I’ve been wondering when the Boston Celtics are going to make their big move. Waiting for the moment when General Manager Danny Ainge would transform into Trader Danny, constructing a deal that would finally provide a clear insight into the direction of his Celtics team. Despite being rich with assets and flush with flexibility, Boston has remained diligent, focused and determined not to veer from its promising course. In the process, Brad Stevens—who has emerged as the star on a team without one—has taken this lump of clay and is molding it into a piece of art.
A top-five team in defensive efficiency, the Celtics play a brand of basketball nobody wants to encounter.
“Once we get on a roll like that in the defensive end, we lock down. We want teams to feel defeated. We want to keep our foot on the gas pedal and keep going.”
That’s what an increasingly confident Marcus Smart told reporters after a blowout victory vs. the Houston Rockets, a team regularly pointed to as a model the Celtics could theoretically follow. In watching this team develop and their swagger gel together, it’s become increasingly clear that they don’t want to follow a blueprint or be a copycat team: This is a new way to do things.
It’s not that the Celtics are the first team to talk the talk and walk the walk on the defensive side, sucking the soul out of their opposition while doing so. It’s that this is a team that has been built in a manner in which few believed Boston could do it and nobody expected they actually would. Smart, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger are all homegrown talent, while Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas—arguably the two most important players on this team—were acquired using pieces that weren’t part of the Celtics’ long-term picture.
With approximately $50 million projected to be on the books for the 2016-17 season, the Celtics have ability to bend in any number of directions. If Ainge wants to invest in the trade market or should he finally get a notable free agent to put his roots down in Boston, the ability to change the potential of this team will become very real. Although the Celtics can have the look of a team riding comfortably in the middle, Boston is doing anything but that. Competing in the current with the future while not compromising their ability to hit the big shot, Boston is redefining what it means to trust the process (via Chris Forsberg, ESPN).
“[Boston defenders] are in the right spots, they are very aggressive, they have great hands and they are playing really hard. If you do that, you have a chance to make things happen on that end of the floor,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But it’s gotta be our DNA. If it’s not our DNA, we’re in trouble.”
That’s why it works for this team. Built with a roster of players who take pride in the way their game looks at both ends while all playing with a chip on their shoulder, the Celtics are a team of bullies looking to leave their mark. As so many look for this franchise to land their next transcendent, iconic star, the current crop of skill offers a vivid illustration of an alternative path to success that has been rarely drawn up.