When LeBron James left Cleveland again last summer, the East was open for entry – and it was obvious who would take that.
The Celtics entered this season as the envy of any team outside of Golden State and possessed a dynamic, young core that brought James Cavaliers to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston had nearly ended Cleveland's four-year term on the East without injured Kyrie Irving, although he had five minutes from the first year of Gordon Hayward's maximum contract, who suffered a terrible leg injury at the season opener.
Both All-Stars would be back this season. The young core would only improve. The next half decade would be hers.
Somehow the Celtics were booed out of their own building before the next All-Star break, after they had blown a 28-point lead to the Clippers on Saturday night. Two days earlier, the Celtics defeated the Lakers 1
"If [this is who we are] we will not last long," said coach Brad Stevens. "I think I have to look first and find out what I can do to help it not happen. … if that means we have to play different rotations, call different things, start in quarters differently than we do; Whatever the case may be. There is an answer and we have to find it. "
Veteran Marcus Morris explained why the most talented team in the East has the fifth best record of the conference. an answer that only raises questions.
"For me, it's not really about the loss, it's about the attitude we play with," Morris said after Saturday's loss. "Boys hang their heads. This is not fun. We do not compete at a high level. Although we win, it's still not fun. I do not see the joy of the game.
"I watch as all the other teams in the league and the boys sit on the bench – they jump on the court, they enjoy the success of their teammates. They enjoy everything, they play together and they play to win. And when I look at myself, I only see a number of individuals.
Several people have contributed to the problem.
Hayward, 28, did not come back as the player he had averaged before the injury averaged 10.8 points while 31.7 percent are shot from the perimeter. In his final season in Utah, Hayward averaged 21.9 points, while he reached 39.8 percent of the 3 points.
The 26-year-old Irving leads the team (23.6) and helps (6.9), but seems to return to his preseason commitment to sign again this summer at the Celtics (35-21) and has not easily turned into a leadership role. Last month, Irving called his younger team-mates by calling James and apologizing to his former Cavs partner for having caused problems at the beginning of his career.
from your teammates, "Irving said afterwards. "I want to test these young people, but I can not make it public. It was a learning experience for me when I realized how big my voice is and what I mean by these guys.
Even the young, native core did not have as much weight as expected. 20-year-old Jayson Tatum has not risen to a star yet, and his percentage shot numbers dropped. Jaylen Brown, 22, and Terry Rozier, 24, also key to the Boston Playoff run, have lost their minutes with the return of Hayward and Irving. Stevens has strived to find the ideal balance in the team lineups and to bring together a locker room that is not yet shared but unified.
With two months left to the start of the playoffs, the Celtics have time to get together. The talent remains as impressive as any team in the East. But a run into the final only got tougher, Toronto, Philadelphia and Milwaukee were all done by the end of the trade, while Boston was quiet.
The future is much more uncertain than it ever seemed.
"It's hard to win four straight times and lose three in a row," Morris said a few weeks ago. "I would be lying if I said that we know our identity because the identity of a good team does not."