Celtics

Celtics Continue to Create a Plethora of Questions

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After a solid attempt at mounting a comeback from their 0-3 Eastern Conference Finals deficit, the Boston Celtics fell short and now face a new myriad of questions.

As a team that just last season reached the NBA Finals, this is a disappointing result for the franchise that adopted the tagline “UNFIN18HED BUSINESS” entering the postseason.

Now, the Celtics end their season with as many questions as they had entering it.

This will not be a result Boston fans will allow for long, and President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens will have to make some tough decisions to keep his roster in position to win their first championship in 15 years.

Celtics Lead contributors Eric Tartaglia and Jesús Feliciano-Batista sat down to discuss.

Is Bringing Mazzulla Back The Right Decision?

Eric Tartaglia: The Celtics should absolutely bring back Joe Mazzulla. It is understood that he had some shaky moments during this season. However, he still led this team to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and the Conference Finals in his first year. Moving on from Mazzulla would make the team’s fourth coach in as many years.

We give leeway to players during their rookie year and have big aspirations for them heading into their second season. Why can’t we do the same for coaches? Mazzulla now has a full year to go over his mistakes and become a better coach.

Jesús Feliciano-Batista: Mazzulla’s first season with the Celtics has been a complicated one. Despite some struggles and criticism, however, he has proven he has what it takes to lead the Celtics into the future. Not only did he eliminate some of his more critical flaws — mainly his tendency not to call timeouts and rotate players according to matchups — he even went toe-to-toe with one of the best 15 coaches of all time.

Much like his star in Jayson Tatum, Mazzulla improved in the playoffs and earned his spot. Instead of moving on from the team’s third coach in three years, Boston should support Mazz and give him a better, more experienced support staff. The right assistant coach will allow him to continue growing, while making sure the team does not sacrifice quality.

Is Brown getting his money? Should the Celtics pay him?

Tartaglia: Whether it is with the Celtics or another team, Jaylen Brown will get paid. He has improved every year and the Celtics would be foolish not to pay him. It is clear as day that him and Jayson Tatum have a tight-knit bond and if Brown were to leave town, this team would not be the same from a morale standpoint.

It might be cool to think about the possibilities of another superstar teaming up with Tatum as we say goodbye to Brown, but these two guys are young and have proven they can get to the big stage. These superstars led this team to the NBA Finals last year and almost cemented themselves in the history books in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals.

Feliciano-Batista: They Celtics absolutely have to pay Brown. The All-NBA wing disappointed this postseason, especially against the Heat, but in terms of practicality, Boston can’t let him walk. Even if some people don’t see Brown as someone who should be making that much money, Boston cannot risk losing him.

Whether the team should move forward with the intention of making him one of their superstars is another question. He deservingly made an All-NBA Team, now he has to be paid as such. Whatever happens after that decision is for the Celtics to decide in the future.

Trade Smart? Trade Williams III? Run it back?

Tartaglia: In past years, Celtics fans have gotten tired of the same-old front office not doing anything to change this team to get them over the hump.

Get ready, because it is going to be another quiet offseason. This team has the tools and skillset to win an NBA Championship. Other than some minor tweaks to the end of the roster/rotation, the Celtics should be focused on running it back. We know this team is capable of making it to the Finals and most of the group is still relatively young. It can be argued that if this team stays the same, they are a top-three team in the NBA. So why switch it up?

Feliciano-Batista: Some version of this Celtics squad has been competing for the last seven years now. Smart joined the Celtics nine years ago, Brown seven, Horford first joined seven years ago as well, Tatum six, Time Lord five, Grant Williams four. The core has been through a lot together— a lot of winning, and some bad losses. Brad Stevens has done a great job at refreshing his roster with rotation players that add new elements to the roster, but there might need to be some more shaking up this year that just trading Daniel Theis.

If the right trade comes along for Smart or Time Lord, it might be time to say goodbye.

What to do with players like Grant and Pritchard?

Tartaglia: As mentioned previously, minor changes to the end of the roster/rotation are more than likely going to happen if Jaylen Brown gets his bag from the Celtics. Grant Williams is at the top of this list. He is a restricted free agent and it is very possible that a team offers him a higher deal than how the Celtics value him. As much as Grant has shown that Boston mentality, it might be time for him to go elsewhere.

It seems like Payton Pritchard will be out the door as well. He is still under contract for another year, so the Celtics do not have to move away from him. But it feels like Pritchard needs a change of scenery and it is not surprising for him to want more minutes than he gets with this team.

Feliciano-Batista: Dealing with players like Williams and Pritchard gets very complicated with the new CBA rules. These will limit many teams’ spending, and Boston might fall victim to them. As a result, Grant Williams might have to go elsewhere.

If possible, Williams should still be re-signed. His impact on the Celtics is an overall positive one and he will be necessary in future matchups against dominant big men. In this scenario, keep Pritchard as a trade asset. If not, Pritchard can be traded for a replacement. Despite the 25-year-old being the third guard for the Celtics and not always seeing the court, his ability surpasses this role and many teams should be more than happy to give him a chance as their bench point guard.

Horford is aging, Williams is injury prone. Do the Celtics need to work on their big-man core?

Tartaglia: There is no doubt that the Celtics have had a hard time these past couple of years with their big-man core. Al Horford is going to be 37 in June and we started to see the decline in play during this playoff run. As much as Horford means to this team, it might be time to move away from him. He is on the books for $10 million next year, so it might be worth to trade him for better payroll flexibility.

We also cannot forget that Danilo Gallinari — assuming he exercises his player option — will be a part of this team next year as well. He could easily fill the role as the Celtics stretch-four next season.

As for Robert Williams III, it is no secret that he struggles to stay healthy. However, he is going to be one of the key pieces moving forward if the Celtics want to win a championship. He is a game changer and a nightmare for opposing teams. His athleticism and intelligence around the rim on both sides of the court proved to be a problem for many teams in the playoffs. He is under contract for the next three years and is making around $12 million a year, which is a bargain, if he can stay off the shelf.

Feliciano-Batista: Horford and Williams cannot be the Celtics’ big-man core moving forward. Deciding which to trade is a bit difficult after the final game against Miami. Horford’s skillset makes him a better fit for the team that loves to shoot threes, but he showed his age towards the end of the playoff run. Williams gave better effort, but his limitations on offense made him borderline unplayable at times.

Horford at $10 million next year makes him a pretty safe bet. Even if he does not match his production from this season or the past, his leadership and experience alone makes him worth the money. Williams, however, should be on the table. His injury concerns and offensive deficiencies will not always allow the team to look at long runs in a realistic light.

The franchise must be tired of fearing the worst every time he hits the floor, as fans are.

Can we trust the team’s depth?

Tartaglia: If the Celtics roll into next season with a starting lineup of Tatum, Brown, Smart, Timelord and White — with Brogdon and Gallinari coming off the bench — there will definitely be some depth concerns. It all depends on what the Celtics do with Horford and Grant Williams. With this “live by the three, die by the three” approach Mazzulla has brought, it would not be surprising to see the Celtics go after veterans that have proven to be a good 3-and-D player.

A name that could make a lot of sense for this team is Brook Lopez. He could very well be looking to get paid after putting up great numbers for the Bucks this year. The 35-year-old would be a tremendous fit for Mazzulla ball and would bring that defensive intensity around the rim.

Another name that could make a lot of sense — and coincidentally was also on the Bucks this season — is Joe Ingles. He is known for his shot-making and pick-and-roll defense. This team struggled with getting over screens in the ECF which allowed players like Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and Duncan Robinson to get good looks from deep. Adding a vet like Ingles off the bench as the eighth guy could go a long way for this team.

Feliciano-Batista: The Celtics have to make some changes and add some pieces this offseason. Despite supposedly having one of the deepest teams in the league this year, players like Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard proved to be unplayable in Mazzulla’s playoff rotation.

Even when the team faced injury concerns to Malcolm Brogdon, the team didn’t trust anybody other than their top seven. The Celtics have the template, they just need to find some final role players that can be trusted when it matters. They do not necessarily need high-level role players, but players who can be the eighth-to-tenth men and step up when called upon.

Answers Should Come Quick…Or Will They?

With the draft and free agency vastly approaching, answers to most of these questions should gain some clarity, or perhaps, more obscurity until the ball is tipped again at TD Garden in October.

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About Jesús Feliciano-Batista

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