Brad Stevens might very well end up hearing some criticisms over the news few months.
The Eastern Conference Finals are set to begin on Wednesday night, and somehow, the Boston Celtics won’t be participating. You know, the Celtics team that made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago and came within minutes of beating LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and advancing to the finals without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
Yes; that Celtics team.
Boston came into the season as the prohibitive favorite to represent the East in the finals. For some, the regular season even felt like a formality, as people pretty much assumed that the Celtics would be taking on the Golden State Warriors for all the marbles in June.
And you can see why. After all, this was a Boston squad that would be adding two All-Stars to a lineup that beat Giannis Antetokounmpo, thumped Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and pushed LeBron to the brink.
How could the C’s not make it to the finals with that much talent?
Well, sometimes, too much talent is not a good thing if the egos aren’t in check, and the 2018-19 Boston Celtics are a prime example of that.
The Celtics ended up winning 49 games and finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference in spite of most predicting them to win in the neighborhood of 60 (or even 65) games and claim the No. 1 seed with ease.
Boston then eventually bowed out in five games to the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round in a series where one team was clearly together and one team was clearly not.
Of course, Kyrie Irving has taken most of the blame, as his habit of calling out his young teammates through the media, his impending free agency drama and his second-round no-show rubbed a whole lot of people the wrong way.
But then, Terry Rozier went on ESPN First Take on Tuesday morning and made us all realize that Irving himself was far from the only problem.
Rozier himself was clearly an issue regardless of whether or not he wants to admit it, as he outright said that Kyrie announcing he would be re-signing put him “all the way in the backseat,” an indication that he was jealous of Irving.
The backup guard also said that the coaching staff treated Irving and Gordon Hayward a bit differently.
Another key quote was Rozier saying that he was either “in the corner or on the bench.”
So, obviously, egos played a major role in what ended up being a disastrous season for the Celtics, and head coach Brad Stevens has to shoulder some of the blame here.
Look: Stevens is a very good coach. He is a terrific X’s and O’s guy, he calls some of the best after timeout plays in the league and players seem to love him. But he evidently has a lot of work to do when it comes to managing personalities.
Seeing things from Rozier’s perspective, he went from being a breakout phenom in last year’s playoffs to becoming a virtual afterthought in Boston’s rotation, and similar things can be said of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who saw their roles greatly diminished this season in spite of their outstanding playoff runs last spring.
Obviously, Rozier, Tatum and Brown were feeling themselves a bit after pushing LeBron to seven games and were not all that prepared to turn the reins over to Irving and Hayward. After all, they nearly took the Celtics to the finals; not Kyrie or Gordon.
But that is something that Stevens should have dealt with from the get-go. It was clear as day from the beginning of the season that Rozier was not too happy with his role, as evidenced by the fact that he would still play well as a starter when Irving was out, but when he came off the bench, he was horrendous. As for Brown? He was completely lost for the first month-and-a-half. Tatum looked a bit conceited all year long, perhaps still coming down from the clouds after his poster dunk on LeBron last May.
While Irving was certainly not an easy player to deal with and absolutely deserves a whole lot of the blame here, we cannot simply absolve Stevens. He is the head coach. He is supposed to be the leader. His job isn’t just confined to holding a clipboard and telling players where they are supposed to be on a certain play. His job is to handle the locker room and make sure everyone is in line.
Apparently, Stevens didn’t do that. Perhaps he was intimidated by the situation. Perhaps he simply did not know how to handle it because had never experienced anything like it. Or maybe he was even oblivious to how severe the problem really was.
No matter what it was, the fact of the matter is that Brad did not do a good enough job.
Now, this should be a learning experience for Stevens, but an issue might be the fact that he is just not the type of guy to stick his finger in your face and admonish you like Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley or Phil Jackson. Heck, even Doc Rivers.
Brad Stevens might be well-liked in the locker room, and while that’s a good thing, it’s sometimes a double-edged sword, because it’s entirely possible that the Celtics players did not take him all that seriously as an authority figure this season.
We can blame Kyrie as much as we want, and you know what? He deserves it. He is a champion who knows what it takes to win, and he himself wanted this situation. He wanted to lead his own team.
But there comes a point in time where we have to examine all of the other problems and come to the realization that the Celtics’ issues this year went beyond Kyrie Irving.
And that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the head coach.
Brad Stevens needs to be better. It’s that simple.