On paper, the Boston Celtics should have been an NBA title contender last season. In reality, they flamed out in the second round.
Some would place Boston's shortcomings on Kyrie Irving, who despite his brilliance on the court had trouble becoming a leader off it and contributed to the Celtics' poor chemistry issues.
But in an interview with ESPN's Rachel Nichols, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge again pointed the finger at himself.
"I do think it was my fault."— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) November 26, 2019
1-on-1 with Danny Ainge on what went wrong last year with Kyrie, how the front office pivoted to find an even better fit in Kemba Walker, and how his time with Larry Bird & Kevin McHale affected his reaction to Gordon Hayward's latest injury. pic.twitter.com/uw3gz5viVx
"I’m the one who should be blamed for last year," Ainge told Nichols. "We put a team together that just didn’t have pieces that fit. We had a lot of talent, a lot of expectations. But it’s certainly not Kyrie’s fault.”
Nichols then asked Ainge why he thought last season was his fault, and if he'd construct the Celtics' roster differently if given a do-over.
Ainge responded with an interesting answer.
“I think that in hindsight, I wish I would have cleaned out the roster a little bit to make it easier for (head coach) Brad (Stevens)," Ainge said.
"We had a deep roster. We were built for a longer run, but we had a lot of young guys who had a lot of success without Gordon (Hayward) and Kyrie. And the guys that had success without those two guys felt like it was their time for the spotlight, and it just didn’t mesh."
Those "young guys" include Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, who all stepped up during the 2018 playoffs with Hayward and Irving out. But all three were relatively unproven at the time, so it's notable that Ainge would have opted to build his roster around them rather than surround Hayward and Irving with more proven veteran role players.
Yet last season apparently opened Ainge's eyes to a curious phenomenon: There is such thing as "too much depth," especially when that depth is more evenly distributed.
"I think I'd be a little more careful building another team that had such equal depth," Ainge said. "The Lakers have really good depth in my opinion right now, but they have two stars (LeBron James and Anthony Davis) and there's no questions.
"Last year, we had eight guys or nine guys that all thought they were equal to each other, and nobody just took the job and won it. It makes it much easier for people to accept their roles when there's a clear hierarchy."
One could argue there's still no clear hierarchy on this new-look Celtics team that's already endured injuries to Hayward and Kemba Walker.
Ainge and the C's clearly learned their lesson from last season, though, and their 12-4 record is a good sign they won't repeat the past.
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