What Danny Ainge would have changed about last season's Celtics roster

What Danny Ainge would have changed about last season's Celtics roster

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’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.

Get ready for Celtics-Nets Wednesday night with Celtics Pregame Live at 6 p.m., then check in with Halftime Live and wrap it up after the game with Celtics Postgame Live, all on NBC Sports Boston or stream them here through the MyTeams App.

Classic Celtics: C's outlast Michael Jordan's Bulls in 1986 playoff thriller

Classic Celtics: C's outlast Michael Jordan's Bulls in 1986 playoff thriller

Want to witness one of the greatest individual performances in NBA history? Just tune into NBC Sports Boston on Sunday night.

Our "Classic Celtics" series -- which featured Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals on Friday night -- continues Sunday with a throwback: Game 2 of Boston's 1986 NBA playoffs first-round series with the Chicago Bulls.

That April 20, 1986, game at TD Garden was a defining moment for then-23-year-old Michael Jordan, who went off for an NBA postseason-record 63 points.

But Celtics fans can appreciate Jordan's masterful performance knowing that Boston outlasted Chicago 135-131 in double overtime and swept the series en route to an eventual NBA title.

The broadcast begins Sunday at 7 p.m. ET, and as an added bonus, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge -- who scored 24 points in this game while defending Jordan -- will join Brian Scalabrine to provide real-time commentary throughout the game.

Other reasons to watch:

- A vintage performance from Celtics star Larry Bird, who scored a team-high 36 points to go along with 12 rebounds and eight assists.

- The 1980s Celtics at their peak: Bird, Ainge, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Bill Walton all scored double figures.

- Jordan hitting two free throws in the final seconds of regulation to force the first overtime.

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NBA Rumors: Execs expect Gordon Hayward to opt in to $34 million Celtics contract

NBA Rumors: Execs expect Gordon Hayward to opt in to $34 million Celtics contract

Gordon Hayward was enjoying his best season as a Boston Celtic before the 2019-20 season came to a screeching halt due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Through 45 games, the 30-year-old forward was averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 59.3 percent from the field. Hayward's performance was setting himself up for a solid contract if he were to opt out of his contract and hit free agency this summer.

That scenario doesn't appear likely, however.

According to Heavy.com, NBA executives expect Hayward to exercise his $34 million player option.

'It’s too much money to pass up,' one general manager told Heavy.com. 'He could get a longer deal if that is what he really wants. But I don’t think the Celtics want to give it to him, they have a lot of young guys to pay and the starting (salary) number on whatever the contract is will not be close to $34 million. He can opt in this year and then take a big contract next year. When you look at what he has done since his injury, he has only gotten better. He could get better next year and be ready for the summer of 2021.'

That doesn't exactly come as a surprise. Hayward may get a nice contract if he were to hit the open market this year, but it certainly wouldn't be anywhere near that eye-popping $34 million figure.

It makes far more sense for Hayward to take his money and test the market in 2021 if he and the Celtics don't agree on an extension before then. The 2021 free agent class will be much deeper, and teams will have more cap space to give Hayward a sizable long-term deal. That is, if he can duplicate the kind of success he's enjoyed so far this season.