The Celtics Were Apparently a Mess Both On and Off the Court Last Season
By Liam McKeone
It's an offseason of change for the Boston Celtics, beginning with Brad Stevens moving upstairs to a front office role in lieu of Danny Ainge's retirement. The first significant roster adjustment has already occurred, as Stevens' first trade in his new role sent Kemba Walker and a first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Al Horford and Moses Brown.
It was a move both sides were happy with and sparked some investigative reporting by The Athletic's Jared Weiss. Weiss posted an inside look into Walker's relationship with the organization this past season and his findings suggest that there was some very real problems going on within the Celtics' locker room in 2020-21.
Stevens was reportedly much harder on Walker than other key players and it led to friction between the two. Walker's health issues combined with the Celtics' lack of on-court success led to his frustration and he let people know he'd be fine with going elsewhere.
Walker maintained his professionalism throughout the season but his health issues, the team’s poor performance and boos from TD Garden fans — something that particularly “pissed him off,” according to multiple sources — made him sour on his situation in Boston and had spoken privately about being willing to move to a new team. It had become clear he was not going to be in the team’s long-term plans.
Because this is a post about the Celtics last season, there was, of course, a note about the Lucky the Leprechaun/Kyrie Irving incident.
Despite the continuity in leadership, several team sources suggest the Celtics’ culture of competition is eroding — with more than one source pointing to the players’ perceived indifference toward Kyrie Irving stomping on the Celtics logo after the final home game of the season as a red flag they did not exhibit the same sense of pride in the organization that has been the Celtics’ calling card in years past.
Blake Griffin reportedly considered joining Boston midseason but asked a Celtic before making his decision. The response was not exactly a glowing reflection on what the locker room was like last year.
According to a source, Brooklyn’s Blake Griffin asked a Celtics player if he should join the team midseason and was told not to come to Boston because of the apparent dysfunction.
There's a lot of other notes like that in Weiss' reporting that paint an ugly picture from last season. This is rather bad news for a Boston team that needs to bounce back next season as Jayson Tatum's max contract kicks in. Players have never moved with more frequency and the clock is already ticking for the Celtics to prove to their superstar that they can and will compete for championships while he is under contract.
Even though the move was surprising, Weiss' information suggests that Stevens moving upstairs was the best move possible. Accountability and accused favoritism were both problems last year. That usually means it's time for a new face in the locker room. He has a lot of pressure to nail the hiring of his replacement. If he doesn't, this is only the beginning of a long downward spiral.