Some things are clear in the aftermath of the Celtics collapse
Since it’s what too many of them seemed to do themselves, might as well follow the Celtics’ lead and think about them — a few of them, anyway — as individuals rather than a team . . .
■ Kyrie Irving: We’re now almost a week beyond his temporary retirement from all basketball-related activities midway through Game 5 against the Bucks, so it’s a little easier to begrudgingly admit the truth: It’s a league in which high-end talent is imperative for success, and it’s better for the Celtics if he stays.
I’m not sure how many among us actually want him to after his shameful Operation Shutdown performance in Game 5. But the franchise is better off if he does, in part because the Celtics’ salary cap situation and league rules make it virtually impossible to replace him with an equal talent should he leave as a free agent.
He is an extraordinary player, one of the best I’ve ever seen at a couple of different skills (handling the ball, finishing in traffic), and it wasn’t that long ago — heck, Game 1 of the Bucks series — where it looked like he was about to take the Celtics to satisfying heights. Often during his time here, it’s been a pure joy to watch him play.
I don’t know if all of that is gone now, and we don’t know if he’s gone. Perhaps he’d be temporarily appeased to see some of the young players who frustrated him dealt for Anthony Davis, though that opens up a whole different avenue of potential frustration for him since he’d be the second-billed star again.
The ideal outcome in all of this is that he learns his lesson from what went wrong, comes back, and is better for this disaster. Do I expect that? There’s a better chance of a Dino Radja comeback. I don’t think Irving believes he ever did a thing wrong, and when he eventually signs with the Knicks or Lakers, he’ll figure out some cryptic, passive-aggressive way to blame the Celtics organization, his former teammates, and the fans for his own failings as a wannabe leader.
■ Terry Rozier: This poor man’s Robert Pack is making the media rounds — he was on ESPN’s “First Take” Tuesday morning — and offering his input on what went wrong with the Celtics.
His general take: Terry Rozier, in Terry Rozier’s opinion, did not play enough or get the basketball enough.
It’s so absurd, and he seems to have no idea how he comes across.
He’s the living, breathing embodiment of another major issue with this team this year: The players who felt they were getting shortchanged on minutes or touches would at least feign playing unselfishly right up until the Celtics had a big lead, when three or four players (or five or six) on the roster would immediately go into I’ll-get-mine-now mode. The rim would add a few new dents, and the lead would shrivel.
I understand why Danny Ainge kept this talented collection of players together at the trading deadline, but now that we know the ending, it’s clear Rozier should have been traded, even with the risk that they’d be left short at point guard if Irving got hurt again.
I’m disregarding anything Rozier says about this season on account of his own delusions about what his role should have been. I recommend you do the same. Good luck shooting 38 percent for the Suns next year.
■ Marcus Smart and Al Horford: In the immediate aftermath of the Game 5 loss, as most Celtics quietly checked their phones (Irving texted furiously while facing his locker; bet there were some truths to be found in that conversation), Smart screamed in agony in the corner as a member of the training staff helped him with the giant bandage wrapped around his torso.
Meanwhile, Horford, whom I’m convinced is a victim of Irving’s envy because the young players to whom Irving is often condescending look Horford’s way for leadership, talked quietly to reporters about what went wrong, his disappointment, and his hopes of being back next year.
I thought in that moment, “I’m fine with keeping these two guys around and putting everything else in play.”
I still feel that way, and I don’t think I could be psyched up about a Davis deal deal if it meant Smart and Horford departed. They have some investment here, they get and embrace Boston, and they care. There’s something to be said for institutional knowledge of what a Celtic should be.