The Boston Celtics are in the midst of one of the weirdest seasons of any team in the league. Boston currently sits at 15-17, putting them in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and on the cusp of falling out of the play-in tournament altogether. For a team that entered this season with sky high expectations, it’s not hard to label the Celtics as one of the NBA’s biggest disappointments this season.
Of course, that lacks a ton of context. The team has been thrashed by injury absences, whether they’re related to COVID-19 or otherwise, and they were unable to find a way to replace Gordon Hayward in free agency. But according to team CEO Wyc Grousbeck, one under the radar problem has been that the team lost Kyrie Irving to the Brooklyn Nets two offseasons ago.
“We had hoped Kyrie would stay forever and lead us all the way,” Grousbeck recently told NBC Sports Boston. “He’s on maybe the best team on the league right now and so that’s that. That change touched off a lot of stuff because he left, we weren’t maybe able to recruit free agents in the same way, and a bit of a domino effect. But it is what it is. We went for it with Kyrie. We had a good year with him. He tried hard and then he moved on.”
It is easy to view this as “we lost Kyrie and now we are bad,” but what Grousbeck appears to be saying is far more nuanced than that. Losing a player of Irving’s caliber made it more difficult to build a team over the course of multiple years. Boston still has the luxury of having two young All-Stars under long-term deals, but both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are younger dudes going through growing pains. And of course, in addition to losing Irving, the Celtics didn’t retain Al Horford, leaving a hole in their frontcourt that has been an issue this season.
Again, the good news for Boston is that if it needs to do any sort of tearing down, it would more be on the edges than with its core, because having two guys of Brown and Tatum’s caliber would make that exponentially easier to pull of successfully. But it’s hard not to wonder how things would have played out with the team if Irving stuck around instead of leaving to join the Nets a few summers back.