The Boston Celtics have one of the richest legacies in North American sports, but as of late, they have not been able to get over that hump to capture another NBA championship. In recent years, their two young stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have led them to multiple Eastern Conference Finals appearances. However, now, it feels like it’s finally time for Boston to consider splitting up the duo.
This isn’t meant to be an indictment on the talent level of Tatum and Brown but more of a realization that the Celtics will probably be better off choosing one over the other in the long run. They’ve been a perennial playoff team in Boston, but it’s become painfully evident that these Celtics may have already peaked in the east, with Tatum and Brown leading the way over the last two seasons.
Individually Tatum and Brown are two of the rising young stars in the league, averaging over 24 ppg this season. Both players were lottery picks and actually selected No. 3 overall in back-to-back years (2016 & 2017) by the Celtics. At the time, Boston likely thought they’d put together the dynamic duo that would have the franchise competing for championships within the next five years. Things haven’t exactly worked out that way.
Since the two were teamed up in 2017, the Celtics have won fewer games each season. That isn’t exclusively on the Tatum-Brown pairing, but some blame undoubtedly falls on their shoulders as the top dogs. Former team president/general manager Danny Ainge is entirely at fault for the construction of this squad. But he’s no longer around, so now Brad Stevens is forced to figure it out.
Tatum and Brown are in their fifth season as teammates, and have not been able to improve upon their first season together — 55-27, and a seven-game Eastern Conference Final against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last season was the worst, with the Celtics finishing 2020-21 with a .500 record and the Brooklyn Nets dominating them in the first round of the playoffs. This season, the Celtics are two games below .500 as the halfway point approaches. There’s been some change in Boston in recent years, but the core of Tatum, Brown, and even Marcus Smart has remained.
I think we’ve seen this Celtics crew as currently assembled go about as far as should be expected. As talented as Tatum and Brown are, their styles are somewhat similar and not the best compliment. The offense doesn’t always flow in Boston, and when things get tight, they tend to revert to isolation ball as they did against the Knicks a few nights ago, squandering a 25-point lead in the second half. This year, the Celtics are hovering near .500 with a 19-21 record sitting in 10th place in the east.
Now is the time for Boston to go ahead and make a deal happen for either one of their young stars. I feel like if they’re forced to choose, the Celtics would trade away Brown and hold onto Tatum. Boston could get a pretty nice haul in return for Brown. Maybe a player or two, along with at least a first-round draft pick. At this point, the Celtics have nothing to lose, so they might as well give Daryl Morey a call in Philly about Ben Simmons. Brown, Smart, another player, and a draft pick might get it done. Knowing Morey and his lofty trade expectations, probably not, but it’s worth a call with the trade deadline just weeks away. Damian Lillard is another obvious route, but the Blazers are such a mess as a franchise at the moment that it might be even harder to get that deal done.
What do you think LeBron James and the Lakers would give up right now for Brown? Maybe Anthony Davis? Certainly, Russell Westbrook at this stage. I’m fairly confident neither of these scenarios will play out, but the Celtics need to get things in order quickly. Stevens has one hell of a task ahead over the next year or two in getting the franchise back on track. If it’s going to happen, then it’s probably going to be minus Tatum or Brown. It’s time to cut bait and move forward.