Elated Warriors fans linger around the arena as confetti falls for the second year in a row at Oracle Arena. Stephen Curry holds his first Finals MVP award while Gordon Hayward & Co. rejoice in finally getting past the Cavaliers but still fall short of claiming the Larry O’Brien trophy.
This is the likely outcome of the 2018 NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics have made the biggest splash thus far in free agency with the coup of Gordon Hayward. Not only is he reunited with his former coach in Brad Stevens, but he embodies all that the Celtics stand for. However, in order for Hayward’s talent to be maximized, GM Danny Ainge still has more work to do.
As good as Isaiah Thomas is, he simply does not fit into the Celtics future. Thomas is a scorer first and is not capable of defending bigger guards despite his best efforts. Don’t take this out of context, Thomas is a great player but he simply does not fit into the Celtics future and eats up valuable cap space.
Young talent Jaylen Brown is the future of this team, period. The 6’7″ small forward out of Cal Berkeley has both the ability and capacity to stretch the floor and open up shots for his teammates. Brown’s not yet fully polished, nor has he unlocked his potential, but he’s the key building block for the Celtics as witnessed by both his resilience and quick step to the basket in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. It’s definitely worth checking the tape.
That being said, the Celtics need a point guard who will be a distributor first player a la Ricky Rubio or Shaun Livingston. Employing this kind of point guard will allow both Jaylen and Hayward to pick their spots in open space or curl off screens with the expectation that they’ll actually get the ball. This type of set-up, in addition to the already rumored acquisition of a big man like Marc Gasol would make for a strong starting five when factoring in veteran Al Horford (and/or rookie Jayson Tatum).
The Celtics are on the cusp of being a force in the Eastern Conference for years to come, but in order for this puzzle to work, Isaiah Thomas has to be swapped for a more versatile guard. Just as Mark Jackson brought the Warriors to a certain point of recognition as a coach, Isaiah Thomas has done the same for the Celtics as a player. Now, it’s time for Danny Ainge to amicably part ways and look toward progression, or else Thomas falls into the Monta Ellis role during the time when the Warriors made their transition (to Curry).
Remember, the Celtics held their own in a few of last year’s playoff games against the Cavaliers without Thomas on the floor. Players looked to work together in the absence of Thomas to create a more balanced scoring attack. This is the style of play that will take Boston to the next level, one that the Golden State Warriors have already embraced — next man up mentality.
Should the Celtics piece this thing together properly, and LeBron bolts for greener pastures next year as expected, they’ll sit atop the East for years to come barring the already-in-play ascension of the Philadelphia 76ers. Boston fans have a lot to look forward to, now it’s up to Ainge to do his best Bob Myers impersonation.
(This article was originally published on July 6, 2017)