Mazz: Damian Lillard and the Celtics are now enemies
Google the phrase “Damian Lillard Celtics.” What you will get is a cluster of stories outlining the impact on yesterday’s NBA blockbuster trade that sent Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks. The ramifications for the NBA are gigantic, though, hopefully, the biggest reverberations are taking place inside the walls of Celtics’ home at TD Garden.
Because the Celtics should be so pissed about this that it fuels them to their next championship.
And if it doesn’t? Well, that’s a bad, bad sign.
Lest anyone forget, Jayson Tatum tried to recruit Lillard, who all but gave Tatum the cold shoulder. NBA insider Chris Haynes went on with Dan Patrick and all but scoffed at the idea of coming to Boston, making it clear that Miami was the player’s priority. Now Lillard has ended with the Milwaukee Bucks, pairing him with Giannis Antetokounmpo to form a duo so explosive that the Bucks instantly were elevated to favorites for the NBA Championship. The Denver Nuggets are second for oddsmakers. The Celtics, despite the acquisition of Kristaps Porzingis, are a close third.
So here’s here’s the point:
The Celtics should be insulted by all of this.
Let’s back up here for a second. Years ago, during the 2012-13 NHL season, Jerome Iginla forced his way out of Calgary. The Bruins were among the teams who pursued the Hall of Famer and believed they had struck a deal. Iginla then jilted the Bruins and joined Sidney Crosby as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who advanced to the NHL Eastern Conference Finals when they encountered, you guessed, the Bruins for the right to play for the Stanley Cup.
Do you remember what happened next? The Bruins swept the Penguins out of the playoffs, winning the series by the combined score of 12-2. That’s right. In four games, a Pittsburgh team featuring Crosby and Iginla, among others, scored two goals and was defeated by the scores of 3-0, 6-1, 2-1 and 1-0. Iginla was held pointless in the series and was a minus-4. Crosby was similarly held scoreless and was a minus-2. And while the Bruins went on to lose the Stanley Cup final to the Chicago Blackhawks, the victory over Pittsburgh was a decisive middle finger to Iginla, who subsequently signed with the Bruins during the offseason.
Now entering the sixth year of the Tatum era, it’s time for the Celtics to do the same to Lillard.
As we all know, professional sports are a business. But the truth is that the best stuff often comes when the games get personal – and on multiple levels. Tatum and Brown are now the undisputed cornerstones on which the Celtics are built. Even Marcus Smart has been moved out of their way. Tatum has done and shown an array of things over the years, but he has rarely shown a disgust or distaste for how he has been treated. In the real world, this is a sign of a maturity beyond his years; in the sports world, it’s a hint (maybe) that he lacks a chip on his shoulder. In some ways, Damian Lillard and the Celtics should be a perfect for one another. Certainly, Lillard and Tatum are precisely the kind of old-and-young tandem that could make opponents tremble. Tatum showed interest in that union while Lillard chuckled at it, all before he ended alongside perhaps the Celtics’ biggest rival in the Eastern Conference.
Will other dominoes now fall in the East? Perhaps. Jrue Holiday would be a nice fit here in place of Malcolm Brogdon. If Holiday ends up in Miami, that would further thicken the field and plot. But if Tatum wants his first `chip, as the kids now call them, the truth is that the Celtics already most of what they need. They have ample talent. They certainly now possess the experience. And Tatum should now have what he needs most, a snub from a fellow superstar that should make him want to beat the pulp out of anyone and anything in his path.
A chip on your shoulder, Jayson, is what can finally put a `chip in your pocket.