Larry Bird Once Foreshadowed the Issue Plaguing This Year’s Boston Celtics: ‘It’s the Same Old Thing. Players Are Never Happy’

Larry Bird‘s knowledge of the game of basketball — before, during, and after his career with the Boston Celtics — is just about unparalleled.

Bird was an underrated athlete, but an argument can be made that he did more with less, physically, than almost anyone.

The Legend was an unstoppable scorer, but he was also a willing facilitator and all-time playmaker who always made the right read and the right pass.

In today’s NBA, that’s not always the case. And Larry’s own franchise is having an issue with that part of the game, particularly this year. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have come under fire for having a poor, sometimes bordering on selfish, reputation.

Even during his playing days, Bird knew that was — and always would be — an issue. Even back in 2015, The Hick From French Lick diagnosed what’s plaguing the Celtics right now in 2022.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are leading an underwhelming Boston Celtics team

Coming into the year with two of the best wings in the league, Boston was right to have high expectations.

Those expectations have not been met.

As of Jan. 29, the Celtics sit eighth in the Eastern Conference standings with a .500 record. The conference is bunched up at the top, but Boston is closer to the 12th-place New York Knicks than the seventh-place Charlotte Hornets.

The C’s are top 10 in the NBA in defense, but somewhat surprisingly, with two offensive talents like the Jays, Boston is just 20th in scoring.

And it only takes a little bit of digging to uncover the problem.

Tatum is averaging a team-high 25.9 points, while Brown is scoring 24.1 a night. Combined, the two franchise stars are getting up more than 40 shots per game.

Dennis Schroder is the team’s next highest scorer at 15.0 points per game. He’s averaging 12.5 field-goal attempts.

Adding the average shot attempts of Schroder, Marcus Smart, Al Horford, and Josh Richardson — the next four Boston players in the field-goal attempts column — still doesn’t equal the number of shots Brown and Tatum take.

Meanwhile, the Duke product is third on the team in assists at just 3.9. Brown is averaging only 3.0.

The issue is vividly apparent. The entire offense runs through the Jays, and they take almost 50% of the team’s shots.

Larry Bird once foreshadowed the issue currently plaguing Jaylen and Jayson’s Celtics team

Larry Bird foreshadowed exactly what's plaguing this year's NBA version of the Boston Celtics.
Larry Bird and Kevin McHale of the Boston Celtics high-five after a score against the Washington Bullets. | Focus on Sport via Getty Images

Smart, supposedly Boston’s heart and soul, shocked the NBA world with his comments earlier this year after a loss to the Chicago Bulls.

Smart said, via Boston.com, “Every team knows we are trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen, and every team is programmed and studied to stop Jayson and Jaylen. I think everybody’s scouting report is to make those guys try to pass the ball.

“They don’t want to pass the ball, and that’s something that they’re going to learn.”

Brown and Tatum have both said, at some point or another during the season, that they’re not worried about the fit. But that hasn’t stopped the questions from popping up.

In a 2015 interview with The Boston Globe, Dan Shaughnessy asked Bird about that season’s Celtics team. It was a different roster, but one in the same mold with multiple players with similar skill sets.

Guys are always going to be pissed off whether they’re playing 30 minutes or 40 minutes or 10 minutes. It’s the same old thing. The players are never happy.

Larry Bird on the state of the NBA in 2015

Compare what Larry said to what Smart said. The most tenured member of the Celtics publicly called out his star teammates for not passing the ball. It may not take the form of minutes like Bird’s 2015 comment — instead, it’s shot attempts — but the issues are equivalent.

Smart was “pissed off” at how his teammates played the game. Tatum and Brown have presumably been “pissed off” at the other’s lack of sharing.

There’s only one ball to go around. And if players aren’t getting the shots they think they deserve, they’re going “to be pissed off.”

Right now in Boston, the “players are never happy.”

It appears Larry had it right.

If it worked out for Bird, maybe it can work out for this version of the C’s

Bird scored 23.4 points per game during his career but averaged 6.3 assists. That’s more than double what Brown is dishing out this season and nearly twice as many Tatum.

Kevin McHale was essentially the Brown to Bird’s Tatum. Or the Tatum to Bird’s Brown. This Boston duo has yet to figure out that dynamic.

Anyway, McHale averaged almost 18 points and got off 12.7 shot attempts during his 11-year career, 10 of which came with Larry.

Even Dennis Johnson attempted 10.9 shots per game during his time in Boston, and Robert Parrish put the ball up 12.4 times a night during his time alongside Bird.

The Legend could have shot every time Boston had the ball but took a backseat when necessary and made it work to the tune of three NBA championships.

For Boston fans’ hopes, here’s to Jayson and Jaylen eventually figuring it out as well as Larry did.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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