INDIANAPOLIS — There is indeed a plan for the Celtics, although sometimes that plan, the master blueprint to return to NBA dominance, is curtailed by an insanely even roster that forces baby-faced coach Brad Stevens to grow a little stubble.
Such as Wednesday, when he had to decide whether rookie James Young, who is gaining Justin Bieber-like support from a groundswell of Celtics fans ready to see the organization’s next potential superstar, was going to make the team’s 13-man active list.
Most teams have injured players or less talented players that are easy choices for the two inactive spots.
But these nothing-is-ever-easy Celtics have a serious dilemma until president of basketball operations Danny Ainge clears roster space. He has 15 players, all of whom could help this team.
During Wednesday’s win over the Nets, Young and Jameer Nelson were inactive, although Nelson told reporters following the game that he was healthy enough to play.
Nelson, 32, signed with the Mavericks with the express purpose of returning to the NBA Finals for the second time in his career. Now he appears stuck on a rebuilding team that acquired him mainly because his salaries matched in the Rajon Rondo deal.
Still, Nelson appears resigned to likely being traded, since he knows he’s not part of Boston’s long-term future, not even as a backup point guard.
“I don’t know [how long I’ll be here],” Nelson said. “And that’s not an indication that anything is going to happen but you don’t know. It’s part of it. This is my dream, basketball. This is something I love to do. Something I get paid to do. From Day 1, where it was high school, little league, college, NBA, I feel like I’ve done my job to the fullest. Whatever the situation is, as long as I’m here [I’ll play hard].”
Young was disappointed about being inactive and the question for the Celtics is whether they have reached the point of sacrificing this season to develop their younger core, or whether they are trying to notch victories, encouraging Stevens to use any lineup.
“That’s a good thing,” Ainge said of the team’s evenness. “That means we have good depth through the roster. That obviously means that we don’t have a super superstar that you can rely on, but if you do really trust one another and you play hard, it’s OK that there’s not that guy that we can share that responsibility.
“Jeff Green has been our best scorer this year and even [Wednesday night] he had an off game scoring, but he had the two biggest baskets of the night.
“We can win more games than we’ve been winning. We know that. But we need to do it collectively.”
Ainge isn’t fazed by the evenness and issues his moves have created that may adversely affect the team’s development. If Stevens keeps his rotations to his desired 10, five players will be disappointed each night because it seems only veteran Gerald Wallace is resigned to his role as a sparingly-used reserve.
“Good teams use all 15 men on their roster and some nights guys don’t have it,” Ainge said. “Every game is a little different because each player has had his great moments and not-so-great moments, we haven’t had guys who have just stepped up and been as consistent as we need them to be.
“I’ve always believed that it’s not the coach’s job to make everybody happy. It’s the player’s job to make that coach feel like he needs you to win. So the players have to win the job. Every player is getting an opportunity in practice and in games, and until guys just step up and earn those consistent minutes, usually it works itself out, right?”
The Rondo trade took away the organization’s best and most recognizable player, while adding three players out to prove themselves and earn playing time. Stevens said he regretted leaving Brandan Wright, considered the most talented player from the Rondo deal, out of the rotation Wednesday.
“We traded our guy that was our leader, our captain, and played the most minutes, and we brought three guys in that we liked. That has made it a little bit more challenging,” Ainge said. “In time, it will work itself out.”
So Young and his fan club will have to be patient for now. Stevens promised Young will soon have a permanent home on the active list and develop a niche, but a 13-point effort in Monday’s blowout loss wasn’t good enough to convince the brass quite yet.
Ainge understands the environment he created. It is an unintended result of his roster reshaping.
And there is no real solution until more moves are made and the Celtics can acquire a star and more standout players who can make playing time decisions easier.