Celtics fans can now rejoice in this nightmare season finally coming to an end. It’s always disappointing to be let down by someone/something that you have high expectations for.
Whether it’s a movie, album, or your kids, it always stings when they don’t meet expectations. The 2018-2019 Boston Celtics had expectations as big as Thor’s beer gut in Endgame. Last year Boston was a couple minutes away from winning game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals without two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. With the March 23rd (Kyrie and Hayward’s shared birthday) All-Star duo joining a team that was so close to making the NBA Finals without them, conventional wisdom led many (myself and Vegas included) to believe that they would finish even better this season.
The Celtics had the second best odds to win the 2019 NBA Finals headed into the season behind only the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors. However, as the season unfolded, it became obvious this team, which was loaded with talent, had no chance of winning a title. They finished the regular season with less than 50 wins and tied for the 10th best record in the league. After sweeping the Victor Oladipo-less Indiana Pacers, Boston gave plenty of its fans false hope that they actually had a chance at making a deep playoff run as they did the previous two postseasons. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks killed those dreams by winning four straight games against the Celtics after losing game one to avenge their loss to Boston from last year’s playoffs where Joe Prunty might as well have been wearing a Celtics jersey.
Now that Boston’s season is officially over were all left wondering went wrong. Why were the Celtics such a letdown? Who is to blame for their disappointing season? There are so many reasons that contributed to this nightmare season. They include but are not limited to the regression of the young players, Kyrie being a terrible leader who consistently undermined his coach and teammates, Hayward’s inconsistent aggressive play, and Stevens doing an awful job managing the roster’s talent. This team just couldn’t mesh and seemed to genuinely hate playing with each other. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Milwaukee beat them in the playoffs. The Bucks were the better team all year long. The surprise is that the Celtics weren’t the team who was at the top of the eastern conference. When you have all that talent and expectations and fail to come out of the second round, there needs to be seismic changes that happen to the team before next season begins.
The Celtics can go in one of two directions now. Their first option is to move on from Kyrie which would make them a fun young roster based around Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier (assuming he re-signs with Kyrie gone). They’d essentially become another version of the Brooklyn Nets which is hilarious to think considering the infamous 2013 trade they made with the Nets was supposed to set them up to be a REAL contender for years to come. The other option for the Celtics is to move their assets in an attempt to acquire Anthony Davis while also re-signing Irving. Trying to pair Kyrie with Davis would be the right move.
Players who have made first team All-NBA or will this season (Embiid or Jokic will be the lone exception since one of them will be second team this year) lead all seven remaining teams in the NBA playoffs. Kyrie who has only made the All-NBA third team proved these playoffs and all season that he can’t be “the man” on a championship team. Although he showed he can’t be the number one star on a contending team which he wanted to be after demanding a trade from Cleveland, losing a star in Kyrie isn’t the answer for the Celtics on their quest to add an eighteenth championship. The answer is getting another one. Kyrie’s postgame interviews, injury history, ego, and horrendous play in the Milwaukee series are all things that should make Celtics fans nervous, but he is still an incredible talent that you should want on your basketball team. If the Celtics can successfully land Anthony Davis, Kyrie shouldn’t want to leave. Why would Kyrie want to take less money and guaranteed years (given his injury history) to be second fiddle to LeBron in LA (he’s already done that) or Durant in NYC (I would apologize to the Warriors but they’ve had it pretty good)? Yes, he would be second in the Boston pecking order behind Davis. However, he’d still be the primary ball handler and the one running the offense as opposed to being a clear sidekick.
Trading for Davis comes with the downside of losing him in free agency a year later. It’s starting to feel that in today’s NBA those risks need to be taken. Look at Toronto as an example. They traded for Kawhi to give themselves the best chance to win a title this season. That team was never winning a championship with DeRozan as their main guy. Even if Toronto comes short of the Larry O’Brien trophy and Kawhi bolts as a free agent this offseason to Los Angeles or elsewhere, that trade is still a good one because it finally gave them a real shot at winning the title.
This 2018-2019 season was the most disappointing season of the post Big Three era. The fans in Boston expect to win. In the last year, the Red Sox won the World Series, the Patriots won the Super Bowl, and the Bruins are about to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals. Boston doesn’t tolerate mediocrity. Danny Ainge is under pressure to make sure a disappointing season like this one doesn’t happen again. No matter what happens this offseason it’s safe to say this same roster won’t be together come October. Time will tell if this season is simply one bad year in this Celtics window (like the Rockets 2016 season) or if it’s the beginning of a downfall of a run that never was.