The Boston Celtics sit in a completely different place than they did a year ago, when they were expected to become a superteam and compete with the Golden State Warriors. A tough season has knocked them down from that perch, with Gordon Hayward's inability to recover from injury, Kyrie Irving's discontent and much more factoring into their season-long issues. The Washington Post's Ben Golliver and Andrew Sharp of the Open Floor podcast discuss the Celtics' downfall.
(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Ben Golliver: Real quick before we get to where do they go from here. Where did this go wrong for them? Because Danny Ainge spent legitimately—I mean you at least based on your telepathing of the sceptics interest in Anthony Davis that I've had to listen to for at least once a week for the last three years—this has been a long-term commitment of mental focus and a desire from Ainge, and he basically got blown up by Rich Paul multiple times saying, 'Hey, we have no interest in going to your organization.' And he still kept coming back, according to the reports. So where'd this thing go wrong?
Andrew Sharp: It's incredible and the AD interest was not particularly subtle from the Celtics side of things over the last three or four years. They have been openly angling to get him in Boston for years now, and and it was all lining up for this summer, this July to make the deal. And I wrote about this over the weekend, in the same way that it took the kind of perfect confluence of luck and intelligence and perfect timing for the Warriors to come together over the last five or six years, the Celtics had the same thing happen over the last 12 months, where just everything that possibly could have gone wrong went wrong in the most gutting way possible.
And you look at it what they were supposed to be trading for AD. You can start with the Kings pick, which is expected to be a top-three, top-five pick—landed at 14 instead. The Kings were a couple of games outside the playoffs somehow. That's No. 1, but then also Kyrie kind of poisoning the locker room. I think Anthony Davis rumors poisoned the locker room a little bit and screwed with their season, and as the season went sideways Kyrie was no longer committed in Boston. And then suddenly it makes less sense for them to gamble on renting AD for a year and convincing him to stay. I think Kyrie's recruiting power was real, and if you brought Anthony Davis and paired him with Kyrie they would have had a real title shot and and the gamble would have been worth it. But without him obviously the Celtics decided it wasn't worth it.
And then you go back and look at some of the deals that they didn't do. They probably didn't even think very hard about a Kawhi Leonard deal last year because they didn't want to turn around and trade Jaylen Brown when they expected him to be the centerpiece, at least on the player side, of an Anthony Davis deal. And so it's amazing how much it has all come crumbling down for the Celtics here.
Golliver: To me it feels like the Gordon Hayward injury is when this all went sideways. If I just circle one event out of all of them, because I think the Hayward injury wound up changing the Kyrie dynamic. If Hayward's healthy it's more of this, 'Hey, we're the super team that can just roast teams night after night. We've got like star-level type guys that every single position, we've got this elite defense.' And it's not quite the Kyrie ego show that I think the Celtics sort of devolved into at times here over the last 12 months. And I also think had he been a star-level player, it maybe would have changed expectations for some of the younger guys, where they don't quite get as many opportunities and touches and shots in the big moments that they did, so then they became conditioned to expect that like they deserved it forever going forward. I think that was part of the tension that you described with Kyrie as well.
So to me I just kind of circle that Gordon Hayward injury as being sort of the moment that everything came tumbling down. And I don't know where they go from here. If Kyrie leaves, I think that you try to re-cast yourself as this defense-oriented team, the gritty underdogs that they were a couple of years ago. You're gonna be able to be competitive and you'll likely win a playoff series just based on the institutional strength that they've got going there. But I don't see how they get back into the contention window. None of these free agents seem to have much interest in going to Boston, and we haven't seen any real rumors along those lines. They're gonna have to pay up to keep Al Horford. I believe he wound up opting out this week as well, so I think their only path to really getting back to where they thought they were going to be is Tatum taking monster leaps forward and becoming a perennial All-Star. That's really the only way that they could do this thing. I'm not going to bet against that, but I also think it might take a little bit longer than they need it to.
Sharp: I'm really glad that you highlighted Hayward at the start there because I think that ultimately what happened is that Kyrie was kind of the linchpin to all of this. And once you removed him from the equation, every other plan that Celtics had began to unravel. You could say that Kyrie was kind of awol for parts of this season as well, at least emotionally, and that affected the team. And then obviously going forward with the AD trade. If Kyrie is not there that changes their calculus in a in a big way.
And I think a lot of that goes back to Hayward, and when Kyrie committed to stay in Boston, Hayward was expected to be his old self and he looked at Boston as his best shot at winning a title. And I think after halfway through the year he looked around and was like, 'Wait a second, these guys may not be that good.' And then he reneged on his promise, and then he got very moody after that, and it all kind of went sideways from there. But it does all start with Hayward not being the guy he's supposed to be. He averaged 11 points per game this year and made $31 million. That's not great return on investment.
Golliver: And all those guys had to hear questions about him. Can he come back? It was just peppering them down the stretch. He's the X-factor of the postseason. All these guys were like, 'Alright', well he's making $31 million and he's not really doing much, and we're doing everything we can to like make it work.' Another reason that the Hayward thing came back to bite them is because his decision to sign there was like a pretty big free agency coup for that franchise. They notoriously had struggled to give free agents before that. So it started to build this image of Boston potentially as this big-time destination right, then they get Kyrie and all that momentum starts to go that way.
But when you look at the guys who are available this summer, nobody's even checking for Boston. And we heard Rich Paul just like come out and say it in Sports Illustrated, like 'We don't want Anthony Davis going there, he doesn't want to be there.' And that's a tough blow because when you're trying to compete with all these other markets image matters, perception matters and how other superstar-level players view your team matters in your decision too clearly given the prevalence of all these team-up scenarios. And I think for Boston the last couple of years, basically the time that Hayward's been there, it's just lost some of its sheen.