The Celtics came into the 2021-22 season with a lot of potential, looking to finally make that final step into true championship contenders. Behind stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and the decent pieces around them, the C's were expected to be in the top-4 of an increasingly tough Eastern Conference. So far this season through 38 games their record sits at 18-20 currently at the 10 seed.
So what not clicking?
Well, players missing games due to COVID-19 protocols has limited the team, even being dubbed as losing the 5th most time of any NBA team due to COVID-19 protocols in an article by ESPN Senior writer Kevin Pelton. The team has lost roughly 950 minutes from key starters like Tatum, Horford and Schroder. Jayson Tatum has suffered the most, missing 4 games in December alone even amidst the NBA's new procedures easing times missed for vaccinated players.
The Celtics have been a good team, not great but good. Jaylen Brown has been exceptional this season, including stepping up when other scorers are out. His 50-point outing on Sunday against the Magic was monumental in edging out Orlando in overtime. He's also been tied for or the top scorer for his team for the last
8 games in a row averaging 31.1 points per game.
Beside Brown, the team hasn't had any consistency from a scoring perspective. Tatum has had his nights where he's a walking bucket, but he's also had too many nights shooting less than 40% if he's even healthy enough to play. Schroder's hot start to the season has cooled down a bit as has his minutes. Marcus Smart has never been a reliable scorer but even he's shooting 39.8% on the season and 29% from 3.
So where can the Celtics look for the help they need to have a hot finish to the season and make a playoff run?
The first place they should look is their bench. First-year head coach Ime Udoka has tuned his rotations around for most of the season trying to incorporate the team's exciting bench depth. Giving veteran players who have been efficient in defense and the fourth quarter like Dennis Schroder and Al Horford could limit mistakes and give them a better chance at closing out close games. Then add players getting healthier or coming off COVID-19 protocols like Jayson Tatum and you're team seems like a threat again.
After working on themselves, the C's should also go out before the March 25th trade deadline and get another star player. The Celtics have been one of the youngest teams in the NBA for the last three years which is promising for the future, but at some point that potential needs to come to fruition and get results, and the Celtics have failed at that part during this time. If you can't coach these players into their potential at this moment, you could get value from them from packaging a deal for a non-contending teams top star like Sacramento's De'Aaron Fox or Indiana's Domantas Sabonis.
The key to winning in the NBA today is fire power. Yes the Celtics 5-year plan is brighter than other teams, but the team's gotta ask themselves if they want to be good for a decade and not win a championship like the Clippers, or take a risk and win a ring now like the Raptors in 2019.
For right now the Celtics should worry about optimizing their own rotation and find their shooting touch. Once Jaylen Brown has some cushion to fall back on off nights and the team gets healthy, they'll certainly be a playoff team.
But is just a playoff team good enough for this once championship-caliber young core? Or a better question:
How long is good enough, good enough?
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