The Boston Celtics, with half their roster on the initial injury report before Tuesday’s visit to the Milwaukee Bucks, are skidding into the All-Star break. Despite the best record in basketball, their tires are wobbly and there’s steam pouring out of the engine. Boston needs a tune-up and a fresh battery.
Even with Joe Mazzulla's team minivan being held together with duct tape, the Celtics have barely felt the bumps in the road. They’ve won four straight and showcased the depth that has helped them to 41 wins this season.
With the NBA trade deadline in the rearview mirror and the GPS quite clearly set for a return trip to the NBA Finals, let’s rip open the Celtics Mailbag and see what’s on your minds:
Derrick White is playing/shooting lights out. How are we putting him back on the bench when Marcus Smart comes back? I think we have to, but White is balling. -- @theruns46250
For all the time we've spent obsessing about how the Celtics can bolster their depth via trade or buyout market, it really is wild when you step back and realize the player who amounts to the team’s seventh man just won an Eastern Conference Player of the Week award.
When healthy, White and Malcolm Brogdon are your top two bench options. White, of course, has been much more than a seventh man this season, starting 49 of 57 games and essentially being the glue that holds this team together given all the injuries around him. White is the only player to appear in every game this season for Boston.
Forsberg: Everyday Derrick White is a luxury for Hospital Celtics
The Celtics’ starting five was so good last season that it would be criminal not to lean into the double-big group of Robert Williams III and Al Horford when everyone is available. That said, White’s recent play is a loud reminder that this team needs as much of him on the court as possible, regardless of how he’s dispatched.
We keep going back to one number: Boston is now 22-4 when White plays 28-plus minutes this season. An .846 winning percentage is just absurd. But good things simply happen when White is on the court.
His net rating this season is up to plus-10.3. He’s crept ahead of Jayson Tatum (plus-9.8) for the team lead (Williams III is at plus-12.2 but in just 530 total minutes). There’s a gaggle of Denver players clogging up the net rating leaderboard and White is the only non-Nugget in the top five among high-volume players.
As long as White is getting robust minutes, we’re fine with him coming off the bench when this team is at full health.
The Celtics are a championship team 1-8. They add Mike Muscala and Sam Hauser is back to his elite shooting. Payton Pritchard is barely playing, yet still so valuable. Name me a deeper team in the association? -- @UnclePreme
I don’t think you’ll get many arguments about Boston’s depth. The Celtics made that a priority this offseason after the bench fizzled during the NBA Finals last season. It’s remarkable that this team has built the best record in basketball despite having its preferred starting five on the court for a mere 29 minutes this season.
Just look at Boston’s injury woes this season, and remember, these numbers don’t factor in missing offseason addition Danilo Gallinari for the entirety of the season:
Both Smart and Jaylen Brown shouldn’t be out too much longer. But back-to-backs will likely limit just how much we’ll see this team at full strength over the final 24 games of the season.
What’s unique is that, despite not having all their horses for much of the season, you just feel like the Celtics will be fine as long as everyone is upright when the playoffs start. Last year’s second-half surge showed how good the core can be when everyone is healthy.
Do you think the Celtics need another piece in the buyout market or do you think the team will stay the way it is? -- @iinangelo
I’ll admit the idea of picking up someone with championship experience like Danny Green was intriguing, especially to add just a little bit of reliable depth at the wing position. Alas, as all these available buyout players rush to sign with other contenders, it’s a reminder that there simply isn’t any obvious minutes for a newcomer.
At this point, I think I’d be OK with the Celtics using that final roster spot to either, 1) reward a player who's been grinding in Maine with a late-season call-up to be part of the postseason fun, or 2) add anyone who can simply contribute to the positive vibes and be a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency body.
For all our consternation about injuries and Tatum’s minutes total, there’s more than enough in the cupboards already.
Built for a championship but still wish Pritchard could get more minutes. The team always excels when he is in there. Pace quickens and the ball moves, especially when he has it in his hands and isn't just stuck in the corner. -- @autofreethrows
We found Pritchard's burner! (We’re kidding, we’re kidding). It’s a rather wild luxury to have a fourth point guard who played consistent playoff minutes last season for a Finals team.
While we thought it was likely Pritchard would be moved before the deadline, the Celtics simply were not willing to sell low despite a logjam at his position. That’s frustrating for the player but an embarrassment of riches for a team that has seen Smart and Brogdon miss a combined 25 games this season.
Payton Pritchard clears up feelings about playing for Celtics
Pritchard’s defense has been solid (NBA tracking has him holding opponents to 2.5 percent below expected) and teams haven’t been able to exploit his size when he’s on the floor. There’s no clear road map to consistent time when this team is healthy, but he’s a hell of a changeup when needed.
Tatum plays sooooo many minutes and he’s gonna be exhausted like last year when it matters most -- @timcbobrowski
We’re not arguing here. We’d love to see Tatum’s minutes paced a bit over the final 24 games of the season to ensure he’s fresh for the postseason run. We’ve fretted some of the higher minute totals as the Celtics refuse to hold onto big leads this season.
It is important to remember that Tatum is pushing to be on the court and Mazzulla’s unquenched desire to win contributes to higher totals. Those in power positions in the organization might just need to ensure that Tatum isn’t pushed too hard over the final 24, especially as seeding/awards come into focus.
Should the Celtics pay Grant Williams this offseason? -- @jakethami
If Williams plays defense this postseason like he did against Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo during last year’s Finals run, then we’ll happily forget some of the inconsistencies in his regular-season play.
Report: Grant Williams could seek $20M per year on next contract
Remember, the Celtics don’t have a lot of easy paths to adding impact talent, so splurging to keep your known commodities isn’t the worst use of money. Williams does need to stick to his calling cards and not stray too far from his corner office when the games matter most.
Are they going to remove "Interim" in Mazzulla’s title soon? -- @MEWalsh
Until there’s a resolution with suspended head coach Ime Udoka, there is seemingly nothing the team can do about the title. Mazzulla isn’t concerned about it, so we probably shouldn’t fret about it.