The Celtics have a leadership problem.
How else do you explain a team that sits at 35-21, just two games out of 3rd in the East, has the 3rd best point differential in the NBA, and yet seems on the brink of collapse every time they face adversity?
The Celtics are 25-11 in their last 36 games and yet have had 3 meltdowns in that stretch
0-3 stretch (led to team meeting)
0-3 (Kyrie calling teammates out, Jaylen/Morris push each other)
0-2 (two huge blown leads, “this hasn’t been fun for awhile”)
— Michael Dyer (@Mike_Dyer13) February 10, 2019
That’s the most telling thing to me right there. The NBA season is LONGGGG. There are plenty of ups and downs throughout. Teams fight, they pout, they lose games they shouldn’t. But they handle their business in-house. To basically have 3 consecutive great winning streaks followed by a couple of losses that spurred guys venting to the media, fighting, throwing guys under the bus, etc. screams of drastic overreaction. A team that has the best NETRTG in the NBA for the past 36 games shouldn’t also lead the league in conflict during that time.
It hasn’t been fun. It hasn’t been fun for a while. Their stars are co-existing, not friends. Too many egos. Too much distraction.
You’ve heard all the rumors and venting and dirt. Truth is: nobody truly knows except the guys in that room. Everything else on the outside is speculation. Locker rooms are complicated, combustible places. I know. I was in the Washington Wizards’ locker room for 4 seasons traveling with the team. I witnessed Emeka Okafor threaten to stuff John Wall in a locker. I saw Markieff Morris and Scott Brooks cuss each other out at halftime. We had more conflict like that than I can even remember. What’s the difference? That stuff rarely if ever got out. And when it did get out – it came out years later in John’s case as an example of a turning point in his career. The Markieff story never made it out until I shared it as an anecdote years after (sorry, guys).
Good teams handle their business internally. They talk out their issues and handle them without involving the press. They realize that seasons are long and emotions get the best of a bunch of alpha-males at times. They scream and yell and maybe even fight. They hate each other and love each other. But they ultimately stick together. They end every huddle or pregame or postgame or halftime with “Family on 3”. They battle through the tough times to enjoy the good ones so much more.
How do I know the Celtics have a leadership problem? Because they’re clearly not doing that.
Is Kyrie the Leader the Celtics Need?
Kyrie wanted to be the guy. He wanted the keys to a franchise, to be out of LeBron’s shadow, to prove he can do it as the first option.
I don’t care about the free agency rumors. I’ve defended Kyrie with regard to that. Kyrie doesn’t owe anybody a commitment now. He doesn’t deserve to be firmly held to comments he made at a Fan Fest saying he’d like to be back. He can make his own decision and change his mind and worry about that after the season. I have no problem with him trying to stay locked in and not answer any questions about what’s going to happen July 1st.
But now is the time to prove you CAN lead your team. Maybe LeBron knew how to manage personalities pretty darn well. Maybe you don’t have the personality yourself to be the true leader of a team. Maybe despite having a team full of young talent in Tatum, Brown, Rozier, etc. — sound similar to when LeBron joined a Cavs team that had won 33 games in a season before full of Kyrie/Dion Waiters bickering—Kyrie is now questioning if he has enough talent to win with and needs to play alongside other superstars like Anthony Davis or even LeBron, again?
Tom Keegan raises some great points about Kyrie’s play in his Boston Herald article:
Kyrie has proven himself as an elite scorer in the league. There’s no questioning that. He does it with amazing efficiency and skill. But he hasn’t proven himself yet as someone who makes everyone around him better, who can make every pass and the right play every time. James Harden is unfairly called a ball hog when he’s one of the best passers in the league. In Kyrie’s case, the criticism is more fair.
He’s 26. He has time still to figure it out. To pass more often and see the floor better and make the tougher passes on PNRs. To prove he can lead and step up to the challenge. But he doesn’t appear to be the unifier for this group right now.
Marcus Morris the Locker Room Leader?
Is it Marcus Morris? Marcus Morris has made himself into a helluva player in Boston. He’s a vet, has been around enough to know what he’s talking about, and probably has the respect of most guys in that room.
But he should know better than to vent like he did the other night post-game. And he better be sure that if he does, his words don’t ring hollow. Marcus talked about having “no attitude…no toughness…no fun.” But you’ll see in the film session that Marcus is frequently the guy who has lapses in effort or toughness himself. Don’t talk about it, be about it.
Winning is fun. Guys know that these comments only come out after losses because nobody enjoys losing games, much less games you had 28 point leads in. So how do you win? You respect the game more than the Celtics did. You go for the jugular. You sense blood of a team that hasn’t even had time to go through a practice together and has no clue how to play together yet. You push the lead from 20-25 to 30-35 and they quit.
In the NBA, if you let teams hang around, you get burned. The Celtics had WAY TOO MANY possessions where they had missed responsibilities, lackadaisical effort, didn’t sprint back in transition, didn’t communicate, etc.
Right message, wrong messenger.
How About the Others?
Leadership is crucial in the NBA. When I started in the NBA, it was a culture shock to me. I went from working for Gary Williams at UMD – where he’d be having a seizure if we were up only 50 against a D3 team with two minutes left – to witnessing Nick Young, Andray Blatche, and JaVale McGee walk into the locker room laughing while down 20 at halftime.
When we got Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, and finally Paul Pierce, the culture began to change. We became a respectable team that was good for around 45 wins and the second round of the playoffs every year.
Then Paul Pierce left. And John Wall and Bradley Beal were too young to truly know what it takes to lead a locker room. We plummeted to 41 wins, Randy Wittman got fired, and things have basically done downhill since.
Steve Nash once said that if everyone in the league worked as hard as him, he wouldn’t have a job. Similar ring to this Harden quote. Love for the game is important. https://t.co/NtYnGslt6M
— Bryan Oringher (@ScoutWithBryan) February 9, 2019
Can the Celtics Right the Ship in Time?
The Celtics have time to figure it out. But they have to look in the mirror and be honest with themselves.
112 points is enough to win in the NBA. You can’t control making every shot or free throw. You CAN control your effort level, how you get back and communicate. You can control your defense.
You’ll notice in the film session there’s very few offensive clips in there. I understand the Celtics are asking a lot of Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, all the young guys trying to prove themselves in the league. They’re going from starters to bench players who get far less touches and shots. It’s hard.
Celtics’ problem has been known since May. Guys needed to sacrifice.
But it’s easy to ask KG and Ray Allen to sacrifice. They were 32 and 31.
Not easy to ask Tatum (20), Brown (22), Rozier (24) to sacrifice. They’re still making their names, trying to earn 1st contracts, etc.
— Sean Deveney (@SeanDeveney) February 10, 2019
Those guys can be upset. They can not love their role. They can think – probably correctly – that they deserve more touches or opportunity.
But they cannot let it affect their defense. Especially if you’re playing less minutes. If you play 15-20 minutes per game, there is absolutely zero excuse for not going your hardest every single possession defensively. Sacrificing is playing 40 minutes on a crappy team that needs you to play 40 every night to have a chance to win. Not respecting the game enough to play harder in 20 minutes is pure ego.
Like Doc Rivers is fond of saying: be a star in your role. The role you have may not be what you want, but it’s what the team needs.
Here’s a little secret too. Nobody is going to care if you average 12 instead of 9 PPG on a team that drastically underperforms and then loses in the first round.
They will care if you average 9 per game and give your blood sweat and tears to the team winning and make the Finals.
Winning makes everyone look better. It makes everyone have fun. And it’s perfectly within grasp for the Celtics.
Now stop talking and do it.
See What NBA Twitter is saying
— Lineups (@lineups) February 11, 2019