Danny Ainge: Some young Celtics were too focused on being All-Stars, not winning

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Kyrie Irving was the main scapegoat for the Celtics’ problems last season. And he absolutely deserves blame.

But not all of it.

Even Celtics president Danny Ainge – who could easily pin the now-departed Irving as the culprit for all Boston’s woes – is speaking of other sources.

Ainge, via NBC Sports Boston:

“Certain guys thought they were going to be All-Stars this year,” Ainge said. “And they work hard all summer to reach these individual goals, but we just had too much individual goals. We didn’t have enough guys that winning was the most important thing. And when you have 21- and 22-year-old kids, that’s gonna happen.”

The easy suspects: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier.

They had just helped lead Boston on a historic run to the 2018 Eastern Conference finals with Irving and Gordon Hayward sidelined. When those proven stars returned last season, it created tension.

Everyone wants to win. Everyone wants to succeed on their own terms. Those goals only sometimes cleanly overlap. When they don’t, it becomes a question of how players set their priorities.

Players like Tatum, Brown and Rozier are still trying to establish themselves in the league. They’re still developing testing their capabilities on the court. They’re still building name recognition. They were still playing to earn bigger salaries down the road.

None of that is easy. Sacrificing for the team only adds complications.

These are common issues with young players (really all players, but especially young players). What made the Celtics different: They had productive veterans like Irving and Al Horford. Boston was good enough to accomplish plenty if everyone were working toward a shared goal. Most teams with so many prominent young players are earlier in their ascent, lacking the veterans who impede the young players.

Some of that falls on Ainge. He assembled this roster, after all. It had too many players at different stages of their careers with different priorities.

Add Irving’s ineffective leadership, and the fractures were even worse.

The outcome was never inevitable. The Celtics might have been close to having it all – a good team poised to excel for a long time. That’s such a great situation. It’s worth trying to for.

It just didn’t work out that way.

Boston will try again without Irving, Horford and Rozier. Kemba Walker will make a reasonably high level of team success still achievable. But this time, there should be more room for Tatum and Brown to spread their wings… in a way that fits better into what the team needs.

That’ll make it easier for everyone to balance the competing priorities of individual and team success.