Tatum, lost pride and the Celtics 2021-22: what now?

Ainge says goodbye, Stevens changes benches for offices, Udoka takes the reins ... and the squad, once again, does not change. The Celtics, in no man's land.


Neither forward nor backward. It is the direction that some Celtics take aimlessly, stagnant, that have had structural but not formal changes and that continue looking for that lost green pride of which they showed long ago. Every time, and that is the problem, more time ago. The seasons without titles are accumulating, also without Finals, and the Boston team, with 17 titles under its belt, seems closer to losing its eternal historical hegemony than to recovering it. In other words: it is the Lakers who, at least in an apparent way, opt more clearly for the number 18. And not the Celtics, who have had changes in the board and on the benches and who are in the midst of transformation, but not evolution; nor involution, of course. The feeling right now is that the greens are the same as last year. And that the previous one, and the previous one, and the previous one ... Because yes, they can get their hands on the East and play those Conference finals that have been the top of the project and Stevens' curse. But they can also sink like last year, stay in the first round and say goodbye to some options that are not very clear.

The loss to the Nets in the first round, a chronicle of an announced death, opened the door to change. Thus, in italics, since it seems a word that the franchise repudiates. The culture of the Celtics has always been related to long-term projects, respect for historical players and the empowerment of coaches who have, in general, had a huge connection with the fans and the culture of the entity. However, things have changed in Boston and it seems that the team has failed to adapt to its new reality. One that has given them a ring in 35 years, but also that has seen their fans gentrify due to the rise in prices of their tickets and that the way of doing things of the past have no place in a changing NBA, with the player empowered, a predominant style different from that practiced in the Celtics' glory days, and a radically different inner workings than was practiced then.

For the Celtics, practically since the retirement of Larry Bird, it has been difficult for them to adapt, change, advance, evolve. They have followed the same trend and have consistently respected their projects, but what made them the most winning team in history in the past, has taken its toll on them in the present. Ainge replaced Red Auerbach, but continued with the master's customs and left no new imprint. Keeping Doc Rivers was ultimately a success that brought the franchise its last ring, 13 years ago, but it kept a veteran roster for too long and when there were no options for a repeat championship. And more of the same with Brad Stevens, who has been there for eight seasons, but has gone down in the last few, with the team in need of a new speech, internal fights and the management limp and without solutions.

Since the 2008 ring, the Celtics have reached one Finals and four other Conference finals. They have been candidates and favorites. But Ainge's conservatism in the market has ended up destroying the team in the face of public opinion and the green fans themselves, tired of making headlines with rumors and not facts, of not giving a blow to the market. Of insisting on resisting and ignoring the possibilities of change. And in the end, Stevens has rejected his return to Indiana University and has taken Ainge's place, but he has not especially changed the way of doing things. And yes, he has just started in office, but he has regained an old glory like Al Horford (who left at 32 and returns at 36), has finished with recent fails like Tristan Thompson and has shielded Marcus Smart, a hero. for the public. Apparently little. Also if we include Udoka, as a new coach, in the equation.

Now what?

It is hard to think that what (little) Stevens has done is going to change the dynamics of the Celtics. The return of an aging Horford does not solve the internal problem that they have dragged on since, precisely, their departure; the new coach, black at the request of the squad (you have to keep the players happy) after Becky Hammond sounded (again), has almost no experience and is a supine unknown. In addition, they have lost Evan Fournier, one of the few arrivals in recent times, and the string of untouchables that Ainge managed has not changed: the team, which should be built around Tatum, is still the one that was the last year, with Jaylen Brown, Grant Williams, a Marcus Smart who has renewed for 4 years and 77 million dollars (too much?) and those we already know: Pitchard, Robert Williams, Edwards ... Bruno Fernando will be an inner support together with Horford and Enes Kanter, who returns to the Celtics to entertain and attack (defending now, maybe ...), and Dennis Schröder is a minor prize, but achieved with only 5 million dollars, mainly due to the player ego. But a signing of some sarcasm if we take into account that a man as loved by the greens as Rajon Rondo, has returned to some Lakers with whom he already conquered the ring (another stab) in 2020.

And all this, not to mention that in the Eastern Conference things have changed. The project, limp after the passage of Kyrie Irving (today out of the team) and his inexplicable behavior, has not raised its head since then, and the extension against the Heat in the Orlando bubble got there without, again, any kind of change around. It was then, in Florida, where Smart got angry with Hayward (also outside the team), Stevens lost the singing voice and the chemistry, that which has always characterized the historic Celtics, cracked. And, in all that process, the Sixers are the eternal candidates without a prize, the Hawks have awakened with McMillan and the final awakening of Trae Young, Milwaukee is the center of the world, Giannis Antetokounmpo the king of the NBA and the Nets, that super team willing to end everything and everyone. The one that took the Celtics out in the first round in an easily predictable tie. With Kyrie in front, one of the many ironies of the best league in the world.

Tatum gives for what he gives and many things will depend on his level: more than 26 points per game last year, a consolidated rebound capacity, a forward pass on the pass and a good defensive solidity that translated into an exhibition of 50 playoff points, in the only win the Celtics could scratch the Nets. And yes, Jaylen Brown is very good, everyone loves Smart (or nobody loves him, it depends who you ask), Horford can give something of what he gave in his day, there has been some incorporation and the bench has a new face and a new voice. But, in essence, it feels like the Celtics haven't changed a thing. Its base is the same, its structure also and its philosophy, perhaps anachronistic, is based on what Auerbach was in his day and later imitated by Danny Ainge. Now, it only remains to see how the thing is given to a young team, but to a project that is no longer so. Celtic pride, lost in the sky, anxiously awaits its owner to claim it again. For now, neither forward nor backward. The team, stagnant, seeks its place in an NBA that does not wait for anyone. Not even the Celtics.

Photos from as.com
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