Why did the Boston Celtics' 2018-19 go off the rails? ... How much time do you have?
Here's the prevailing theory: Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, who both missed the 2017-18 playoffs, struggled to assimilate into a roster that reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals without them, creating deep chemistry issues on a roster supposedly brimming with talent.
According to Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher, executives around the league apparently buy that theory, but more specifically believe the contract structure of the Celtics' most important players also played a role in their demise.
"A player salary structure that doesn't reflect the pecking order in value and contributions can cause dissension," Bucher wrote Tuesday. "Several executives believe that is the dynamic that upended the Boston Celtics last season."
As Bucher points out, Hayward was Boston's highest-paid player last season at $31.2 million but was far from its best player, averaging just 11.5 points per game as he recovered from a serious ankle injury.
Meanwhile, players earning a fraction of that salary on their rookie contracts -- namely Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier -- either outperformed Hayward or believed they could after the success they found in the 2017-18 season.
"In that situation you have Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier making names for themselves and hadn't got paid yet," one "player-turned-executive" told Bucher. "They got a taste of the Eastern Conference Finals, they go seven games, and all of a sudden Kyrie and Gordon Hayward are back the next year and everything changes. It's a tricky situation."
Compensation rarely is an accurate reflection of talent on any NBA roster, as players often get big paydays as a result of success they had while earning less money. (Just ask Rozier.) But Bucher points out that players are "keenly aware" of what their contemporaries make and that disproportionate salaries can affect locker room dynamics.
There obviously were other factors at play for the Celtics last season, but with Kemba Walker coming to Boston on a four-year, $141 million maximum deal, they'll need to set egos aside to avoid more drama in 2019-20.
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