Change is certainly a priority for Danny Ainge, President of Basketball Operations for the Boston Celtics, and indeed, a lot has changed since the beginning of the 2014- 15 season. As a result of various trades and the frequent shuffling of player personnel by management, the team has had 40 different players on its roster since October 2014. Even with these varying circumstances that many would label as a rebuilding period, the Celtics are barely outside the playoff picture with a record of 24-35 in the Eastern Conference. Though this is partly brought about by the Eastern Conference having fewer teams with winning records than the Western Conference, it is also a testament to Boston’s strong potential going forward, especially under the guidance of Head Coach Brad Stevens.
The Celtics made one of their most defining changes on Dec. 19 by trading their franchise player, Rajon Rondo. Rondo, along with teammate Dwight Powell, was sent to the Dallas Mavericks in return for Brendan Wright, Jae Crowder and Jameer Nelson, a 2015 first-round and a future second-round draft pick. Rondo’s departure officially marked the end of the team that earned Boston its last NBA championship in 2008. Though the trade had long been anticipated, it was still a bittersweet event for Celtics fans because of Rondo’s great impact and contributions to the team through thick and thin. Nevertheless, Boston’s attempt at restructuring meant that changes had to be made. This includes cutting ties with many of its players. Three weeks after Rondo’s trade, the Celtics dealt Jeff Green, former fifth pick overall, to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of a five-player trade with the Grizzlies and the New Orleans Pelicans. Green, who had been the Celtic’s leading scorer, has now settled comfortably in the Grizzlies’ system. Both Rondo and Green are competing on teams with winning records and high expectations for the current season.
The Boston Celtics have maintained their focus on acquiring a group of young talents, and this is shown in how the team members have an average age of 25.5. Notable players who have started the season and remained with the Celtics include Kelly Olynyk, Brandon Bass, Evan Turner, Tyler Zeller and rookies Marcus Smart and James Young. Smart, who was out in the beginning of the season due to injury, was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for February, as he helped the Celtics go 7-4 in 11 games. Players who were brought in mid-season include Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, Luigi Datome and Isaiah Thomas. The new members of the Celtics have already made great contributions to the team; Crowder now starts at small forward and Thomas has been averaging 20.1 points, 5.4 assists and 2.9 rebounds in his first seven games with the Celtics. Thomas was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the week ending Sunday, March 1.
The Celtics have been playing well in the stretch of the past week, bouncing back from a tough 110-79 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers last Tuesday.
“The other night was embarrassing to ourselves, to this organization, and to the game of basketball. We understood that, so we just tried to come out here and make sure that, not only to the coaches, but to ourselves that that’s not the team we were and it was just a fluke game.” Smart said in a media session to Emily Austen of celtics.com after the loss to Cleveland.
The 85-84 victory over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday, March 4 was a thrilling game at TD Garden, one in which the fate of the game was decided by Zeller’s game-winning buzzer beater. The last-second play call by Stevens proved ingenious, as Smart made an incredible pass over the Utah defense to Zeller. In the 1.7 seconds that the Celtics had to inbound and shoot the ball, Zeller managed to shot fake one defender before finishing at the rim with great finesse and body control.
“It’s a great feeling, especially at the other end when Gordon [Haywood] made the shot on me. Being able to come back, being able to make a game winner, it’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s a must win for us,” Zeller told Austen.
The Celtics look forward to leaving it all on the floor in each of their remaining 19 regular season games.
Ivy Jiang ’18 is the Sports & Wellness Assistant Editor who is majoring in Economics. When she is not studying, she is probably following the NBA, reading, watching emotional films, eating or leisurely exercising. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.