Danny Ainge struck gold with the Nets deal. A quick rebuild landed him a chest of draft picks, and Ainge was great at doing the hardest thing - landing All-Star/All-NBA level players. Getting Jaylen Brown at no.3 in 2016 was great, but his masterstroke was trading out of the no.1 spot and giving Markelle Fultz to the 76ers to get Jayson Tatum at no.3 and an extra draft pick. Not only that, their foundational players are both the most coveted kind of players in the modern NBA - versatile wings.
The beggining of the end for Tatum & Brown?
To remind you, the Celtics were in the Eastern Conference Finals the year they had the no.1 pick. They had all the assets to become the next NBA dynasty. So fast forward five years later, and you'll find them at the 9th spot in the East, with a 14-14 record. If you had to describe the C's with one word, that would be "blah" or a bit more eloquent, "mediocre." What went wrong?
While Ainge did the hard stuff right - traded fan-favorite champions Pierce and Garnett, at the right time, got lucky with how quickly the Nets gave up on that team and drafted Brown and Tatum in consecutive years - everything else seems to have gone poorly in Boston. The shortest explanation is that Ainge kept waiting to throw a half dozen picks at a superstar, and it never happened. Many of those great Nets and Sacramento picks turned out to be not so great.
I would say the early returns so far from what I’ve heard from around the league, there is not much interest in this former first-round picks that Boston has. ... They had draft pick after draft pick after draft pick, that hasn’t netted them anything more than back of the rotation type players. They haven’t really developed anybody outside of that besides Robert Williams, and they are where they are."
Jake Fischer, SiriusXM NBA Radio
Payton Pritchard, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, and Aaron Nesmith aren't what the front office and the fans imagined while they were just draft picks. Look, the draft is hard, and that's why Sam Hinkie asked Philly fans to trust the process. It's more of an art than a science, and while Tatum and Brown were two home runs, all the other swings were basically a miss. The only guy who is showing potential, but lacks consistency, is Timelord, also known as Robert Williams. Fischer made a grim prediction based on this.
“So I think this is definitely the beginning of the end of theJayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown pairing. I don’t know if that will get broken up this season. But I think sometime in the next 12 to 18 months we’re really going to start to hear conversations about the future of Boston with Jaylen Brown heading out the door.”
Jake Fischer, SiriusXM NBA Radio
Is this too dramatic?
Jayson Tatum is under contract through '24/'25 and has a player option for '25/'26. Jalen Brown, on the other hand, is under contract until '23/'24. While that may seem far away, that means he'll only have two years left on his deal after this season. I say only two years, because if Brad Stevens decides something radical needs to happen, that's the time to pull the trigger.
There's a legitimate concern both of these guys are not no.1 players on a championship team because they don't really make players around them better. Tatum and Brown are monsters on defense and can drop 35 on any given night. But when they play, it seems like a great game of 1-on-1. They're not doing it within a system.
So the question is - do you blame it on the coach/system or the players? If we start hearing rumors about the Celtics not hanging up when teams mention Jalen Brown in trade scenarios, then Brad Stevens is entertaining the thought it might be the players.
All that being said, Brown is 25, and Tatum is 23. These guys join the NBA so soon we forget their growth is longer than players in the 90s or 00s. Ultimately, even if they decide to make significant changes, I think the Celtics will, and should, have a reset year with a clear plan to build around Tatum and Brown. They still have time to figure out that dropping an efficient 28/7/5 within an inclusive system is better than a 34/9/6 while teammates stand in the corner.
We're not at the beginning of the end yet. But the time for the C's is ticking. Let's see what Brad Stevens and Ime Udoka can do.