When Gordon Hayward went down mere seconds into the season, the Celtics title shot took a serious hit. Sure, you still had Kyrie Irving and the kid Tatum as improvements over the team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last year. But, was that going to be enough? It certainly wasn’t going to be as easy as it should have been.
Then the season went along, and things started to look pretty good. Tatum advanced faster than anyone not name Ainge could have expected. You had to wonder if having Hayward on the team might have actually hurt his development. Things were pretty exciting.
Then, just when you started to think this team might actually be OK, Kyrie went down for the season. That settled it. The team would now be lucky to make a series out of the first round.
But, things went even better. Tatum, it turns out, is someone who can carry a team. He started drawing comparisons to a young Magic Johnson putting a team on his back in the playoffs. And, he almost did it. He brought the Celtics to a game seven in the Eastern Conference Finals before the team finally faltered.
Things suddenly started to swirl in your mind. Somewhere between disappointment and excitement. Clearly, if this team still had Kyrie and Hayward, they would have been better than the Cavs. Heck, obviously just one of them probably would have been enough. (You know Kyrie would have drained a few threes in game seven, right?) Next year, with both of them, this really will be a cake walk.
Unless the role players have advanced too far?
I always thought the sheer genius of the 2008 Celtics was the way they all fit together. The team already had Paul Pierce. So, I always felt that adding a star like, say, Kobe Bryant would have been disastrous. Two guys who can create their own shot, who can drive the lane, who can control the ball, may have created some issues. Only one can shoot, after all. But the Celts didn’t do that. They brought in KG, who was happy to just clog the lane and let Paul do his thing. They also brought in Ray Allen. Yes, he needed to give up some of the luster on his star, but as the most lethal three pointer in history, he was the perfect complement to a guy who could drive the lane and kick back out behind the arc. It was beautiful.
So, what happens next year? The starting line-up will be something like Kyrie-Tatum- Brown-Hayward-Horford, right? So, where does Tatum now fit in? Is his role diminished? Is he too good for that to happen? Can Hayward step back a bit compared to what he’s used to? Will Kyrie shed some of the points for Tatum to collect? Because Tatum knows he can be the man, now. It’s going to be hard for him to look to feed the other guys like he might have this year. What about Brown? Does he go from second banana to fifth option? Sixth?
Sure, it could all work out. Maybe Kyrie figures out how to divvy up the ball to keep everyone happy. Maybe everyone finds a role, whether it’s down on the box, or floating around the arc.
But I can’t help but wonder if it would have been easier if the kids didn’t know just how good they are.