It’s hard to find precedent for the situation that Brad Stevens is dealing with during this season. He’s overseeing one of the deepest depth charts in the league, which features a host of young players that thrived in bigger roles last year and are now playing less while also trying to establish themselves and earn a future payday. He also has a former All-Star returning from a catastrophic injury that is nowhere close to his peak form 56 games into the regular season. Then, there’s the shadow of an Anthony Davis pursuit looming over the team’s youngsters heading into the summer, which would likely involve several players being shipped away. That, combined with the suddenly uncertain long-term future of Kyrie Irving, puts the head coach in a challenging spot to put it kindly.
There’s been in-fighting, pushing matches on the benches, accusations of selfish play, a call for a more veteran leader by the team’s best player, and several scathing public critiques by a few of the older members on the roster.
Trying to make sense of it all is Stevens, who has been dealt this challenging hand by Danny Ainge. He’s stuck with it now, too, after Ainge elected to stand pat with this group in the wake of 10 wins in 11 games ahead of the trade deadline. Shaking things out in a major way may have been a bigger consideration if the Davis derby didn’t loom this summer. However, it’s clear Ainge wanted to keep all of his assets intact for July 1, which limited any potential tweaks at the deadline.
So now it’s up to Stevens to get this group on the same page and playing their best basketball of the season through the final 26 games of the regular season and into the playoffs. For every single year of his Celtics career, it’s safe to say he’s maximized the talent he has been handed, but that streak has come to a halt in the 2018-19 season. The players deserve the lion’s share of the blame for underachieving, particularly in the first 20 games, but Stevens did not help matters on that front.
He was late to make a change to a starting five that wasn’t clicking early on, which potentially cost the Celtics some wins over the first 20 games of the year. A necessary adjustment was made but now it’s clear some other moves might be needed to get this group back on track. Let's look at a few issues that will need to be addressed by the head coach in the coming days.