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“Mann tracht, un Gott lacht.”
That’s Yiddish for “Man plans, and God laughs.”
We saw the manifestation of that adage last Tuesday night when the best-laid plans of both newly acquired Gordon Hayward and the Boston Celtics were shattered when he sustained a dislocated ankle and fractured tibia less than six minutes into his debut game against the Cavaliers. With one messed-up play, months worth of grandiose expectations were lowered.
The immediate assumption was that the hopes of challenging Cleveland for Eastern Conference supremacy were gone. We were expecting one kind of season and now we will have another.
The psychology of this is interesting. There were two kinds of immediate reactions possible on the part of any Celtics fan. One would be, “Oh, no! I hope he’s going to be all right.” The other would be, “Oh no! The season’s ruined.”
The proper primary reaction is, of course, the former. We are talking about the livelihood of a 27-year-old superb athlete who is, by all accounts, an exemplary young man. When that game began the last thing on his mind was that he would be spending his 28th birthday next March 23 rehabbing from a very serious injury. That was most definitely not in his plans. But now it is.
We all like to think we’re noble creatures. But I must confess my immediate thought was the latter, if only because our contemporary experience convinces us that medical science can take care of practically everything. I admit my thoughts moved rather quickly to the team ramifications, at the expense of Hayward’s welfare.
But, wow, what a scene it was. You would expect the Celtics to be concerned and horrified, of course. The heartwarming thing was the total reaction of compassion and concern on the part of both the Cleveland team and the Quicken Loans Arena fans. As Hayward was being taken off the court, you could almost see the gratitude in his eyes. It really was a touching moment.
OK, so what does it mean for the Celtics? How far back must the expectations be scaled?
I have two immediate thoughts.
The first is that, OK, Kyrie, you wanted to be The Man. At least that’s our understanding, because you really have never fully explained why you wanted out of Cleveland. Well, here it is. There is no question who is the Celtics’ alpha dog now. If you were going to earn your money before, you’re really going to be earning it now.
The second thought is that the spotlight will now be on Jayson Tatum.
The Celtics are still reasonably well covered at the forward spot. They’ve got Al Horford. They’ve got Jaylen Brown. They’ve got Marcus Morris (I think fans are going to like him). And they’ve got Tatum.
Until that fateful moment in Cleveland, Tatum was in an enviable position for a third overall pick of the draft. He had come to a good team and he was not being asked to be a savior. He was not going to be force-fed. He was going to develop at a reasonable pace, with no real pressure. Forget that now. He will have an expanded role. He will be asked to produce because he does have a scoring knack and the Celtics have lost 20 points a game they were counting on.
Jayson Tatum is 19 years old. Once upon a time he would be a sophomore in college. Now he will be asked to play a primary role on a team that still thinks it can accomplish something meaningful this season, Gordon Hayward or no Gordon Hayward.
Truth is, the same can probably be said of that grizzled veteran Jaylen Brown, age 20. He, too, will be asked to contribute more at the offensive end than would have been expected if Hayward were in the lineup. Now, I am a card-carrying member of the Jaylen Brown Fan Club, and I think he will rise to this occasion. I said, “I think.” Have I mentioned that he is 20?
Now, we all need to step back and take a deep breath. It’s still the Eastern Conference. Thank God (or “Gott”). So we concede the top spot to Cleveland. And then? Washington? Toronto? Milwaukee? Are any of them clearly better than the Hayward-less Boston Celtics? What if Tatum turns out to be a Rookie of the Year-level player? It’s possible. What if Brown really has developed a shot to go along with the other good things he does? What if Marcus Smart becomes just a tad more reliable from the outside? What if one of the newcomer big men — Abdel Nader, Semi Ojeleye, Daniel Theis, Guerschon Yabusele, etc. — can really play? And don’t forget about Aron Baynes.
(Quick aside: Can you imagine Johnny Most tackling “Ojeleye” and “Yabusele”? Even “Theis”?).
There is no reason to think the Celtics still can’t be decent and entertaining. If people must postpone the championship plans for a year, so be it. I won’t go so far as to say the entire season is now being played with house money, but it’s something like that.
Meanwhile, we were all reminded that we’re not calling the shots. We can plan, but You Know Who will have the final say.
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