The Boston Celtics are in trouble. Not like, real, serious, actual bad things are going to happen trouble, but like unimportant to the real world sports trouble.
How much longer can this team fall short before they break up?
The Celtics will bring back their core next season. Going all the way back to the 2016-2017 season, Brad Stevens, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart have been to the conference finals three times in four seasons. Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis joined the fray in '17-'18. Last summer, Kemba Walker signed a max deal.
All those players are under contract next season, assuming Hayward takes his player option. Then the next year Hayward and Theis become free agents and Tatum becomes unrestricted. Tatum will be ready to negotiate a max deal of his own. He will no longer be twenty.
The question is, has anyone gotten into Tatum's ear over the last couple years as the Celtics failed to reach the NBA Finals and he's watched lesser players get big contracts while he finishes his rookie deal? Two years ago he said he wanted to be a lifelong Celtic, but what are the odds that actually happens? That never happens anymore.
If the Bucks can get Giannis to stay, that's a good sign for Boston, right? Or does that make it all the more unlikely that the Celtics are ever able to get out of the East? The Heat aren't going anywhere. The Nets are about to add two All-Stars. Two years from now the 76ers will probably be a completely different team. The question is, will they have figured out how to win around Simmons or Embiid or be back in a complete rebuild?
How much longer does Jaylen Brown want to play second, third or fourth banana? How much longer can any superstar stand on the court and watch Marcus Smart take 20+ shots in a playoff game? And how will Tatum react to being the subject of the "WILL SUPERSTAR X LEAVE?" articles and podcast conversations?
Hayward is the obvious odd man out, but Brad Stevens loves him. They made each other. What happens if Danny Ainge moves Hayward? Does Stevens really want to stick around in Boston after they do to Gordon Hayward what they did to Isaiah Thomas?
If the Celtics fail to win a title again next season, things could get ugly. You've got a superstar who needs to get paid. A bunch of guys who will have fans and the media pointing fingers because someone has to be blamed. Boston overachieved the first time they made the ECF. Continuing to get back there isn't really underachieving, but it's got to be a little disappointing as the playoff exits add up.
There was a time when the Toronto Raptors went five consecutive seasons winning between 48 and 59 games and even made a conference final. They didn't have the highest expectations, but everyone assumed they would breakthrough. Eventually they did when they fired their coach and traded away the face of their franchise.
It's nice for Celtics fans to think that this run will go on forever, but how likely is that? Everything ends, especially in the NBA. Someone always becomes unhappy. Someone always leaves. Even when teams win. The question is, will Boston win before this ends? The clock is ticking.