Celtics

Jaylen Brown predicts he will have five rings by age 28

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Jaylen Brown predicts he will have five rings by age 28

Jaylen Brown leads the league in confidence.

With the Celtics only 10 games into their quest to bring home their first championship since 2008, Brown already has his mind set on a dynasty.

The 22-year-old sat down with Taylor Rooks of Bleacher Report and was asked how many rings he expects to have by the time he turns 28. Brown responded by saying he "doesn't play to lose" and had his own LeBron James moment.

That's right, Celtics fans. Brown predicts five banners in the next six years. Not one, not two, not three, not four. . .

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Frustrated Celtics can't expect simple fix to what ails them

Frustrated Celtics can't expect simple fix to what ails them

BOSTON — There was something in the inflection of Al Horford’s voice that underscored the complexity of the issues the Boston Celtics face early in the 2018-19 season.

When Horford addressed reporters at Tuesday’s previously unscheduled offday practice, his voice was softer, his answers shorter. On the heels of another maddening loss in Charlotte, it felt like Horford was as exasperated as the common fan about Boston’s continued struggles.

After Horford got done answering a question about the burden of expectations, he was asked if he’s ever experienced anything like this in his career.

“No,” he said grimly. “Very different. Very different.”

Part of what’s been so frustrating for these Celtics is that there is not one single player or one single issue to pin their struggles on. Sure, there are common trends: lack of overall consistency, poor shooting, struggles versus elite scorers. Combine that with individual struggles for younger players, as well as Gordon Hayward’s rehab from a catastrophic injury, and it’s not hard to see why the team has endured more troubles than anyone could have expected.

The hard part is honing in on a solution.

Boston’s issues cannot be cured in a single film session or with a single victory. And maybe that’s the most maddening part of all to these Celtics. They are so eager to be the team they were hyped up to be, yet the only way to get back to that point requires sustained effort.

These Celtics sometimes act like they want things to come fast and easy. But what they seem to forget is that they positioned themselves to be a legitimate title contender by routinely outworking opponents and never blinking in the face of adversity.

The good news for Boston is that, after a challenging schedule to start the year, there is an opportunity the rest of the calendar year to gain some momentum.

But only if players are truly committed to putting in the work. And there are a lot of areas to address along the way, most notably:

THE STARTING FIVE

Stevens isn’t wrong when he says we get overly fixated on who plays the first five minutes of each half. But the fact that Boston’s preferred starting five has struggled as much as it has underscores many of the team’s issues.

The offensive woes of Boston’s most common five-man lineup — Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Hayward, and Horford — defies all logic. On paper, this should be a juggernaut grouping full of playmakers who feast on the mismatches they can create. Instead, Boston’s supposed version of the Warriors' Death Lineup owns an anemic offensive rating of 90.8 points per 100 possessions.

Among the 25 five-man units to play at least 100 minutes in the NBA this season, only the Chicago Bulls have a lineup with a worse offensive rating (and considering the shellacking the Celtics put on Chicago, that makes some sense).

The defensive rating for Bostons’ starting five had been so elite (94.9) that it allowed Stevens to keep giving that group a chance. But, on Monday night in Charlotte, Stevens finally relented and shifted Hayward to a bench role. The hope seemingly was that, by replacing an offensive weapon with a more defensive-minded role player, it could unlock the remaining pieces.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Celtics eventually circle back to this lineup but, for now, Stevens might be better off going to matchup-based lineups, deploying Marcus Smart or Aron Baynes with four of the typical starters to see if that gives the group a jumpstart. All while the fifth starter, like Hayward, might benefit from being a focal point with reserve lineups. It will be interesting to see if Stevens shuffles which starter goes to the bench while hunting for the five-man combo that can both consistently impact the start of halves and help the Celtics sustain that play when the reserves roll in.

HAYWARD’S SLOW CLIMB TO NORMALCY

It’s a bit embarrassing to think about the way we badgered Stevens with questions about whether Hayward might have been able to return last season. Sure, Hayward himself never ruled out the possibility and the second surgery altered his timeline altogether. But, in hindsight, it was foolhardy to think Hayward could have worked his way back from the fractured ankle and thrown himself into late-season play.

It's probably still not fair to expect Hayward to be anywhere close to the player he was before the injury. But as he struggles to convert near the basket — shooting a mere 52.9 percent inside of 5 feet — it’s more clear than ever that it simply will take time for him to get comfortable again. Hayward doesn’t always have the explosion he expects to finish dunks, with only four attempts and three makes in 432 minutes of court time. (For the sake of comparison, Hayward shot 65.6 percent on shots inside 5 feet during his final season in Utah and had 72 dunks in 73 games). All this while his 3-point shot defies him (28.3 percent for the season).

The positive spin: As Hayward gets more comfortable and back to form, we’ll eventually be reminded of his All-Star talents, and it will be a major boon for Boston’s offense. For now, he’s left relying heavy on his playmaking abilities to impact the game when he’s on the court.

THE YOUNG GUYS

Maybe we underestimated the difficulty for all of Boston’s youngest players shifting back for starring roles in the playoffs. Tatum has struggled with shot selection (though the last few games have been encouraging), Brown is still searching for his place in the offense while struggling with his shot out of the gate, and Terry Rozier has seemingly pressed while trying to have the sort of tangible impact we saw from him a starter in place of Irving during the last postseason.

Tatum has drawn some grumbles for his penchant for long twos (it’s rather hilarious to see Celtics fans blame Kobe Bryant) and some lapses in energy (he was shifted off the starting group to open the second half in Phoenix). Even Irving hinted that players like Tatum need to be more disciplined. Through it all, he’s still got the best on-court net rating (plus-5.4) among big-minute players, and Boston’s minus-2.6 rating when Tatum is off the court is the worst number among all players. 

Brown has struggled mightily when he’s shared the floor with Hayward, emphasizing Boston’s first-unit issues with overlapping skill sets. Brown’s offensive rating with Hayward on the court is 92.3 but spikes to 108.1 when Hayward is on the bench. Boston has a minus-4.1 rating when the duo shares the court and is plus-5.4 when just Brown is on the floor.

Brown had a solid night in Charlotte despite only 19 minutes of court time but his time should spike if he can work through his early season offensive funk. The key for Brown — and this goes for Tatum as well — might simply be not allowing offensive struggles to impact his play on the defensive end. The Celtics have to be better at moving on to the next possession instead of letting frustrations linger.

Rozier? Well, he should probably just avoid social media until the Celtics’ record stabilizes. Like most of Boston’s bench brigade, he undoubtedly desires a bigger role, but he also has to impact games more consistently during his time on the floor. Boston needs the bench to more routinely change games and much of that falls on Rozier to maximize whatever minutes are available.

THE OFFENSE

There’s no sugarcoating it: The Celtics’ offense has been impossibly bad. Boston ranks 27th overall in offensive rating at 104.3. The silver lining is that the C's have generated lots of quality looks and open shots simply haven’t fallen at times. As an optimistic Stevens said Tuesday, an offensive deluge has to come eventually.

"The good news is, in my belief, those times are coming at some point, right, because we're due,” he said.

But there are areas the Celtics absolutely must improve, most notably free-throw attempt rate. Boston ranks 29th in the NBA, ahead of only the Orlando Magic. When the offense is in a funk, Boston needs Irving, Tatum, and Brown to be more aggressive to the rim. Hayward will get there more often, too, eventually. While many wonder if the Celtics have fallen too much in love with the 3-point shot, they shouldn’t be bashful with quality 3-point looks. Boston does need to throttle down the long twos, particularly early in the shot clock, and work harder for better looks more often — especially when enduring one of their many lulls.

It’s a sobering reminder, but teams that have ranked outside the top 10 in offensive rating have simply not competed for titles in recent seasons. No matter how good Boston’s defense is, it has to get to a point where it has an above-average offense. And the C's are not even close right now.

They’re too talented for it to stay that way but, like everything else ailing the Celtics, they have to be willing to work to get things right. And even when it clicks, they can’t become complacent.

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Recent history shows Celtics fans shouldn't be too concerned with slow start

Recent history shows Celtics fans shouldn't be too concerned with slow start

The Boston Celtics have been a disappointment through the first month of the 2018-19 NBA season.

There's no doubt about it. A 9-8 record puts them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings entering Wednesday night's game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Recent history, however, suggests there's no reason for C's fans to panic. Why? Well, the Celtics added two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward into the lineup after both missed significant time last season due to injuries. Hayward missed the entire season and clearly still is building back to the athleticism that made him such a dynamic player pre-injury. 

The return of Irving and Hayward has had a ripple effect throughout the roster. Playing time, rotations, plays and other things have changed or been tweaked to accommodate their skill sets. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, who both play a similar position to Hayward, have been most affected by his return. Terry Rozier, who shined in Irving's place during the playoffs last season, also has seen his role change quite a bit. 

It takes time for coaches and players to adjust to new lineups and roles. You can't just throw a ton of talent together -- and the C's have more depth than any team in the league -- and expect it to work smoothly from the get-go. 

A couple of recent teams that brought together new players with little experience playing with one another are the 2010-11 Miami Heat and the 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers.  The Heat team was LeBron James' first season with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and the Cavs squad was James' first season back in Cleveland with Irving and Kevin Love.

The 2010-11 Heat started 9-8. They lost to the Celtics on opening night, then improved to 8-4 before losing four of their next five games. The Heat found their stride soon after, going on a 12-game win streak and winning 21 of their next 22 games after that 9-8 start. 

The 2014-15 Cavs began the season 5-7. They started 1-3, improved to 5-3, then lost four straight. Cleveland won eight straight games after beginning 5-7 and finished 53-29. Even the 2016-17 Celtics started 13-12 before winning 53 games and earning the East's top seed.

Sure, this Celtics team might not have the star power of that Heat team, or a player as good as James was for the 2014-15 Cavs, but this Boston roster is deeper than both of those teams and also has had to incorporate multiple high IQ All-Stars into the lineup.

The Celtics need to play a lot better, particularly offensively, and their upcoming schedule should give them ample opportunity to improve. Boston has a soft 19-game stretch to end the calendar year, including multiple games against the lowly Knicks and Atlanta Hawks, in addition to matchups with the Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Celtics fans' frustration is warranted given how the team has played, but history shows building chemistry with a deep, talented team isn't easy. Brad Stevens and Co. will turn things around, it's just going to take some time.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE