Rooting for a basketball team run by Danny Ainge is fun for a wide variety of reasons. There’s the fact that he is one ruthless sonofabitch who will do whatever he possibly can to make his team better no matter what caliber of player is involved, he’s a trade God, the list goes on and on. But one of my favorite activities is decoding his bullshit when he speaks to the media. Sometimes it’s pretty clear when he’s doing his classic Ainge spin, but other times I find him to be blatantly honest about what he sees. Depending on the subject you never know which version you’re going to get, so when he spoke to Steve Bullpet at the Herald about the current state of the team as we prepare for the playoffs, you bet your ass I was at full attention. I actually found this round to be more honest than anything else, there wasn’t that usual Ainge bullshit spin, and these are the parts that stood out to me
“Inconsistent,” Ainge said regarding where the C’s stand with 10 games remaining on the regular season. “We look good in stretches of each game. We look good some games. [Monday] night we just needed to make some shots in some key moments. Like, there’s two or three stretches where Denver made a couple of outside shots and we missed a couple of lay-ins. I don’t think it’s anything disastrous; I just think we need to keep working to get consistent. And we could have used Gordon [Hayward] out there, because there were some open shots to be made.”
Well the good news is we know Ainge has eyes. Anyone who has watched this team would classify them as inconsistent at best, but there’s one thing I disagree with him on in this quote. I would say the Celtics inability to make layups is rather disastrous. Especially with you combine it with their streaky outside shooting. It wouldn’t be disastrous if it was an isolated incident, but we’ve been watching this team be absolutely pathetic around the rim for what feels like years now. Whether it’s Jaylen, Tatum, Morris, Al, Hayward, you can take it to the bank that they will miss no fewer than 5 wide open layups a night. If not for Kyrie’s insane finishing ability at the rim it would be even worse.
“But I feel like there’s a lot of good things I see on our team. I feel like we need to be healthy. We need to be right. And I feel like our minds are getting in the right place, and that’s a good thing. [Against Denver], we weren’t thinking, but it wasn’t a lack of effort. It was falling asleep on some plays or not paying attention, but it wasn’t some deep-rooted issues that can’t be fixed. We could have played well and still lost against a team like Denver. They’re a very good team.”
He didn’t mention it, but I’ve been decoding Ainge long enough to know what he’s talking about here. He’s talking about Jaylen. Case and point
I also wonder if maybe he was also referring to Brad, since that timeout at the end of the third made no goddamn sense and was the action of a guy not using his brain.
“Yeah, I don’t believe you can flip a switch,” Ainge said, “but I see a lot of things I like on our team. I like a lot of our energy. We have lapses, but I feel a lot of it is inexperience and maybe communication that we need to get better at. At this stage of the season, we’re still playing lineups out there that probably haven’t played much together. We saw [Al] Horford and [Aron] Baynes out there more than maybe we’ve seen them all year, and that was the foundation of our defense last year. Again, I’m not making excuses. I’m not panicking. I feel much better about our team today than I did two weeks ago.
OK this is important mostly because their best player has been talking about how he’s not worried in the slightest because he plans on flipping a switch come the postseason.
I tend to lean with Ainge if only because we haven’t seen this team flip a switch before, and if you look throughout NBA history that’s not really how it works. Maybe it can in other sports, but basketball is a little different. Ainge then lost me on that next part. He talks about how maybe the struggles came from lineups we haven’t really seen, but then mentioned Al and Baynes who played an entire season together last year. So which is it? That felt like a weird example to throw out there because that lineup crushed last season, especially on the defensive end which has not been the case recently.
I’m also not sure I buy his inexperience reason either. The starting lineup has one young guy in Jayson Tatum, but the rest are NBA veterans. The second unit has more with Jaylen/Terry sure, but Hayward/Baynes are vets and there’s usually another starter that runs with that second unit during those shifts. In my opinion the lapses aren’t due to inexperience, it’s more that when we see this team give up huge runs it’s because of poor shot selection and lazy defense. You don’t have to be in the league 10 years to know how to not play like an asshole.
The next part about his expectations people may not believe, but I get what he’s saying
“I wouldn’t say disappointed, because the season’s not over yet,” Ainge said. “I’m encouraged. I mean, there’s been stretches in the season where I’ve wanted more, sure. But everybody does. Everybody wants more. But I’m encouraged, and I see a lot of good things.”
While I don’t believe him completely, it’s impossible to not be disappointed with how the Celts have played this season, and I’m not sure anything they do over the last 10 games changes that. It doesn’t excuse the awful losses to bad teams, it doesn’t excuse their inability to win on the road, but the positive spin is if the season ends and they have a more favorable path in the playoffs even if it means they are a 4 seed, I think Ainge will take that. Obviously he expected them to be much better just like we all did, but I think he’s trying to play both sides because we don’t really know what their postseason journey will look like yet.
My overall takeaway from this interview was pretty much the fact that Ainge is holding strong to the fact that whatever is plaguing this team can be fixed when it matters most. That doesn’t mean flipping a switch, it just means that there’s certainly no reason to panic. Honestly it sounded like an interview you hear him give in like January not the end of March, and of course he wasn’t going to publicly crush his team for underachieving, but I also thought he was pretty honest. He wasn’t afraid to admit they’re inconsistent as hell, they fall asleep too much and have legit communication issues and it’s not as easy to turnaround as they may think once the playoffs start. I feel like as a fanbase that’s exactly how we view things too.
I’m just glad that he didn’t buy into this “flip the switch” mentality and acknowledged that there’s actually work to be done before season ends because it has sounded like the players are ready to just mail it in and get to the postseason and see what happens. Hopefully Brad holds them to that same type of accountability.