By: Troy Pierce
The Celtics have struggled to get into a groove this year and return to the top-notch level of play that lead them to the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
The Celtics have a number of contributing factors for their rocky season thus far. Age is starting to catch up to Al Horford and he is only half-way through his max contract. Gordon Hayward has struggled to return to his high level of play since returning from a devastating ankle injury that ended his 2017 season before it even began. Boston placed a lot of hope and responsibility in both Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown, even turning down trades for Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard and opting to keep the young wings. Trade speculation has surrounded the Celtics all season, could this be the answer needed to get Boston back on track towards championship aspirations?
Horford has had his name floated around in trade scenarios but little has been made of any rumors involving Horford. Still, the Celtics could opt to trade him for a younger, cheaper front court option but finding a trade partner will be difficult due to the size of Horford’s current deal. Horford is making $28.9 million this season and has a player option for the 2019-2020 season. If he opts in, Horford will be owed $30.1 million. A steep price to pay for a player entering the twilight of his career. All of this makes a trade involving Horford unlikely.
Seeing Gordon Hayward struggling to return to his all-star form is not much of a surprise. Paul George suffered a similar injury during a FIBA game in 2014 and he also struggled to return to form once he made his return. George is now having his best season and making a case for the MVP and DPOY awards. This year was sure to be tough on Hayward but as the season progresses and into next season we should the Gordon Hayward that Celtic fans were so excited to acquire.
Perhaps Kyrie Irving is not fully ready to lead a team? Kyrie has talked about leadership a lot this season but that leadership has failed to translate onto the court. He has taken digs at Tatum, Brown, and other young teammates citing their “lack of experience” as a reason for the teams struggles throughout the season. While Kyrie Irving did have a couple impressive games during the month of December, he has mostly come back to Earth. It was reported earlier this week that Kyrie had contacted former teammate LeBron James. Kyrie reportedly apologized for their falling-out in Cleveland and the timeline leading up to Irving’s eventual trade to Boston from Cleveland before the 2017 season. The apology to LeBron certainly shows maturity from Kyrie and I think this could be a big step towards Kyrie becoming the leader that he desperately wants to be for his team.
I do not think any of these factors are the sole reason for the Celtics’ struggles but rather a collective burden that Kyrie and company will need to figure out if they hope to win an NBA Championship.