Having a young, dynamic wing duo is precisely the kind of thing that front offices dream of. Even with the recent rise of big men in the league, it is generally considered impossible to have too many good wings. In spite of this reality however, the Boston Celtics find themselves in the unenviable position of having to consider if it is worth it to keep both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
As of the time of this writing, the Celtics are down 0-3 against a Miami Heat squad in the Eastern Conference Finals that many felt were lucky to have even gotten that far. It was such a given that the Celtics were/are supposed to win the series, that even when they were down 0-2, they were still heavily favored to make it to the NBA Finals.
At 25 and 26 respectively, we have likely not even seen the best of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and yet here we are. For what it’s worth, talks of the pair “not being a good fit” is largely overblown. Much like Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, or even Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill, it is short-sighted to look strictly at their on court performances to determine their fit.
In the case of Tatum and Brown, it is the pieces around them, or lack thereof that make their on court fit problematic. Starting with Marcus Smart for example. Whilst Smart is unquestionably a great player and the kind of defensive presence at the point of attack that would be a real difference maker for a contender, he does not complement the talents of Tatum and Brown.
Robert Williams III provides more than adequate rim protection, and Tatum and Brown are both above average defenders with defensive versatility to boot. This makes Smart’s talents a bit redundant on the team. An ideal point guard for the Celtics would be an elite playmaker with a credible three point shot to help with spacing, but who is also relatively low usage.
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many players in the league that fit that bill, and the Celtics would likely have to part with Brown to get such a player, defeating the entire purpose. Ultimately however, it may just be too early to make definitive declarations. For every Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan(21 and 23 years old respectively when they won their first championship), there is LeBron James and Michael Jordan(27 and 28 years old respectively at the time of their first championship.
Sometimes it takes time to put it all together, sometimes you just need an additional piece to take you over the top, but it is very rarely the answer to separate two budding superstars before they even hit their primes. When Sam Presti let James Harden walk because of a few dollars, breaking him up from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, that was considered one of the worst basketball moves of all time. Even at the time without the benefit of hindsight. And that team had not even won anything yet.
Progress is rarely linear, and while being pessimistic about the future of Tatum and Brown may be trendy, it is certainly premature to write their obituary as a duo. With multiple playoff runs together before the age of 28, maybe basketball fans should learn to calibrate expectations in a more realistic fashion.