Because of extensive injuries and COVID-19 issues, the Boston Celtics were generally given a pass on last season. But after a slow start to this campaign, which has them under .500 as we approach the halfway point, there has been renewed concern and criticism about the present and future of the club.
Most notably, talk has started about the viability of the Jayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown partnership. The duo, which had great success early on in their careers as part of the Celtics' run to three Eastern Conference finals, have not been able to replicate those results in leading roles -- though there are various other issues at play. In fact, the topic has gotten so big that Brown and Tatum have both addressed it.
"I think we can play together," Brown said last weekend after a win over the New York Knicks. "We have played together well for the majority of our career. The last year or so hasn't gone as expected. But the adversity we've gone through will help us grow and get better in the future."
On Monday night, following the team's gritty overtime win against the Indiana Pacers, it was Tatum's turn. Shortly after he finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds, and hit a game-tying jumper in the closing seconds of regulation, he confirmed that he recently had a discussion with Brown about the situation. In short, Tatum reiterated his teammate's belief that the duo do not need to be split up.
"Obviously we live in a world where we're on our phones and the TV and we see all the things about 'we can't play together' and everybody in the media saying that one of us gotta go," Tatum said. "We just had a talk about how we both want to be here, we both want to figure it out.
"It's not many players in the league like JB," Tatum continued. "The grass ain't always greener. We've had some great stretches and this year hasn't been what we've expected, but I think in the long run it will be good for us. We gotta figure some things out, but I think the most important thing is we both want it extremely bad. We want to try to figure it out together. So for us just to be on the same page is extremely important. We got each other's back and we're going to give it all we got to figure this out, regardless of what people say."
Although it's understandable to have some concerns about the state of the Celtics, it's a bit strange that they seem to have started with suggestions of moving either Brown or Tatum. The entire league wants big wings who can create shots and defend, and the Celtics have two of them. Teams almost never get better when they trade one of their best players, and it makes no sense for the Celtics to deal either of those two without first attempting to make changes to the supporting cast.
(There's also a bigger discussion to be had here about how so much of the league's popularity now comes from player movement and off-court dealings, and the not-so-savory role the media plays in crafting that drama -- often at the expense of the on-court product.)
The Celtics' front office seems to agree. According to a report from Shams Charania of The Athletic on Monday, the team has no plans to trade Brown or Tatum, and has told inquiring teams that they want to build around their young wings. They are, however, willing to have discussions about various members of the supporting cast.
As the Feb. 10 trade deadline approaches, the Celtics are going to be a team to watch. Given their current record, and the way the offense often stagnates late in games -- Boston is 3-11 in games decided by fewer than five points -- you can expect them to look for additional shooting and playmaking. One thing you shouldn't expect, however, is a trade involving Brown or Tatum.