Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown hugged each other a few moments after the 7th game of the Eastern Conference finals.
“They said we couldn’t play together,” Tatum said with a wide smile.
That was the biggest problem Boston Celtics have had since Tatum, 24, and Brown, 25, took over the team before the 2019-20 season. That year — Tatum’s third and Brown’s fourth in the NBA — they led the team to two victories to reach the finals. Since then, Boston has been faced with questions about whether the tournament could be a tournament-caliber team built around them.
Those questions were the loudest at the beginning of the year — dominated by TV panels and podcasts — when the Celtics were 18-21 and ready to miss the playoffs. Instead, a significant change pushed the Celtics to a final against Golden State for the first time since 2010.
“We certainly thought about the negotiations of some of the big players who thought they would be available in the last 10 years and we had conversations,” Celtic owner Wyc Grousbeck said in an interview. “It would be wrong to say that we have never been involved in trade talks with X, Y or Z players.”
But, he added, “we valued our boys more than the market seems to be.”
The trend in the NBA over the last 15 years, even though it wasn’t formed at the time, has been to pursue the creation of so-called supergroups at the expense of developing continuity and nurturing young players. The 2007-8 Celtics included Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett through their successful work to complete Paul Pierce and who won a championship was a prime example.
Since then, several teams have emptied their closets with draft picks and young players to acquire reputable stars — as did the Celtics — to compete in mercenary tournaments in a league-wide arms race. This has coincided with the player empowerment movement, where top players have tried, often successfully, to swap teams with other stars.
This has left the new team of players amazed, leaving all the selections and what the young players will deserve.
The Celtics tried to break into the trend – they traded Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward signed a major free agent deal after drafting Tatum in 2017 – but the current team is the result of years of investment in young players. The Celtics are on the verge of a tournament that goes against what has become common knowledge about team building in the NBA. As a result of luck or hard office work, or both, the Celtics ’approach is bearing fruit.
In recent years, All-Stars Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Ben Simmons, James Harden, Anthony Davis and Paul George have been among the engineers of the professions. Irving was forced to trade from Cleveland to land in Boston.
Almost every time a star was told he wanted to get out of their situation, the Celtics would link him to trade talks. Few teams can offer as many talented or draft-picking players as possible in Boston, some of whom were acquired by Boston in an agreement with the Nets in 2013 to form their own supergroup.
Grousbeck declined to comment on what deals Boston was approaching. At least in one case, the star seemed to make the decision for the Celtics. Davis’ father, Anthony Davis Sr., told the public that he did not want his son to play in Boston – that even if Davis moved to Boston, he would not re-sign when his contract expired, which was no less valuable. The Celtics are in a deal with their main players.
“I think what happens is that you want to negotiate a draft capital if you get the right deals and feel close enough to win,” said Danny Ainge, who was president of Boston Basketball Operations from 2003-21, Sports. Recently illustrated. “None of us know what would have happened in different situations.”
In some cases, the bets of the supergroups worked, at least in the short term. The Toronto Raptors won the championship in 2019, led by Leonard; The Lakers won a title in 2020 with Davis. But the Nets won the only playoff series with Harden in February before forcing a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers. To get Harden out of Houston, the Nets left the 24-year-old Jarrett Allen center, making his first All-Star team with Cleveland this year.
The only series the Nets won with Harden was against Boston in the first round of the 2021 playoffs, with Brown injured. The Celtics, left behind in the super-team gun race, seemed to be drifting. Some of the last round draft selections, such as Romeo Langford (2019) and Aaron Nesmith (2020), seemed empty. Irving and Hayward went. Former All-Star Kemba Walker, who signed a maximum contract with Celtics to replace Irving, was injured and mishandled. Suddenly, unlike the Boston, Raptors and Lakers title teams, it looked like a team that had been holding out too much time for young players.
The day after the Celtics were eliminated from the playoffs, Boston announced at the same time that he would step down as president of the Ainge team and be replaced by Brad Stevens. Stevens was the team coach for eight seasons, but had no front office experience.
Grousbeck said Stevens had proposed replacing Ainge, citing Stevens’ tenure in the team and his “personal connection” to the property. At a press conference announcing the move last June, Stevens said he discussed the possibility of taking office with Ainge and Grousbeck, and told Grousbeck, “I love the Celtics. I want to do my best for the Celtics.”
One of Stevens ’first moves was to hire Ime Udoka as coach, Udoka’s first major role as assistant after nine years. Grousbeck said he was not worried about Stevens and Udoka’s lack of experience in their new work.
“I went to Ime and Brad before the season started and I personally said,‘ I’m not stressed about how this season starts, ’” Grousbeck said.
There are many examples of professional sports owners who preach patience but do not practice it. As the season progressed, it was believed that the Celtics could mostly win as Tatum and Brown.
“Now, did I start worrying in the first half? Yes I did. But I kept it to myself, ”Grousbeck said.
After a 18-21 start, the Celtics went 33-10 and no. Ranked 3rd in the Eastern Conference qualifiers. Most of the players in the final round were selected by the Celtics and are under 25, including Tatum (24), Brown (25), Robert Williams III (24), Grant Williams (23) and Payton Pritchard (24). Marcus Smart, 28, joined Celtics in 2014 and was named this season’s defensive player.
That would leave the Celtics in good shape for years to come. They are in the semi-finals and many of the players have not reached the first division. But tournament windows can be slender. After this year, the NBA will nominate at least five different teams to champion in seven years. The Celtics may regret not exchanging Davis or another big name if they don’t win a title this year. After all, just a year ago, when the Celtics seemed to be locked in mediocrity, the Phoenix Sounds came away with two wins in a tournament, despite being a western position in the second round of the postseason. 1 seed.
But if Boston wins, maybe the next team will think twice before reaching an agreement when the next Harden or Simmons try to force a trade. The Celtics aren’t quite a model of patience – a stroke of luck seems to have knocked down their superstar trade negotiations – but they seem to be working well.
It’s not that Grousbeck is interested in giving back the victory.
“I don’t think anyone needs our advice to build a team, ”Grousbeck said.