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Boston Celtics

Brad Stevens talks with Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics during the second half of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2019 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on May 03, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bucks defeated the Celtics 123 - 116. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Kyrie Irving had plenty of problems trying to lead the Celtics last season. But a new inside story paints a much more complicated picture.

ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan reported numerous smaller details throughout her newest feature on the Celtics’ trying season, and pretty much nobody was spared. The issues went beyond their enigmatic leader. Head coach Brad Stevens went on the record about his own struggles. The team’s younger talent labored through predictable growing pains both on and off the court. Irving ultimately lacked the leadership experience or acumen to keep any of it under control.

The whole story is worth a read. But here are some of the most striking snippets.

— The coaching staff had concerns as early as the preseason, when the younger players were playing selfish hero-ball and for a time Irving was the one trying to get them to share the ball.

In fact, it didn’t take long for Boston’s coaching staff to grow concerned about the team’s vibe. They peeked in on the preseason pickup games and discovered young players who experienced exhilarating results the previous season by making the extra pass, but were now jacking up shots and running isolation plays. Ironically, it was Irving who implored his teammates to share the ball in the infancy of the season. And yet, by season’s end, it was Kyrie who hijacked the offense.

— Multiple younger Celtics went out in South Beach the night before an ugly 115-99 loss to the Miami Heat, a game in which Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown engaged in a brief shouting and shoving match.

On Jan. 9, the Celtics blitzed the Indiana Pacers at home, then flew out that night to Miami, arriving at the team hotel after 2 a.m. on Thursday. Boston was set to play the Miami Heat that night, but, team sources said, that didn’t stop some of the young players from heading to South Beach, where the clubs stay open well past 5 a.m. It’s not uncommon for NBA players to go out when they’re on the road, but Irving was irked teammates decided to do it in the middle of back-to-back games.

— Brad Stevens struggled to find the best way to use Gordon Hayward as he continued to recover from his 2017 injury. Other players grew angry at his minutes over the course of the season.

One of Stevens’ biggest challenges proved to be reacclimating Hayward back into the mix. His mental and physical recovery was initially painstakingly slow, and while his teammates were sympathetic to his plight, they also chafed at the minutes he was given. By late November, Stevens had moved Hayward to the bench, but the narrative lingered that he was favoring his former Butler star.

— Jayson Tatum went through the most frustrating growing pains as he was “appearing, at times, curiously passive in 2018-19 and exhibiting occasional defensive indifference.”

“He’s a really talented player,” [Cedric] Maxwell said, “but he needs to take some ownership of what happened this season. They all do.”

— In a curiously contemptible move, Irving apathetically declined to sign basketballs for the Celtics’ “charitable partners”.

At the completion of the regular season, the team set up 100 balls in a room for their charitable partners. Everyone signed the balls except Irving. When pressed to do it, say team sources, he was neither aggressive nor confrontational. He merely said, “No, I’m not interested in that.”

— Stevens ultimately blamed himself for being the guy “who couldn’t fit the pieces.”

Moving forward, it certainly sounds like Stevens needs to do a better job both communicating with players away from games and finding a better way to make them work in concert on the court. With Irving and Rozier out the door and Kemba Walker likely on the way in, perhaps that makes his job easier. It’s also going to be a huge year for Hayward with his injury recovery expected to be completely in the rearview mirror. Both Tatum and Brown are going to need to take another step forward to engender confidence in the team’s chances of contending next season.

Irving may have been at the center of a lot of the Celtics’ problems. But it’s important to realize that there’s still a locker room full of guys here who need to correct problems of their own.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.