Unlike just about every team in the NBA, Boston Celtics has no franchise player; at least not yet. Scroll through the league’s 27 besides Boston, San Antonio Spurs and Brooklyn Nets and each franchise has a player who is the go to guy.
Such a player has the ball in hands often and to a large extent calls the shots on the court and to a degree in coach and player signings. Thanks to a slew of saavy draft picks, shrewd business moves and some bit of luck, Golden State Warriors has four players who are franchise player material.
In Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins, the two time defending champions far outpace the league in this respect.
However, Curry is the undisputed face of the franchise. Los Angeles Lakers have LeBron James, Indiana Pacers have Victor Oladipo, Milwaukee Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Teams totally out of the playoff picture and rebuilding for the future are not left out as lowly ranked Phoenix Suns have Devin Booker as their guy while Atlanta Hawks have Trae Young and Cleveland Cavaliers have Kevin Love as its present star but Point Guard Collin Sexton is the main guy for the team’s future.
Like Sexton, Small Forward Jayson Tatum is developing into Boston Celtics franchise player but in the present he is not that guy.
Boston doesn’t have a franchise player yet but has a franchise personality in Coach Brad Stevens. Believe it or not, Point Guard Kyrie Irving is not Boston’s main guy because that tag belongs to Coach Brad Stevens.
The young tactician is building the San Antonio Spurs in the Eastern Conference by developing systems that go beyond star power. The NBA is a player driven league as highlighted by the mad scramble for star names over Coaches and General Managers.
But there is an exception to every rule and the world’s best basketball league is no different as Gregg Popovich continues to thrive off his system. Last season and especially in the playoffs, the same worked out for Stevens and Boston without Kyrie but having top names Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward return from injury has messed up Celtics system thus far this season.
25 wins and 17 losses isn’t the kind of record a major NBA Finals contender should have with just about half of the regular season left to play. The latest example of discord happened in the dying seconds of Boston’s matchup against Orlando Magic which ended in a Boston loss.
Irving was irked by Hayward’s decision to inbound the ball to Tatum. Kyrie is Boston’s top scorer and having drilled Cleveland Cavaliers go to basket in its title winning 2016 season over Golden State, he is the top guy to have the ball with the game on the line.
However, such acts of hero ball go against the very essence of Steven’s system which would rather have Tatum attempt the last shot in a decoy role than hand the ball to Irving for what would be a mightily contested shot. The ramifications of the adjustment struggles will be a key issue this offseason as Irving is expected to decline the final year on his contract to become a free agent eligible to sign a max contract with any team.
By slamming his younger teammates on more than one occasion this season and still looking unsettled in Boston, Irving could renege on his word to stay long in Boston and sign for a team that makes him the franchise’s pivot. The desire to run the team was a major factor in his decision to leave LeBron James’ side in a forced trade to Boston.
New York Knicks are ready to hand the team’s keys to Irving since Kristaps Porzingis development wont be harmed by Irving’s playing style. Brooklyn Nets is still unsure of making D’Angelo Russell its franchise player but is sure to have few qualms with Kyrie. For Boston, the team could easily replicate last season’s stunning form and even go a step higher by making it to the finals should Irving sign with another team.
There is no LeBron in the conference to contend with again, Kawhi Leonard could leave the conference for a homecoming event in Los Angeles, Antetokounmpo’s lack of range makes him guardable and Philadelphia Sixers have way too much internal drama to ever be a serious threat to Boston. After falling a game short of making it to the NBA Finals, Boston is equipped with players ready to thrive in a post Kyrie era.
Thanks to Danny Ainge’s carefully executed rebuild, Boston has enough pieces and draft picks to facilitate a trade for a system player like Anthony Davis from New Orleans Pelicans. The Celtics are unique in having a top Coach, players and administration to avoid falling into the trap of having a franchise player and be in a position to excel once again.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter