Why You Should Evaluate Celtics from a Macro, Not a Micro, Perspective
BOSTON – Boston Celtics lead owner and governor Wyc Grousbeck exited his Waldorf Astoria hotel room in Orlando in search of an emotional release and a clear mind.
He figured a workout might do the trick.
It was the morning of Sept. 24, hours after he sat behind a plexiglass wall inside of the NBA’s bubble and watched his No. 3-seeded Celtics fall behind the No. 5-seeded Miami Heat three games to one in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The presence of frustration within him was palpable – as it is now for many Celtics fans following Boston’s elimination from the Playoffs this week – but it wasn’t enough to deter him from his goal.
A little exercise, and a little fresh air, would cleanse his mind of the micro-level thoughts that had been driven into his head following the previous night’s loss. He quickly recognized that thinking from a macro perspective was far more resourceful.
“I was realizing that the last team that we had that was really good – super good – the guys were all 10 years older, in their early 30s,” Grousbeck said Sept. 24 on a Zoom call, alluding to the most recent Big Three era with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. “We are a very young team.”
Tied for the youngest team, in fact, that qualified for the NBA Playoffs this season, per RealGM.com. Boston’s average age this season was 24.3 years old, tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the youngest among the 16 playoff teams.
Think about that for a moment and let it sink in.
The Boston Celtics, who advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in the last four seasons while featuring the same core of young talent, were tied for the youngest team in the NBA Playoffs this season. They were one of the final three teams standing.
The other young team? Well, the Thunder were eliminated during the first round.
From a realistic perspective, any team would be proud of advancing to the Conference Finals, because doing so is so darn difficult. Doing so with such youth, three times in four years, is borderline miraculous. That’s what Grousbeck realized.
“I’m finding reasons to be hopeful,” Grousbeck said, “not just about [Game 5 played on Sept. 25), but about the future, long-term.”
From that perspective, the Celtics are set up to be title contenders for years to come. There’s really no question about that.
Jayson Tatum ascended not only to an All-Star level as a 22-year-old this season, but he also earned MVP consideration. Tatum received his first MVP vote after averaging 23.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.4 steals this season, which featured spikes to 26.6 points, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals over the final 30 games of a 72-game regular season.
Tatum is already considered by many as a top-10 player in the NBA as a 22-year-old. He already has a wealth of experience having advanced to the postseason during all three of his campaigns, and to the Conference Finals twice. He has the potential to become the most dynamic two-way player in the game over the next decade.
It’s important to note that the Celtics could very well offer Tatum a lucrative contract extension heading into next season, as they executed this past fall with Jaylen Brown.
Speaking of Brown, he is yet another young, dynamic two-way star who has developed at a high rate.
Brown, who himself is only 23 years old, was a borderline All-Star this season, and he continued to improve as the season wore on. He was at times Boston’s best player during the postseason and former Celtic and current ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins called him the top young two-way player in the league.
Brown’s scoring and rebounding averages jumped from 13.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season to 20.3 PPG and 6.4 RPG this season. Even more impressive than the numbers were his clear developments in handling the ball and making decisions off the dribble, as well as his passing abilities.
Brown will be pushing for his first All-Star appearance next season, and depending on how the league shakes out in the coming years, he could very well become a perennial All-Star.
Boston’s promising long-term future begins with Tatum and Brown, but it certainly does not end there. The C’s have Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart under contract for multiple seasons. Gordon Hayward could very well be back. Romeo Langford, Rob Williams, Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards continue to develop. And let’s not forget the fact that Boston has three first-round picks to play with in the Nov. 18 Draft.
The Celtics are unquestionably set up to compete for years to come. While disappointing, the fact that they didn’t advance to the Finals or win a championship this season doesn’t change that fact. The expectation was not that they’d reach those heights this season in the first place. The only reason it even became a possibility is because Tatum and Brown's development exceeded expectations at their age.
From a historical perspective, the last time a player 23-or-under led a team to a championship as its top player was during the lockout season of 1999, when Tim Duncan and the Spurs won the title. But he had a Hall of Famer alongside him in David Robinson, and the rest of the rotation was constructed of a long list of savvy veterans in their 30s.
Simply put, a player leading his team to a title in his early 20s just doesn’t happen. It didn’t happen with Jordan. It didn’t happen with LeBron. It didn’t happen with Kobe (although he was Shaq's second banana as a 22-year-old in 2000). It just takes time.
The good news for Boston in this regard is that, thanks to their experience and roles on Boston's teams over the last four seasons, Tatum and Brown are well ahead of the trajectory of many of the game's greats when it comes to knowing what it takes to contend for a title at an early age. They have the experience, and now as they reach All-Star and MVP levels, now they are inching toward having the ability.
With that being said, the Celtics are now at a point where Tatum, Brown and the rest of the team have hit a crossroads. Their development accelerated at such a rate this season that even at their young age, there are now expectations moving forward. Those expectations are not simply to compete as a top team in the East and maybe make a fortunate run, as they were this season. They are now to truly compete for a title in the years to come.
This is a good thing for Boston! This is the next step in the progression of this era of basketball for the organization, an era led by Tatum and Brown.
This is exactly where Boston wants to be, and where it is destined to be.
This Celtics team is young, but the future is now, and the future is bright.
It may be difficult to recognize all of that following a disappointing exit from the postseason, but it’s not impossible to see this picture clearly. Take a page out of Grousbeck’s book: Head out for a workout, clear your mind, and think about the Boston Celtics from a big-picture perspective.
In all likelihood, you’ll return home just as he did - with a grounded perspective that tells you this team is not only on the right track, but it’s actually well ahead of schedule.