It’s been a bumpy ride for the 2020-21 Boston Celtics.
They’re a .500 team, with just four wins in their last 12 tries – the latest setback a 122-114 loss to the 12-16 Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night. Granted, the C’s were down Kemba Walker and Daniel Theis, with Marcus Smart remaining sidelined as he recovers from a calf injury, but even a sub-optimal rotation might be expected to hold Atlanta south of 68 percent shooting on two-point attempts, with 60 points allowed in the paint.
And even when Walker and Theis have been active, there have been uneven results.
“We haven’t played great in a while,” coach Brad Stevens told Zolak & Bertrand on Thursday.
Stevens. Danny Ainge. The defense. The stars. The bench. The effort. Just about everything has come into question in recent weeks. Trade rumors are flying, as Ainge himself admitted he doesn’t see the team as a championship contender.
And while health has been a legitimate issue, some things are more difficult to explain.
“We just haven’t gotten any sort of consistent flow or groove,” the boss told Toucher and Rich. “We’ve had great moments, good games, good wins, and just a lot of stinkers. And our consistency’s been bad.”
“We have issues that we need to fix. And I think that we will. I really believe that our team is going to come around.”
Stevens says the team will continue working to get to that place.
“I’d like to see us…have some of these nights where we walk out and you say, ‘that’s a team moving in the right direction.’ We’re not there yet.”
Hanging on the telephone
Some observers think a trade would shake the Celtics out of their funk.
Filling in for Adam Jones and Christian Arcand on Monday, Mike Flynn and I broke down some of the team’s potential options. The usual suspects, like Harrison Barnes, Aaron Gordon and Andre Drummond came up. LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin were mentioned as buyout candidates.
One name that’s recently picked up traction is power forward John Collins, who turned down the Hawks’ offer of a $90 million extension during the offseason. The headline may turn fans’ heads, but that’s all part of the negotiation, explained Kevin Chouinard of Hawks.com in a new interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub. It doesn’t necessarily mean the talented young big is on the outs in Atlanta.
It’s also unlikely the Hawks would take a bunch of prospects and lottery tickets from the Celtics in return, as they already have a bit of a roster crunch and are looking to move toward postseason contention, not push it off.
With a $28.5 million trade exception at his disposal, Ainge says he’s actively looking for deals. But he also preached his familiar principles of patience and discipline:
“You can’t force deals to happen,” he said. “You can’t give up too much right out of the gate…those deals aren’t there today, because…a lot of teams are still in it. They’re not sellers. A month from now, there might be a different perspective.”
Starman, waiting in the sky
Regardless of whether you think the NBA should be playing an All-Star Game amidst a pandemic, the annual ritual of selecting the All-Star teams can change the course of a player’s career. Sure, for LeBron James, it’s old news. But for a budding star, it could jump start a string of midseason showcases or be the snub that motivates one to new horizons.
The East starters were selected Thursday night and, perhaps unsurprisingly, there were no Celtics in the mix. With Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Joel Embiid as household names, there was little chance of Jayson Tatum breaking through. The 22-year-old finished fourth in the frontcourt voting and projects to land a bench spot for the second consecutive season.
Jaylen Brown perhaps has the bigger beef. While backcourt starter Bradley Beal is putting up some of the best individual numbers we’ve ever seen, you could argue Kyrie Irving rode his reputation to a starting spot. Granted, he is scoring nearly 28 points per game on 53 percent shooting. But he’s missed a third of his team’s contests, and the media vote had Brown ahead of both Irving and his new Nets teammate James Harden.
It’s likely Brown gets a spot on the roster, but perhaps the slight stokes a future fire for the fifth-year wing.
Coming up next
The C’s play the Hawks Friday night for what will be the second of three matchups between the clubs over eight days. Tipoff is 7:30 on the 98.5 The Sports Hub Celtics Radio Network.
Walker and Theis are not listed on the injury report, though Brown is questionable with knee soreness.
As mentioned above, I recently spoke with Kevin Chouinard of Hawks.com and the Peachtree Hoops podcast about Trae Young, the possibility of a John Collins trade to Boston, the Atlanta’s crazy depth and their future aspirations in the Eastern Conference. You can listen to that below.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk hoops with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.