It'd be one thing if the Boston Celtics simply lost a close game to the Chicago Bulls on Monday night. But it was how the Celtics lost -- and Marcus Smart's blunt comments that followed -- that apparently has league circles buzzing.
Boston suffered the worst fourth-quarter collapse in modern NBA history at TD Garden, losing by 14 despite entering the final quarter with a 14-point lead. After the game, Smart criticized the Celtics' crunch-time offense while calling out Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for not passing the ball enough.
What Brad Stevens thought of Smart calling out Tatum and Brown
According to veteran NBA reporter Jackie MacMullan, Tatum and Brown have become a hot topic in the NBA amid the Celtics' early-season struggles.
"The NBA is one of the great gossip leagues of all time," MacMullan said Tuesday night on NBC Sports Boston. "GMs, agents, writers, everybody, we all love to gossip. And that is what everybody is gossiping about right now: Can these two guys play together?"
Tatum, 23, and Brown, 25, are one of the NBA's best young duos. They already have three All-Star appearances between them and have helped the Celtics reach the Eastern Conference finals twice. But Boston has struggled since Tatum and Brown emerged as the team's de facto leaders last season, finishing 36-36 with a first-round playoff exit in 2020-21 and stumbling to a 2-5 start this season.
Those struggles seemingly have NBA observers wondering if Tatum and Brown can succeed together in the long-term. MacMullan believes it's too early to make a definitive judgment, though.
"I think there's still time," MacMullan said. "They're both very young. It's got to happen soon, but I think it is possible for them to enhance one another. And if they really focused on that, I think they would solve a lot of these issues."
"You'd have to take a really big, deep breath to go trade Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown, because I'm telling you, those are rare offensive talents. So many coaches have said to me, 'Hey, defense is great and we love defense, but we can find defensive players.' To find offensive players that are as gifted as these two, that's a tall order."
For what it's worth, Tatum and Brown insisted to our Chris Forsberg that they have a strong, supportive relationship. That relationship is already being put to the test, though, and the NBA chatter may continue until the Celtics snap out of their early-season funk.
Check out MacMullan's full comments in the YouTube video below.