Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics players react on the bench during the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat at TD Garden. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

This loss by the Boston Celtics will inevitably lead to some tough conversations.

Most importantly, those talks will take place within the walls of the organization itself, as the 2-seed Celtics sit and wonder what went wrong after losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to the 8-seed Miami Heat in Game 7, on their home floor, by 19 points. There’s simply no doubt that going from an NBA Finals berth to this kind of crushing defeat is a step backward for a team with so much promise.

The problem, now, is that they may have only one year left to figure it out with their current core led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. It could be decision time with Brown sooner than you think, as he enters the final year of his contract in 2023-24.

And that’s why questions will arise of whether big decisions need to be made with this Celtics team. This summer, not next.

  • May 29, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) dunks against Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) during the fourth quarter of game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals for the 2023 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

  • Now that Brown was named to the All-NBA Team, he is eligible for a “supermax” deal of five years and $295 million. So, it’s soon going to be time for Celtics President of Basketball Ops Brad Stevens to decide whether he wants to make that kind of investment with Brown, in particular.

    Stevens isn’t likely to fall victim to recency bias with Brown, but signing him to nearly $300 million doesn’t sound like something anyone will want to consider in the immediate aftermath of the Eastern Conference Finals. Brown averaged an underwhelming 19 points over the seven-game series, while shooting 38.6 percent from the field – and an abysmal 16.3 percent from three-point range (7-for-43).

    That doesn’t necessarily mean the Celtics should move on from Brown now. But if Stevens were to decide they want to go in a different direction with all that money, and continue to be a top NBA title contender, then the move would be to trade Brown this off-season.

    That’s why the easiest move would be to simply sign Brown to the supermax if he wants it here, then if he ultimately wants out, they’ll have more time to figure that out. But the time to decide on Brown’s future is now.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 29: Jayson Tatum #0 talks with head coach Joe Mazzulla of the Boston Celtics during the third quarter against the Miami Heat in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on May 29, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

  • As for the rest of the key pieces of the Celtics’ roster, Tatum is still signed for two more seasons with a player option for 2025-26. But he is also supermax-eligible in the summer of 2024, so he’s in line to get a big raise before he even needs to consider that option year.

    Tatum will face questions about his ability to truly be a No. 1 star on a championship-winning team until he actually wins. But at the end of the day, the Celtics don’t have much choice but to build around him, and if anyone moves, it won’t be him. Perhaps the only real change that needs to take place is for Tatum to take on even more of an alpha, leadership role, and simply go to another level on the court.

    But if Stevens decides that this core isn’t the right mix to win it all, knowing him, he will want to swing a big, DNA-changing trade. That would involve Brown or Marcus Smart, and Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White, Robert Williams III, and Al Horford shouldn’t be considered untouchable, either. All of these aforementioned players should be considered candidates for upgrades, or just something different.

  • Through all this, perhaps the big change doesn’t need to come on the roster, but the coaching staff. Joe Mazzulla proved to be decidedly in over his head at 34 years old and trying to navigate a relatively young team through the NBA Playoffs against vastly more experienced coaches.

    This will put Stevens in a tough spot. Mazzulla may not carry enough fault for this loss to truly deserve a firing, because he was thrust into an almost impossible spot to begin with. But the Celtics will certainly want to add a veteran or three to the staff, definitely if Mazzulla stays in the head position.

    Wherever the big change(s) comes for the Celtics, it likely needs to come now. Well, June, July. But it’s imminent. Even if it’s just one change. Unless Stevens wants to just run it back with what they have.

    OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA - JANUARY 03: Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics is restrained by head coach Joe Mazzulla of the Boston Celtics after being ejected during the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Paycom Center on January 03, 2023 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Ian Maule/Getty Images)

    Ian Maule/Getty Images

  • In the hours right after such a stinging loss – and considering the team’s championship aspirations and opportunity against a lower seed at home, a big-time disappointment – it’s hard to believe anyone would want to change nothing.

    There will no doubt be calls to Blow It Up™. Break up “The Jays.” Fire this one, trade that one. That’ll get out of hand. But the time to wonder about it, and for the team to decide what to do, is sooner rather than later.

    That might only mean one big move, whether it’s a player or a coach. But it’s impossible to imagine this Celtics team won’t return next season with something significantly different.

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    Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.

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