These Celtics Will Not End Up Like the 2012 Thunder
The Boston Celtics came up short when it mattered most on Thursday, losing Game 6 of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors and watching as Stephen Curry celebrated a championship on the TD Garden parquet. It was not a shocking nor surprising result. The Warriors looked like the better team most of the series and Curry was the best player on the floor by miles and miles. Yet it is a massive disappointment for a Celtics team that, when playing up to their potential, ran the Warriors off the floor.
Optimism springs eternal, though, and because the star combination of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have yet to even turn 26, many are confident Boston will find themselves on this stage again-- perhaps quite soon. Yet others will urge caution because we've recently seen a team with young superstar-caliber talent make it all the way to the Finals once and fail to ever get back. Some variation of this picture was floating around at a high volume on Twitter after Game 6 ended.
That is right. Celtics fans are being warned not to get too high because the 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder made it all the way to the NBA Finals before falling short to an all-time great. GM Sam Presti then infamously broke up the core immediately afterwards and they'd never reach such heights again.
Now, I am admittedly a huge Celtics homer, but I really do not think Boston will end up like that OKC team.
In terms of specifics, there are numerous reasons why Brad Stevens isn't going to turn into Presti and trade players who helped with this championship run in an effort to think about the future. The most important of those reasons is that everybody is getting paid. That was the James Harden problem that Presti ran into. The Thunder ownership didn't want to pay Harden a superstar salary when they knew they'd have to do the same for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. So Presti traded him, and we all know how that worked out.
Basically everybody important on this Celtics team is under a long-term deal for a reasonable sum compared to their production. Robert Williams and Marcus Smart both signed four-year deals this past offseason. Tatum signed his max extension the year before. And the year before that, Brown signed his own four-year deal that gave him a significant raise. Al Horford is under contract for one more year but he isn't a long-term part of this core like the above names. Payton Pritchard still has two years left on his rookie deal. The only key playoff rotation player who is in danger of leaving is Grant Williams, who is entering the final year of his contract next season and his contract negotiations will be tough to parse out.
But while that Williams is an important piece he is obviously not on Harden's level of impact. The Celtics are in no danger of losing their Finals players due to cheap ownership directives.
In the larger sense, there is certainly a risk the Celtics end up like that OKC team in that this was their moment. They played a Nets team with no chemistry due to vaccine mandates, a Bucks team without Khris Middleton, and a Miami team dealing with injuries up and down the roster. Even once they got to the Finals they enjoyed some luck, what with Curry's 0-9 three-point performance in Game 5 or Draymond Green's play for the middle segment of the series. They just couldn't capitalize, and the road is unlikely to get easier even if Tatum and Brown improve on the issues that cost them a ring this year.
But for my money, the Celtics will be back. Tatum and Brown will be together for the next three years at least. They've followed the steps most champions take with plenty of heartbreak sprinkled in among their stages of development. They knocked on the door of the Finals three times together before finally breaking through. It's a good bet to think those two can figure it out-- and with the management and ownership fully behind them, it's an even better bet to say they won't end up falling apart like the 2012 Thunder.