Enough has been written about why the Celtics are struggling and how disjointed they are. Now it’s time for some solutions because as the Celtics showed in the final 30 minutes of their 115-104 loss to the Houston Rockets on Sunday, there’s hope for this team, after all.
It’s easy to knock the Celtics now, especially after they fell behind by 28 points early in the second half to Houston. The first half was evidence that Celtics coach Brad Stevens needs to make some serious changes that will curtail the freefall and get the Celtics back to respectability.
Firstly is that open roster spot. Team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge needs to use it now. Right now. The club had been waiting for the buyout market and that market never really developed.
Pau Gasol was the lone player bought out (by the San Antonio Spurs) and quickly signed with the Milwaukee Bucks, who really don’t need him but are adding a veteran NBA champion to a bunch of guys who are hungry but haven’t won anything. Smart.
The Celtics need to take a chance here and that could be someone such as a Carmelo Anthony, who is sitting at home in New York waiting for a call. Before “Oh hell no not him” is your first reaction, the Celtics wouldn’t be signing 2013 Carmelo or the one who will demand 30 minutes and play no defense.
They need a boost off the bench. Gordon Hayward scored 6 points Sunday, and is averaging 6.3 points per game since the All-Star Break. So either Stevens maintains loyalty to his former Butler pupil and allows him to get untracked or uses his minutes for a more productive player.
Sunday was Hayward’s 58th game this season, so how long do you wait for him to become a reliable component off the bench? 70 games? 80? Or do you realize that this may just not be Hayward’s season, bring on another capable scorer who also can get to the free throw line and use Hayward in certain situations?
The answer is the latter. Hayward is not to blame entirely for the Celtics’ struggles but there’s no question the club expected more in his comeback season. That’s not to say he won’t be back to form next season, but if Hayward is still playing with tentativeness and a lack of confidence at this point, it may be time for a break.
If there isn’t enough minutes for a player such as Anthony, then he becomes a mentor and another veteran who can help his younger teammates. You think Gasol is really going to play big minutes for the Bucks? The fact is elite teams don’t waste roster spots. You load your roster with as much talent as possible and then allow the players to prove themselves, disregarding bruised egos.
You save egos for the summer when players such as Marcus Morris or Terry Rozier can procure contracts from other teams for what they believe will be greener pastures.
Morris has been putrid for a few weeks and he didn’t play in the final 18-plus minutes Sunday when the Celtics made their spirited rally. Stevens, as expected, said the Morris omission had nothing to do with his performance. But it was Morris’s first scoreless game in nearly five years and he’s been abysmal from the field since the All-Star break, shooting 21 percent from the 3-point line.
Replace Morris with Jaylen Brown in the starting lineup. Brown has adjusted to his bench role, has put more effort into his defense and seems to be one of the few Celtics – along with mainstays Irving and Al Horford — playing with confidence.
Allow Morris to come off the bench with reduced pressure to soak up some of Hayward’s minutes. The Celtics can’t afford to have two starters — Smart and Morris — who are offensive liabilities. Smart has played well enough lately to keep his starting slot. Morris just hasn’t.
“You know, obviously, I think . . . we’ll — we’ll look at everything — we’ve been looking at everything after every game,’’ Stevens said. “Every night when you go to bed, every minute when you wake up, you’re always thinking about that. There’s things that, that are helpful in that, and things that are not helpful. And if it’s the root of your issues then I think the — then a small tweak can help. I’m not sure that that’s our root. That said, we still are evaluating tweaks regardless. So we have to just — we just have to keep working to all play better, rather than when we play.
“And we’ve all had moments throughout the course of the year when we’ve played well, and Danny [Ainge] has said this on a number of occasions: When we have six or seven guys playing well, we’re pretty good. And we’ve just got to get back to that.”
OK Brad, so just wait for six or seven guys to begin playing better — at the same time? His patience, which has been remarkable this season, has to be wearing thin. The Celtics haven’t done well this season with the patient approach and they are embarking on one of the most important stretches in the Stevens era, beginning Tuesday at Golden State.
It’s reached a point where no one would be surprised or offended with lineup changes. The players know their record. They know how poorly they have played in stretches.
Perhaps Ainge and the Celtics’ brass have a surprise player in mind to fill that roster spot, but if they felt the buyout market was going to produce a fruitful crop of veterans, there were wrong. Carmelo is still at home, working out and waiting for a call.
Is it worth it for the Celtics to at least gauge if there’s a potential relationship here and try something that will uplift one of the more disappointing teams in recent team history? The answer is yes.