportsIllustrated