Are the Boston Celtics ‘stuck in neutral’ on the path to title contention?

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A recent article by ESPN’s Tim Bontemps is probably not getting the best of receptions from fans of the Boston Celtics even if it does contain some important truths about the team.

And while it seems to fly in the face of the Celtics’ recent success this season, it is fair to point to the team’s rough start, and several seasons where the team clearly under-achieved with concern. With a very tough schedule kicking off from now through the new year, questions will linger about the future of this team until the new regime of Ime Udoka as head coach and Brad Stevens as team president deliver the goods with a postseason run resembling those achieved early in the tenure of Stevens as head coach.

In fairness, the article could have taken issues like the pandemic and COVID, in particular, more into consideration. But, the focus on how the team under Danny Ainge allowed talent to leave in free agency on a recurrent basis is not only true but a common complaint on this outlet as well.

“I can’t believe this whole era for them hasn’t really worked,” an anonymous league executive said to Bontemps. “They’re stuck in neutral — and maybe going backwards.”

“Ultimately, you can’t keep losing — albeit flawed — All-Star talent like Kyrie, Gordon, Kemba, Horford,” related an unnamed Eastern Conference scout. “That adds up.”

Poor use of the team’s depth was also pointed to in the article, discussing how the club hangs on to draft picks who don’t perform well enough to merit their spot.

“The Celtics the last couple years have had a few really good players,” another anonymous front office denizen suggested, “and too many roster spots dedicated to players they drafted who aren’t good enough.”

Yet others point fingers at the team’s two star wings. “Jaylen and Jayson aren’t making anyone better,” Bontemps relates a nameless Western Conference scout as having said. “I put that on them.”

Whether we agree with this perspective or not, it was in a way echoed by Marcus Smart earlier this season — and the team’s play since, whether addressing his words or not, has shown the team is better when they share the ball, trust each other and communicate well.

For some reason, the notion that the Jays and/or Smart do not like each other or want the best for their All-Star counterpart has lingered among some execs according to Bontemps despite copious evidence to the contrary.

“They’ve looked like [players that] legitimately don’t enjoy each other’s success, and it’s been like that for years,” said another executive polled by the ESPN writer. “The fact it’s still rearing its head is not surprising in that regard.”

We respectfully disagree vehemently on this point.

There were also some observations that seemed to ignore critiques that the team doesn’t have enough talent, giving Tatum a hard time for scoring so much; “Jayson Tatum is about Jayson Tatum,” Bontemps quotes an Eastern Conference assistant coach as saying.

“I don’t think he cares about winning now, and if he does, it is on his terms … He doesn’t want to score 15 and win. He wants to score 39 and win.”

Smart’s comments that the team is easy to plan for given how much the Duke product and Brown carry the offense is correct, as are the observations that there are not enough legitimate scoring options — but you can’t also blame Tatum for scoring too much in their absence.

It’s also worth mentioning that many of the sins which do ring truest are sins of the former regime under now-departed team president Danny Ainge.

It’s also fair to say that while the biggest slice of blame pie does indeed deserve to be cast in that direction, it is also fair to wonder just how the current one will manage to make what’s left into something palatable.

This post originally appeared on Celtics Wire. Follow us on Facebook!

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