We don’t need a long preamble here. You know the nitty gritty.
The Boston Celtics have lost five of their last seven, including a pair of games against top Eastern Conference rivals Milwaukee and Philadelphia. After feasting on bad teams early in the season, Boston has started playing down to inferior opponents and enduring unsightly losses to Washington, San Antonio and Detroit. The confidence they inspired at the start of the year has eroded.
We asked our readers what’s on their mind and, well, there was a lot. (No, really: just scroll through the responses here). So, let’s dive into this week’s letters, which include an awful lot of thoughts on how Boston should move forward:
Schedule's sucked, we've sucked, don't overreact. — @LeoDAndreB
This is sort of what Celtics players are clinging to at the moment. As Marcus Smart said after Thursday’s loss, "It’s the NBA. You can’t get discouraged off [rough patches]. We’ve played two back-to-back nights and stuff like that. You can’t let that discourage you. That’s part of it. We’re at the 40-game mark. It happens.”
The schedule kicking into overdrive certainly hasn’t helped Boston’s cause and yet the level of competition — outside of those back-to-backs involving the 76ers and Bucks — has been so poor that the Celtics’ inability to continue dominating those matchups is at least a bit troublesome.
What’s more concerning is the eye test. The Celtics aren’t flying around like they once did on defense and teams have shot lights out against them lately. Boston’s offense can look great for stretches and then grind to absolute halt when Kemba Walker isn’t on the court. The schedule isn’t relenting until mid-February and the Celtics must grind through it.
What’s happened to Hayward? Even when he scores it lacks the aggression he showed the beginning of the season. — @cheeroo
Maybe Boston's most polarizing player right now, Hayward is under the microscope after some roller coaster play since coming back from the foot injury on Christmas. He’s a microcosm of the Celtics: Spectacular at times and really fighting himself at others. Hayward labored through 1-of-10 shooting in Milwaukee on Thursday night and couldn’t fully aid Boston’s comeback attempt.
Hayward hasn’t suggested that any of his struggles are injury-related and was the first to admit Thursday that he needs to be better. Fans like to point to his maximum-salary contract when fretting this inconsistent stretch and many want to move him to alleviate the wing logjam.
We’re not at that point. We think the Celtics are still at their best when all of their wings are contributing and making each other better. Each of them has slumped a bit lately and Boston’s margin for error simply isn’t great enough to overcome that, especially given the injuries they’ve endured.
Upgrade the coach. Get a real NBA coach! — @iamaceltic33
The Brad Stevens slander in the mailbag the past couple weeks is wild. He’s not absolved from blame but I think he, as much as anyone, would like to have all of his horses for a change so he can actually pin down the best rotations.
I'm sure everyone will be super rational with their trade proposals 🤣🤣 — @JRat316
(Takes deep breath) Let’s find out …
Trade for Giannis, LeBron, and Harden — @NickSpada
Get some shooters for the bench. — @ShawtyReed
Faithful Mailbag readers know we’ve been beating this drum for a while now. For all the laments about Boston’s need for size, we’ve long felt that Boston’s biggest issue is shooting and it’s a more obtainable skill based on the in-season assets you have available to upgrade.
Here’s the crux of the issue: Boston ranks 19th in the NBA in 3-point percentage (35.2). Take away Kemba Walker’s shooting and it plummets closer to 25th.
More condemning: Celtics reserves are shooting a meager 30.4 percent beyond the arc this season. It simply feels like Boston needs another bench piece who can consistently knock down shots and loosen things up for everybody else. Boston bench is averaging only 28.7 points per game and, given the talent of the starters, that’s not a huge issue. But you can clearly feel the offense grind to a halt when reserve units are on the floor.
The one name we keep throwing out — and who just happens to be in town on Saturday — is Suns forward Dario Saric. His playing time with Phoenix has been in flux in Phoenix recently and he hasn’t shot the ball particularly well this season, but he was solid for Philadelphia in the playoffs a couple years ago, would give you a little extra size (6-foot-10) as a backup 4.
Most importantly: He’s making reasonable money ($3.5 million) and seems like the type of player Boston might be able to pluck if it were willing to sacrifice draft assets.
Semi + Poirier + Boston 1st for Luke Kennard? — @piggypanda123
Not sure what Detroit’s motivation would be to move Kennard -- who's been sidelined by a knee injury since late December -- when he’s on a favorable rookie deal and playing well. But he’s certainly the sort of low-money sharpshooter the Celtics should covet.
Would it be easy to just sign Jamal Crawford? If no, why not? — @JLK7299
While beggars can’t be choosers, I’d say the best fit for the Celtics is someone who might be content to simply space the floor and knock down open shots. While adding a veteran presence wouldn’t be the worst thing on a rookie-filled team, I’m not sure Crawford’s high-volume approach best accentuates Boston’s other bench talent.
Get a scorer off the bench so they don’t have to run Semi out there anymore. — @MarcR33
In defense of Semi’s, um, defense, he was Boston’s best defender against Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday night. While the whole "Giannis Stopper" nickname has always been a little bit over the top, he’s stout enough to make Antetokounmpo work: The Greek Freak went 2-of-6 against Ojeleye and 9-of-16 against everyone else (including 3-of-4 against Marcus Smart).
Ojeleye did get whistled for two shooting fouls and Antetokounmpo still finished with eight points against him but it was a nice effort on a night Boston was without Jaylen Brown. This isn’t to suggest that Ojeleye needs to be a consistent bench presence but he’s a nice luxury, especially given Boston’s size woes. When he knocks down open 3-point looks, he’s a helpful player.
This team desperately needs some veterans coming off the bench. — @dalappas
Found Kyrie’s burner! Just kidding. But this is part of the trickle-down effect of injuries: Inexperienced players are being put into spots they might not be ready for and, with inconsistent minutes, the results haven’t been great.
They miss Terry Rozier. This was a much bigger loss than I thought it would be, now that none of the rookies has proven able to contribute meaningful offense. — @tom_steely
The takes are spicy this week. I’m not sure the Celtics miss 2018-19 Rozier but, certainly, the sort of boost he was capable of providing off the bench is missed.
Can't wait for the deadline to pass so most of the stupid trade scenario ideas go away. — @Paullyt5
Found my burner account every time someone pitches an Andre Drummond trade.
Would trading Hayward make the Celtics, and specifically Danny Ainge, look bad to potential free agents? Or has he given (Hayward) enough of a chance at this point? — @DatHennessy
We had a long talk with Ryan Bernardoni (@dangercart) on the Celtics Talk podcast this week (see above) about Hayward’s somewhat murky future and why the Celtics have to at least be willing to listen to trade possibilities.
Let’s be clear here: We don’t think the Celtics should — or will — trade Hayward but you have to at least consider options if you’re uncertain about his future here. While optics are part of the equation, Ainge has rarely let emotions or what others think dictate his decisions.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Suns-Celtics, which begins Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.