The Boston Celtics and handling expectations

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Updated: June 24, 2016
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Jaylen B

 

After a few failed trade attempts, and a lot of wild speculation, the Boston Celtics ended up with California forward Jaylen Brown with the third pick in the draft. Brown had an up and down year at Cal, highlighted by the team’s inadequate floor spacing that constantly left him in awkward positions.

Add that to his high usage rate — and inconsistent jump shot — and it’s clear why the analytics were iffy on him. However, Brown was a force in transition — where he showed his elite athleticism, ball-handling ability and quick first step.

Defensively he showed that he had the lateral quickness and instincts to defend multiple positions, and with his grown-man frame (6-foot-7, 225 pounds), he’ll be able be contribute from day 1. Brown was also one of the only prospects to have competitive workouts where he reportedly showed teams that his jump shot was a lot better than he showed at Cal.

 

The boos were loud in Boston. Not because of Brown (a decent chunk of fans had to google him), but because the pick represented another “failed” attempt to attain a superstar. Despite the Celtics’ impressive climb up the standings a mere three years after dealing both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, fans are anxious to get back to the old days of winning. And in return, they’ve adopted a toxic tunnel vision for how the team should build.

In one sense it’s understandable. These fans grew accustomed to winning for decades. Red Auerbach fleeced teams for the likes of Robert Parish and Bill Russell, and Boston won championship after championship. They then ushered in the Larry Bird era, and enjoyed teams led by Bird, Kevin McHale and now-general manager Danny Ainge. And if Len Bias didn’t tragically pass, Boston may have never endured the drought that it did in the ’90s before Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen led them to a title in 2008.

It’s now been eight years since Boston fans have seen a championship, and six years since a finals appearance.

If you’re scoffing at this right now, you’d be right to insinuate that Boston fans are spoiled. And because of that, they’ve created an aura of self-entitlement that screams “we deserve stars, and shouldn’t be appreciative of nothing but titles.” But I’m not here to attack the fan base (only), but instead, offer up a different mindset on how to attack the problem of expectations.

Boston is a city that’s used to winning — we’ve established that. But you know a trait that winners all have in common? Patience. It took Ainge three years to get Garnett in Boston. Everything the front offices does is predicated on timing. Since parting ways with Pierce, Allen and Garnett, the Celtics have acquired All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, fan favorites Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko, R.J. Hunter and now Jaylen Brown — along with the rest of this year’s picks (which I’ll get to later).

These are all starting caliber players in the NBA, at the least, and that’s not even including first-team all-defender Avery Bradley and a possible candidate for the honor himself, in Marcus Smart. In a span of three years, the Celtics have acquired a team identity, a winning formula, and a high-rising coach in Brad Stevens. They also have two more first-round picks coming from the Brooklyn Nets, as well as cap space to sign two max-level players this offseason.

Another common complaint is, “yeah, we have all these assets but where are we going?” That’s a fair question. I’ve written in the past that the Celtics need to decide this offseason whether they’re a 48-win team trying to get in contention, or a rebuilding team still in its early stages.

Last night’s draft was a clear indication that the team has adopted the win-now mentality. At pick 16, they took French forward Guerschon Yabusele, who, despite being able to compete right now from a physicality standpoint, will be able to be stashed for a year or two while the team preserves a roster spot.

The same situation exists for Ante Zizic, a 19-year-old Croatian big man who’s also ready physically, but will likely be sent back to Croatia so he can maintain a spot on the team. Why? Because they plan on being players in the free-agency market.

The Celtics just came off a 48-34 season, and arguably could have gone even further than the first round had they not lost their two best shooters. This is an up-and-coming team with a defensive identity, max money, and minutes available in the front court.

So instead of taking guys like Deyonta Davis, Malik Beasley, Damian Jones or Malachi Richardson, and waiting on them to develop, they took a role-specific route in the draft to stash guys away in hopes of landing Al Horford, Bismack Biyombo, Hassan Whiteside, Joakim Noah or  Ian Mahinmi.. (Yes, Kevin Durant too. But this piece is on expectations, so I won’t discuss him). All of these guys have potential to make them a 50-plus-win team, which could mean instead of being the fifth seed, and having a rough matchup without home-court advantage, you’re the second or third seed with a favorable matchup.

So much of what happens in the NBA is predicated on timing and match ups. If the Golden State Warriors taught us anything, it’s that the margins between winning and losing are as thin as ever, and even getting it 99 percent right could leave you short.

Don’t judge the Celtics based on whether they have attained the lofty goals that they’ve set. Judge them on how they’ve responded when things don’t go right. Despite the failed attempts to acquire guys like Kevin Love, Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Gordon Hayward, etc., the team has continued to stay on an upward path and has continued to leave their flexibility open for when that timing finally matches.

Be critical, but also be informed. Prepare yourself for all options, and expect the player with less flash so you can see the beauty in the fireworks. Boston is ready to contend — now isn’t the time to jump ship.

Alex Kungu

Alex Kungu

Boston-made NBA writer. Future Law student.

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