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Seeds of Celtics’ ‘dysfunction’ planted long before Marcus Smart call out

Marcus Smart Boston Celtics Jayson Tatum Jaylen Brown Brad Stevens

The Boston Celtics are in dire straits this season after one of the worst fourth quarter collapses in NBA history. Leading by 14 points entering the final frame against the Chicago Bulls on Monday night, they ended up on the wrong side of a 39-11 smacking in those final 12 minutes to somehow lose 128-114.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown weren’t available for comment after the game, but Marcus Smart more than made up for their absence. The Celtics guard was calm yet highly critical of his two All-Star teammates, emphasizing that both Brown and Tatum need “pass the ball” more and create plays for others.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“There’s only so much I can do without the ball in my hands,” said Smart after the Celtics’ collapse. “I just sit and stand in the corner. We running plays for our best players. Every team knows that. They do a good job of shutting that down. We can’t allow that. We can’t keep trying to go to those guys. We have to abort that. Find another way to get them the ball in other spots. I can only do so much when I’m standing in the corner.”

“I would just like to play basketball,” Smart continued. “Every team knows we’re trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen. Every team is programmed and studied to stop Jayson and Jaylen. I think everybody’s scouting report is to make those guys pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball.”

Smart wasn’t necessarily wrong in his assessment, but it felt a lot like airing out the Celtics’ dirty laundry in public rather than keeping things under wraps for the team to resolve such matters in private.

Both the comments and the massive collapse have since brought up a firestorm of reactions that put the spotlight on the Celtics as a team potentially in flux.

The Celtics “dysfunction” isn’t new

Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Bulls, Celtics

This isn’t the first sign of dysfunction within the franchise, either. As veteran guard Kemba Walker was traded away before this season, a bombshell report from The Athletic’s Jared Weiss dropped that shed light on some internal problems within the organization.

There was reportedly a “tension-filled” relationship between the Walker and current Celtics president and then head coach Brad Stevens allegedly due to the fact that he was harder on Walker than the other top players who had been there longer.

Via The Athletic:

According to multiple team sources, there was some dysfunction in the locker room, with the relationship between Stevens and Kemba Walker characterized as tension-filled. Sources also suggest that Stevens was also perceived to be harder on Walker than on other top players.

This came in the wake of Gordon Hayward’s departure, after which sources said Hayward told Stevens he needed to establish a stronger voice with players if they were going to win.

Both Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward haven’t really been known for being controversial figures in the locker room throughout their careers. But their sentiments seemingly echoed one another in that the culture currently existing within the Celtics organization was at least somewhat problematic.

Celtics Brad Stevens Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart knows it too. The same report indicated that he was vocal about holding members of the team accountable as early as the 2019-20 season but was largely ignored.

Team sources suggest Smart was alone in trying to establish that accountability last season, with teammates often tuning him out. It reached a boiling point when he and Jaylen Brown were involved in a heated confrontation after Game 2 of the 2020 Eastern Conference finals as reported by The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

The subpar culture that exists has seemingly been an open secret among players. Brooklyn Nets big man Blake Griffin was reportedly warned against joining the Celtics midseason last year by an anonymous player on the roster.

The dysfunction hasn’t been as publicized as other situations like the Ben Simmons drama with the Philadelphia 76ers. But there have been smattering of hints here and there that point to things not being perfectly sunny in Boston.

The season is still at its infancy with not even 10% of games being played thus far. There’s no reason to panic just yet. But where the Celtics go from this point forward feels crucial in determining where the franchise is headed as a whole. Will they be able to fix this or will these issues fester even further?

The debacle of the Bulls collapse coupled with Marcus Smart’s incendiary statement could be the spark they need to turn things around while they still can. But it could just as well be the impetus for sweeping changes within the franchise sooner rather than later.