Where the Celtics went wrong this season

Danny Ainge
Danny Ainge is under enormous pressure after a disappointing season for the Celtics. Photo from Boston Globe.

If you look up the word mediocre in the Oxford dictionary, I’m convinced you’d find a picture of the sorry 2020/21 Boston Celtics beside it.

A 36-36 regular season and now on the brink of losing in five games to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the NBA Playoffs has the Celtics teetering between embarrassment and disappointment.

Throughout this season, Boston have have played soft. Routinely down by 20 and failing to muster a comeback has fans questioning the heart of this team. Major changes are required to the composition of a roster whose offence has largely been to hand the ball to Tatum and Brown to iso. Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge and company have serious questions to answer this offseason.

Time to move on from Trader Danny

You know what, it might be time for Danny Ainge to relieved, axed, fired (insert synonym here) from his role as Executive Director of Basketball Operations.

Ainge has been in the role since 2003 and this season is arguably his worst roster construction of the last 10 years. Now I’m not saying Ainge should be exiled out of the organisation (I’m sure it’s written somewhere in Celtics by-law that at least one member of the ’86 team remains on the books), but perhaps moved upstairs. It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened in the organisation.

In 1984, former legendary coach Red Auerbach relinquished his general managing duties to Jan Volk. 13 years later, Auerbach stated he was somewhat distant from the NBA, instead preferring hobbies away from the sport. He was still on the books however and was given the title of Vice Chairman in 2001 up until his death in 2006.

Celtics ownership group Boston Basketball Partners need to find a new position for Ainge, one that alleviates his duties building a team together.

Numbers do lie when it comes to Evan Fournier

When the Celtics traded for Evan Fournier of the Orlando Magic for Jeff Teague and two second round picks, Celtic fans believed they were getting a steal.


The Jeff Teague Boston experience went exactly as you would have thought it would go, so signing Fournier was a significant upgrade. The 6’7 wing had averaged 19.7ppg this season for the Magic, and although his role would be reduced in Boston, expectations where that he’ll be a contributing factor.

That has not turned out so well.

Having missed nine games due to COVID protocol, Fournier admitted to having concussion-like symptoms. His play was severally hampered and this has continued into the post-season. It is worth mentioning however, that the words ‘playoff’ and ‘Evan Fournier’ are as compatible as oil and water.

Fournier is an analytical nightmare. His raw numbers, particularly in the regular season, look impressive. Beginning from the 2016/17 season this current season, Fournier is averaging 17ppg on 45/37/81 splits. That’s good right?

Especially from a perceived third option whilst in Orlando. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) during this spell is 14.7. Not great, but not exactly terrible. Now what if, and just bear with me here, what if I told you his PER in the playoffs is among the all-time worst among players who have average more than 25 minutes per game in the playoffs?

On The Bill Simmons Podcast, Simmons outlined that Fournier’s PER is a lowly 6. This is downright diabolical. Now the aggregators would put that down to playing with a poor Magic team, but the fact of the matter is, you can make the case that Evan Fournier is the worst playoff performer of all time. Again, if only Danny Ainge would’ve known that…

Kem-bye?

It’s time Boston cut their losses with Kemba Walker. It just hasn’t panned out the way they hoped.

Having lost Kyrie Irving to free agency in the summer of 2019, the Celtics acquired Kemba from the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Terry Rozier. Everyone knew Walker could not recreate the artistry of Kyrie, but few players in the NBA have a higher approval rating that the UCONN legend.

This season, Kemba’s shortcomings have been on full display. Having missed a large part of the season to begin with, Kemba has not played back-to-backs all year.

The Celtics medical staff were very cautious of Walker’s left knee which saw him requiring a stem cell injection after his exploits in the NBA Bubble last year. The protective approach has not paid dividends unfortunately. Kemba missed game four against the Nets this time due to a bruised knee. It’s hard to be over-critical of Kemba. He is 31 years of age. He played 3 years of college basketball before being drafted into the NBA. He is barely over 6ft tall.

The history of the league tells us that small guards don’t tend to age well sans Steph Curry and Chris Paul.

Cashing in is the Smart thing to do

The Celtics need to divorce Marcus Smart. It is an evitable sad parting of the ways, but the organisation should move on from him.

Smart has shown signs of slowing down. He still defends at a high level and is as accountable as ever. He remains the longest tenured Boston Celtic and is beloved in Massachusetts. He, however, is the best trade piece the Celtics have that could get them a quality replacement. Smart is paid just shy of $13 million a year and will have one year left on his deal after this season concludes. Boston should be heading into this summer thinking ‘the only untouchables are Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’, everyone else is available.

What the Celtics have in Tatum and Brown is arguably the best young wing tandem in the league.

It also puts pressure on the organisation to surround them with the appropriate pieces. Teams cannot take for granted that young players are not hungry to win now. Before you know it, Tatum and Brown will be two years away from free agency and the chatter of them playing elsewhere intensifies. Whether Ainge will remain as general manager to oversee roster changes, or someone else stepping into the role, the need for a balanced and improved roster remains the priority.

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About Kelechi Ulu 17 Articles
It was during the 2018 Conference Finals my interest in the NBA began. Watching the Rockets and Warriors duel it out was something akin to a movie scene. It was then when I knew I was hooked onto the NBA... Since then I love reading all things NBA and listening to a plethora of basketball podcasts. It’s all for the love of the game

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