Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck says the past month has been the “worst February” he can remember since buying the team in 2002.
“Thank God it’s March,” Grousbeck said during the 13th annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference Saturday morning. “We’re undefeated in March.”
Boston finished February with a 5-6 record, featuring back-to-back losses in which the team blew 18-point leads as well as a four-game skid following the All-Star break. Since starting the season 10-10, the Celtics have perplexed viewers with their chemistry woes and underwhelming on-court performances.
Grousbeck admits he’s been disappointed with the way the team has competed in “a bunch” of games this seasons, although he hasn’t given up all hope just yet. Yes, the preseason expectations of tallying 60 regular-season wins are out of the question — the team likely won’t even surpass last year’s win total (55) — but Grousbeck has seen enough flashes of success to give him faith that things can still pan out.
“We’re not contending for the regular-season title in the East,” he said. “We are contending to get out of the East. And I think the players that we — and I’m not being defensive, just being factual — I think the players that we have on the court have the capability of getting to the Finals.”
His optimism, however, is rightfully hedged. While Boston is a respectable 7-5 against the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, and Philadelphia 76ers this season, the group has laid an egg on too many occasions to be 100 percent confident.
“We also have the capability of losing in the first round,” Grousbeck said. “We have a very, very good set of opponents in the East, all of whom have beaten us in the last month. That’s that.”
With 19 regular-season games left on their schedule, the 38-25 Celtics are currently the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, sitting 2.5 games back of the fourth-seeded Sixers and three back of the third-seeded Pacers. A shift in the standings is certainly a possibility — Boston still has to play Indiana twice and Philly once — but should things stay as they are, the Celtics and the newfangled Sixers would go head-to-head in the first round of the postseason.
“I really have a lot of hope for these guys,” Grousbeck said. “I give us a chance. I don’t think anybody wants to play us in the playoffs. I really do think, after 16 years in the league, that these guys still have a chance.”
Zarren on the run
Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren was a busy bee at Sloan, speaking about the value of statistical analytics on several panels: “Data is the New Black: Building Data-Driven Organizations,” “Basketball Analytics: Hunting for Unicorns,” and “Sports Mythbusting.”
“For all the grief that scouts sitting around the table with cigars get, there’s been a culture of information gathering and use in sports for a very, very long time,” said Zarren, who started his 11-year tenure with the Celtics as an intern. “That’s just not the case in other businesses.”
While Zarren brought a variety of insights to his panels — arguing, for example, that it’s not beneficial for the league to have fans rooting for their teams to lose — perhaps his crowning moment of the two-day conference came off the stage.
Zarren finished as the runner-up in the Curling Expo’s “Beat the Pro” event. Falling to 2018 US Olympic gold medalist Tyler George in the championship, he beat out the likes of Sloan co-founder Jessica Gelman, Memphis Grizzlies vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger, and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey in a bracket-style tournament.
Creating a legacy of success
Amid the fallout of his father’s soliciting prostitution charges, Patriots club president Jonathan Kraft sat alongside Philadephia 76ers owner Josh Harris and sports agent executive Casey Wasserman on the “Creating a Sports Legacy” panel.
While trying to explain why the NFL and NBA seem to have different approaches to player empowerment, Kraft used quarterback Tom Brady as an example. According to Kraft, Brady embodies the concept that success in football is very much team-based, while success in other sports can rely more on the performance of certain individuals.
“For the most part, I think everybody in that locker room understands that the success of the team is based on our ability to function as a team,” he said. “For a football team to have consistent success, no matter how great [Brady] is — and he is the greatest competitor that we’ve ever seen in this country in any sport — if you try to put yourself above the team or try to have an unequal say, the odds of the team being successful probably get diminished.”
Although Kraft said Brady appreciates team success more than any player he’s ever seen, he also noted Brady isn’t afraid to voice his opinion.
“It’s ‘Do Your Job,’ but it really is that,” Kraft said.
Upon the conclusion of the panel, Kraft was also asked a question by an attendee: “How do you prepare to lead an organization that’s created an unrealistic expectation of what success is?”
“If someone asked me what keeps me awake at night, as it relates to our sports business, that would be the question,” Kraft replied. “If you’re going to have a problem, it’s a good problem to have.”