There isn’t an NBA team more eager to tear apart the 2020-21 season and start anew than the Boston Celtics. Arguably the most disappointing team a year ago, the wheels are in motion for a new beginning. Gone is Danny Ainge. Brad Stevens is no longer the coach. Veteran point guard Kemba Walker has already been traded, and we’re still only in the conference finals. The dysfunction in Boston was reportedly out of control. It may have reached its high point when Kyrie Irving stomped on the Celtics logo after a Game 4 victory.
The Boston Celtics had a season to forget
The Celtics had high hopes entering the 2020-21 season. Fresh off a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals, the team was ready to showcase its two young All-Stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Statistically, the two had strong seasons, but the team hovered around the .500 mark all season before finishing there at 36-36.
Ainge, the team’s president of basketball operations, resigned after the season. Stevens, who served as the head coach for the last eight years, left his role to replace Ainge in the front office. While there appeared to be several instances of turmoil within the organization, Ainge took the blame for the team’s poor performance, saying the roster he assembled wasn’t good enough.
Walker blasted the Celtics for their lack of effort. Brown showed his frustration on several accounts with “no comment” answers. Boston needed to win a play-in game just to secure the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The Brooklyn Nets made quick work of the Celtics, eliminating them in five games in the opening round.
The dysfunction may have reached its peak when Kyrie Irving stomped on the Boston Celtics logo
Irving returned to Boston during the 2020-21 playoffs with fans in attendance for the first time since his ugly two seasons in Boston. Fans were eager to voice their displeasure at Irving, who knew he was in for a not-so-warm welcome back to TD Garden. After a Game 2 win in Brooklyn that put the Nets up 2-0 in the series, Irving spoke about his upcoming return to Boston. He didn’t do himself any favors as he brought up racism during his media session.
“Hopefully, we can just keep it strictly basketball, you know there’s no belligerence or any racism going on, subtle racism, and people yelling s— from the crowd,” he said. “But even if it is, it’s part of the nature of the game and I’m just going to focus on what we can control.”
The Celtics knocked off the Nets in Game 3, but Irving responded with a huge Game 4. He poured in 39 points and guided the Nets to a convincing 141-126 win that gave his team a commanding 3-1 series lead. After the game, he went to mid-court and stomped on the Celtics logo.
According to The Athletic, that moment may have been when the Celtics realized the team dysfunction hit its peak.
Jared Weiss wrote that more than one source pointed “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.”
The dysfunction in Boston wasn’t new this year
According to The Athletic, sources said that former Celtic Gordon Hayward told Stevens he had to “establish a stronger voice with players” in order to be successful. The story also referred to Stevens’ relationship with Walker as “tension-filled.”
Brown and Marcus Smart had a heated exchange after Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. It was also recently reported that Blake Griffin was considering joining Boston via free agency but was told by a Celtics player not to come because of the apparent turmoil.
Whether or not Irving’s logo stomp signified a lack of Celtics pride is debatable. Just because no Celtics player tackled Irving at mid-court doesn’t mean team pride is lacking. The Celtics, however, are clearly in disarray and have already gotten a head start in turning things around.