Celtics

Celtics Mailbag: Readers have no shortage of ideas to get C's back on track

Celtics Mailbag: Readers have no shortage of ideas to get C's back on track

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:

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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

(Sigh)

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.

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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.

Karl-Anthony Towns dealing with wrist injury, will miss game vs. Celtics

Karl-Anthony Towns dealing with wrist injury, will miss game vs. Celtics

It doesn't look like the Boston Celtics will have to face Karl-Anthony Towns coming out of the All-Star break.

The Celtics are taking on the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Friday night, their first night back after eight days off. The Timberwolves will be without Towns for that contest as he deals with a left wrist injury.

Towns didn't practice on Wednesday as a result of the injury. And per The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski, Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders said Towns would miss games with the injury.

While the team hasn't officially confirmed that he's out, Friday's game is the Wolves' first back from the All-Star break. So, if Towns is set to miss multiple games, as Saunders implied, he will be out Friday.

Towns has averaged 26.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.4 asissts, and 1.2 blocks per game for Minnesota this season. Despite his success, the Wolves have logged just a 16-37 record and have the second-worst record in the West, ahead of only the lowly Golden State Warriors. 

The Celtics will be happy not to face Towns. Over the course of eight career games against the C's, Towns is averaging 21.9 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. And though Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter have outperformed expectations this year, they may have had trouble guarding the talented big man.

This Friday is Jayson Tatum Day here at NBC Sports Boston. Be sure to check out our exclusive content around Tatum throughout the day, both online and on the broadcast of Celtics-Timberwolves, which begins Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 8 p.m. You can also stream it on the MyTeams App.

Joe Harris calls Jayson Tatum Team USA's 'best player' from 2019 FIBA World Cup

Joe Harris calls Jayson Tatum Team USA's 'best player' from 2019 FIBA World Cup

The Boston Celtics had a prominent presence on Team USA during the summer of 2019. The squad that competed for the FIBA World Cup title featured four members of the Celtics: Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart.

While the team lost early in the tournament and snapped a historically-long undefeated streak for Team USA via an exhibition loss to Australia, the group did have some nice moments. And it's worth noting that one Team USA player thought a Celtics player shined brightest of all during the tournament.

As Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Harris explained, he thought Tatum was the best of the bunch for the USA squad.

“I thought Jayson was probably the best player on our team this summer,” said Harris at NBA's All-Star weekend, per Joe Vardon of The Athletic. “Obviously there were a lot of talented guys there. Unfortunately he got hurt halfway through our trip, but he was leading us in a lot of different areas. It wasn’t this huge statistical thing, I think it was more the presence that he had. What I saw, what he brought every day to practice. It was one of those things where he is super young, but he didn’t act like it, he didn’t play like it, and I could’ve told you this summer that he’d have a pretty good chance to be here today as an All-Star.”

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Tatum only played in two games for Team USA after suffering a sprained ankle, but he did average 24.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. That closely mirrors the 22.4 points and 6.9 boards that he has averaged so far during the 2019-20 season, his first All-Star campaign. And Tatum only playing in the two wins, not the two losses, is notable as well.

But Harris' point about Tatum having a presence and playing beyond his years may be even more important. If he can continue to develop, keep that presence about him and emerge as a leader, there's no telling what his ceiling could be.

Tatum will look to continue his hot play of late following the All-Star break. And no matter what happens with the C's, it seems that Tatum is tracking toward becoming a star player at the NBA level.

And his peers, like Harris, are recognizing that.

This Friday is Jayson Tatum Day here at NBC Sports Boston. Be sure to check out our exclusive content around Tatum throughout the day, both online and on the broadcast of Celtics-Timberwolves, which begins Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 8 p.m. You can also stream it on the MyTeams App.