The Celtics might be too deep.
All five regular-season starters – Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Aron Baynes – return. So does playoff starter Terry Rozier. So does Hayward. So does Marcus Smart, whom Boston coach Brad Stevens has called the team’s “sixth starter” for years. So does Marcus Morris, who started in Detroit before joining these stacked Celtics and remains in his prime.
Make no mistake: Teams around the league envy this challenge. But it’s still a challenge.
Stevens on the “Yahoo Sports NBA: Chris Mannix” podcast:
I think all of our guys realize that we have a really good thing going.
Part of being on a team is all being understanding that there’s nothing like experiencing winning together.
For me, it’s more about, we have a unique thing, and I think we all have to recognize that. The starting thing, the finishing and everything else – we’re going to have different lineups out there, and everybody’s going to get an opportunity and lots of opportunities to make an impact.
We’ll just do it like we’ve always done it. Marcus Smart has come off the bench for two years, and I’ve never considered Marcus Smart to be a non-starter. I just think that you – we’re fortunate enough on our team that we’ve got eight, nine, maybe 10 guys that are starters. So, we’ll figure that out as the time comes.
And I do I think that our guys have a recognition overall about that’s not what it’s about. It’s about trying to be the best that we can be collectively. If we all do what we do to the best of our ability, it will benefit everybody individually.
But you only get so many chances to be part of a special group. And we’re pretty fortunate to be in this position. We need to take advantage of it.
Ten is probably pushing it. But the Celtics might actually have nine starting-caliber – i.e. top-150 – players.
How will that work?
Boston’s team success will help plenty. It’s harder for players to grumble about playing time when the team is winning.
Stevens also does a great job of giving players roles and getting them to buy in. These players fit different positional archetypes, allowing Stevens to give them each turns depending on situation.
And maybe only Rozier and Morris are playing for their next contract. As long as he stays healthy, Irving will likely command a max contract in free agency next summer no matter what. Horford ($30,123,015) and Baynes ($5,453,280) will probably opt in, though there’s a chance they’re playing to prove they deserve new contracts. Hayward, Tatum, Brown and Smart are locked in for multiple years.
Rozier has consistently struck the right tone in balancing his personal ambition with playing his role in Boston. That’s contagious. Stevens is adding to the culture with preemptive positive reinforcement.
The Celtics could get tangled in playing-time disputes, but they’re at least off to the right start for making this work.