The start of the Celtics’ 2021 season has not gone smoothly.
The team’s 3-5 record on the court under Ime Udoka isn’t inspiring, with Monday’s loss to the Chicago Bulls especially serving as an early gut punch.
On top of that, Marcus Smart’s criticism of stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum has swirled around the team, prompting a meeting — a far-from-encouraging sign fewer than 10 games into the season.
Brad Stevens has been around the block with this core of players, first as their coach and now as the president of basketball operations.
When asked about Smart’s comments and the state of the Celtics on 98.5 The Sport Hub on Thursday, Stevens suggested Smart, and the rest of the Celtics, would do better to keep their disagreements private.
“I think any time you have things to say, you say it to the person or people. Whether they’re right wrong or whatever, you say it directly to the person,” he said. “I think it’s important … you have to be willing to have difficult conversations and put your name on it. The validity of the comments aren’t as important as, we have to be able to sit face-to-face and say, ‘OK, we all want to win. How do we find solutions because we were sitting at 2-5 on Monday?’”
When asked whether he was saying Smart should have kept his postgame comments in-house, Stevens agreed.
“I think that’s the way it should be,” he said. “That’s why Jaylen’s comments were really good. I think the frustration of the night is real, and that’s why comments happen.
“Was it ideal? No. Was it the right thing at the right time? Probably not. But at the end of the day, it’s how you respond. You got to sit with those guys. You gotta go out face-to-face with those guys.”
Stevens wouldn’t elaborate on if tension exists between Smart and Brown. The two were at the center of a locker room fight in the NBA playoff bubble in 2020, which Smart described later as something that “happens between families.”
Stevens embraced the “family” aspect of those disagreements, likening it to spats between siblings.
“Those guys have experienced a lot of highs together. They’ve experienced some tough losses together,” he said. “You have moments. The key is, do you move on from that moment? Do you say what you need to say to each other and then make progress? We’ll see what kind of progress we make.
“No team is perfect, but we have to show that we’re going to grow and progress from here.”
Stevens said he’s hoping to see growth from the entire team as it looks to rebound from a 3-5 start. He’s seeing signs of life after Boston came back from the dispiriting loss to the Bulls with a rout of the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.
Specifically, he thinks the Celtics’ fortunes will be tied to how much effort they put in on the defensive end.
“I am so interested to see how we defend these next two games,” he said, referencing tough contests against the Heat on Thursday and the Mavericks on Saturday. “How do you create or galvanize yourself as a team? You do it by doing hard things together, defending together. And let’s find out if we made progress.”
Stevens also wouldn’t commit to any roster changes in reaction to Boston’s troubles: “It’s concerning, but I don’t want to overreact to it either.”
He also voiced support for Smart as the team’s point guard for the moment, noting his defensive presence, ability to orchestrate the offense and penchant for “making a shot with everything on the line.”