BOSTON (AP) — The Boston Celtics started their season in chaos. They ended it with a decision that could shape the franchise for years to come.
Pain, disbelief and uncertainty hung over the Celtics as they walked off the court after their Game 7 loss to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals ended their bid to return to the NBA Finals.
The matchup with the Heat highlighted all the imperfections of a Boston team that has never seemed to recover from a season that was derailed after former coach Ime Udoka was fired just days before training camp, when he was suspended for a year for misconduct. contact with a member of the organization.
“It was an adjustment,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said. “We all found out.” Obviously we wanted to win the championship. Didn’t happen.”
There are the usual questions about the roster heading into the offseason. And others, like whether interim-turned-full-time coach Joe Mazzulla is the right man to lead the Celtics as they try to capitalize on their championship run.
But the most pressing concerns Boston’s two biggest stars in Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
The 24-year-old Tatum is signed for the next two seasons, still under his rookie extension that began last season. He won’t be eligible for a Supermax extension until the summer of 2024. That would begin in 2025-26 and could be worth more than $300 million.
Brown, 26, is eligible for a new contract this offseason, and by virtue of being on another NBA team this season, could receive a contract extension of up to five years worth up to $295 million.
With the league’s new collective bargaining agreement bringing more restrictions on how teams build their rosters and additional luxury tax penalties, that may be a commitment the Celtics aren’t willing to make for the duo that has yet to bring a title to Boston.
During the regular season, Brown averaged career highs in points (26.6), rebounds (6.9) and assists (3.5).
But each of those numbers dipped in the playoffs. And with Tatum reeling from a sprained ankle he suffered on the first play of Game 7, Brown had a disastrous night. He scored 19 points but shot just 8 of 23 from the field with eight balls.
That left any thoughts of his future immediately after Monday’s loss the furthest thing from his mind.
“We failed. I failed,” Brown said. “It’s hard to think about anything else right now, to be honest. We’ll cross the bridge when we get there.”
Asked about his thought process heading into the summer, he said it’s also a blur at this point.
“I don’t even know how to answer that question right now,” Brown said. “My thought process is to take one day at a time, focus on getting better. Focus on what the future holds and see where we go from there.”
For his part, Tatum said he would like to see the front office keep together a team that has made at least the conference finals in four of their six seasons together.
“It’s very important,” Tatum said. “He is one of the best players in this league. He plays both ends of the ball and is still relatively young. And he has accomplished a lot so far in his career. So I think that’s very important.”
It was a vote of confidence from the locker room for Mazzulla, who led the team to a 57-win season. But he struggled to make game plans and adjustments in the playoffs. It contributed to extended series in the first two rounds and Boston’s 3-0 loss in the conference finals.
Tatum said that shouldn’t take away from the work he did during the season.
“It was his first year. We made it to the conference finals, Game 7,” Tatum said. “We all found out.” Obviously we wanted to win the championship. Didn’t happen. But I think Joe did a great job. We won 50 odd games. We made it to the conference final 7. Obviously everyone can be better, learn from this. But I think Joe did a great job this year.”
The team’s resilience to move forward despite the challenges they faced at the start of the season is what Mazzulla will take away.
“I think what we have to do to get better is what we have to learn from it,” he said. “Regardless of the situation, the guys, the locker room showed a sense of toughness and unity, they started the season a certain way and got to this point and just had to figure out how to get better.”