Let's wind the clocks back a few years. In 2019, the Boston Celtics had the most championships in NBA history, leading the Los Angeles Lakers 17-16. With Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in place, they looked poised to increase their lead. That was especially true when Anthony Davis hit the trade market. Celtics GM Danny Ainge had been hoarding assets hoping to trade for the Pelicans star for years, and his patience looked like it was about to pay off. A new Celtics dynasty seemed almost inevitable. And then, everything fell apart.
Davis insisted on a trade to the Lakers, who tied the Celtics with their 17th championship in 2020. Irving and Hayward both walked in free agency. Brown and Tatum remain, but real questions about their fit together as two scoring wings that don't emphasize playmaking are emerging. Through 39 games this season, the Celtics are only 18-21, and one of the legends who helped get them those 17 titles isn't all that confident in their ability to break the tie with the Lakers.
"They should be a lot better than they are," former Celtics point guard Bob Cousy told the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy. "It doesn't look like we're going to be hanging banner No. 18 any time soon." The problem, in Cousy's eyes, is the point guard position.
"I hate to bring it back to a point guard but … you don't have that control. When we got a lead of 6-8 points, that was when I would take it home. I just would not allow us to lose the lead."
"They had one in Kyrie [Irving], but he was a head case. They potentially had one in Kemba [Walker], although Kemba was a shooting guard more than a point guard," Cousy said. "You need a penetrating point guard at that point who is a threat and then he passes off to the [Jayson] Tatums and the [Jaylen] Browns."
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The Celtics landed Dennis Schroder at a perceived bargain this offseason hoping that he could fill that void. He largely hasn't. Boston ranks 11th in the NBA in passes per game, but 21st in assists, suggesting that while they're moving the ball more than most would believe, they aren't doing so all that effectively. In late-game situations, the ball movement grinds to a halt.
The Celtics have had Hall of Fame point guards for most of their championships. Cousy led into Jo Jo White, who was followed by Dennis Johnson and then Rajon Rondo. They lack that sort of playmaker now, and even Cousy recognizes it. If Boston is going to turn this season around, it probably depends on adding playmaking in some way, shape, or form. Otherwise, the Lakers will have a real chance to raise banner No. 18 before the Celtics do.