What began as a season of promise for the Boston Celtics ended with a whimper on the court, hooliganism in the stands and a shakeup in the front office.
Now, the team is turning over its front office to the coach who lead the team through a regular season that was as listless and tepid as its 36-36 record indicates. It’s an unusual state of affairs for the city’s most successful sports franchise (sorry, Mr. Belichick).
Here’s how we got here: The team entered the regular season with a legitimate shot at reaching the NBA finals. Boston could count on two young superstars on the rise (Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum), an established All Star (Kemba Walker) and tough-minded complimentary players (Marcus Smart, Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis).
By the time the season ended earlier this week after a rout at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics had lost Brown to a season-ending injury and traded Theis for little in return. Walker wasn’t healthy enough to take the court in back-to-back games, and was erratic when he did play. And a team that once prided itself with keeping its opponents in check played with the defensive intensity of a men’s over-50 league at the Y.
Overseeing this fall from grace was head coach Brad Stevens, who was promptly promoted to head of basketball operations Wednesday with the retirement of Danny Ainge.
Ainge, of course, is a Boston legend, winning two NBA championships as a teammate of the original Big Three (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish). As an executive, he brought together the second Big Three (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen), bringing the Celtics their last championship in 2008.
That was 13 years ago -- the longest current championship drought for any major Boston sports franchise. It’s clear the roster needs a shakeup to provide better support for Tatum and Brown, two generational talents still in their early 20s.
And the city also needs to address racist elements among its sports fandom. There was a lot of chatter after Nets star (and former Celtic) Kyrie Irving talked about dealing with racism during his time in Boston. He said he hoped it wouldn’t be repeated upon his return with another team. As if on cue, a Boston fan threw a water bottle at his head as he was walking off the court Sunday night. That fan has been charged with felony assault but it’s obvious the city has a long ways to go before it can shed its racist reputation. After Sunday night, why would any free agent want to sign here?
That’s a question even an astute basketball mind like Stevens might have trouble answering.