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Boston Celtics

(Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Following back-to-back heartbreaking losses and with a sub-.500 record, the Celtics have received as much scrutiny in the past few days as they have at any point in the post-Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett era. With his team in a precarious spot, Celtics’ Governor, Managing Partner, and CEO Wyc Grousbeck joined 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Felger and Mazz on Wednesday to discuss the state of the team.

Over the course of the 23 minute conversation, Grousbeck discussed the Celtics’ current issues, what led to this point, what can be done to fix the problems with the team, and when those changes might occur. You can hear the full interview below.

“I’ve done a little complaining and in private and I feel a little frustrated. We’re not contenders,” Grousbeck offered as a general assessment of the team, echoing comments made by GM Danny Ainge last week. “You can’t say you’re a contender if you’re below .500 a third of the way into the season. And so we’re not. I hope the second third, or whatever, is better than the first, third. We’ve got some work to do.”

As for where that work needs to be done, Grousbeck mentioned he’s seen the team show a lack of energy at times this year. “I would say that we look tired or emotionally drained or whatever,” he said, before tying those potential struggles to a void in leadership. “[Marcus] Smart isn’t there. And so we have not had the kind of Kevin Garnett, go rip everybody’s throat out, intensity. I don’t feel like that selfishness. I feel like that’s being exhausted or unable to or not bringing the consistent, rabid energy that is required to win consistently in the NBA.”

That wasn’t the only time Grousbeck invoked Garnett’s name. “Well, I think if we had KG in his prime, we’d be a better team. That’s an obvious comment, but it’s a true comment. I’ve made that comment in in private life to a million other people. You know, if KG were here back in the day – we do need that,” he continued.

“Marcus [Smart] brings some of that Jayson [Tatum], Jalylen [Brown], when they’re at their best bring some of that. Kemba [Walker] brings some of that in a different style – he’ll cut your throat while he smiles at you. So we’ve got guys who do that on the team, but we just need to take this to another level as the season progresses. I really hope and I know the guys feel this way. Brad [Stevens] feels this way, Danny [Ainge] feels this way, they want to do better than this. Nobody is accepting this as the way it has to be.”

Grousbeck also mentioned the Celtics roster-wide youth as being a potential road block to sustained success this season. “I think we’ve got our coach coaching a lot of young guys. I think our two key two key guys – I think Jayson’s birthday is [next week] – so they’re 23 and 24,” he noted. “We’ve got a young team. And so when you coach a young team, as Doc Rivers found out, when you coach a young team, it’s a pain in the neck half the time and you get gray hair and you have to hope it gets better.”

He did, however, flip that current weakness into a reason for optimism about the future. “I think we’ve got a roster that isn’t a contending roster right now, but it has the makings of something good, I hope. And starting at the top of the roster with the best players, they’re keepers, and we’re going to keep them.”

That was a common theme from Grousbeck in the interview – acknowledging the current struggles but not wanting to over react to them. For instance, when asked about head coach Brad Stevens – whose seat is as hot as it’s been in his tenure in Boston – Grousbeck replied, “I am happy with Brad. I talk to Danny and Brad all the time. I feel very connected to those guys. And I look at just the facts of it…I’m the one that has to make the decision, I’m the one that has to live with the change, and say ‘oh my god, I let somebody go.’ And then immediately either one of those guys would be immediately the top campaign in the league for the job. It doesn’t matter just about who else is out there. So they’re our guys and we’re sticking with them. And it was not even a question in my mind.”

“I look at – you took in two 19-year-olds, Jaylen Brown first and then Jayson Tatum. There was questions about drafting both of them, questions about what they could be and they’re both deserved All-Stars right now,” Grousbeck continued in his defense of Stevens. “So yet again, every time I’m asked about Brad, I mentioned that guys have career years with Brad and the development of those two 19-year-olds is first and foremost to their own credit. But secondly, it’s to Brad’s credit.”

Felger & Mazz also discussed the long-term future of the team with Grousbeck, who said the team is committed to spending what it takes to put together a championship roster. “We’re a consistent [luxury] tax payer and a consistent would-be, in our own minds, contender,” Grousbeck replied when asked if going over the luxury tax would cause the team to have second thoughts about a potential acquisition. “That’s the way we want to run the team and we want to get back to that status as soon as we can.”

That comment may lead many fans to thinking about the $28.5 million TPE the team acquired for Gordon Hayward before the season. With the NBA trade deadline a month away, how that exception may be used has been a common point of discussion. Bu, as Ainge mentioned last week, Grousbeck expects that to come into play in the offseason, when the general finances around the league are more flexible.

“Money doesn’t drive our show around here. It’s trying to win. But we have to also run – we are under a cap situation and we are hard capped at the moment, like literally can’t afford more than ‘X’ amount,” he explained. “Which is why that TPE is probably going to be more useful – maybe we can use part of it within the hard cap at the trade deadline and if it’s available to us and we want to do it, we’ll do it if the right deal is there – but otherwise it’s something we’ll probably look more to the offseason for.”

Of course, any such move is likely to build around Tatum and Brown. While some have suggested that one or both of those young superstars may lose faith with the organization after a disappointing season and start thinking about leaving Boston, Grousbeck isn’t worried about that hypothetical.”

The ink is still wet on their contracts. They both just signed max, gigantic long term extensions,” he replied when asked if he feels immediate pressure to keep them happy. “Jayson just signed like, literally a few months ago, a max extension. And Jaylen signed a huge extension a year ago. So we’ll we’ll worry about them being unhappy if it ever happens four years from now.”

Towards the end, the interview took a turn to past moves by the Celtics, which may have drawn the most interesting comment from Grousbeck. Speaking about Kyrie Irving, Grousbeck mentioned that the team may still be feeling the effects of his brief stint and sudden departure two years ago.

“We had hoped Kyrie would stay forever and lead us all the way. He’s on maybe the best team in the league right now. And so that’s that,” Grousbeck said. “That change touched off a lot of stuff because he left, we weren’t able to maybe recruit free agents from the same way. And, you know, a bit of a domino effect, but it is what it is. We went went for it with Kyrie. We had a good year with him. He tried hard and then he moved on.”

Still, Grousbeck says he doesn’t regret initially trading for Irving before the 2017-2018 season. “I don’t view that deal as a mistake. I’ll view other ones as a mistake, like Kendrick Perkins. Wish we hadn’t done that, as I’ve said before,” he admitted. “I think going for Kyrie and then having a really good year with Kyrie and getting to the Conference Finals despite his injury was a pretty magical year. And I think that was a reasonable deal to do.”

Grousbeck’s Celtics return to the floor Wednesday night to take on the Hawks. Coverage of that game can be found on 98.5 The Sports Hub, with pregame starting at 7:00 p.m.

Click here for 98.5 The Sports Hub’s complete coverage of the Celtics.

Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.