BOSTON — “All the stuff that we’ve been through, they’ll all be better because of it.”
Brad Stevens sat on the riser at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee after Game 5 and delivered those final words about the Boston Celtics season. Relentlessly positive, Stevens turned an abject disappointment into something hopeful.
“They’ll all be better because of it,” he said. “Because we learned a lot.”
They don’t have much choice, really.
Boston fans can tell the difference between a 49-win team wasting its talent and a 42-win team exceeding theirs. Celtics fans appreciate the work more than the results, so they expect nothing less than maximum effort.
This is why Boston never fully embraced this team. They never found their true footing and looked like a team that was trying 100 percent of the time, mostly because a lot of players weren’t prepared for what the season held for them.
“I learned a lot,” Terry Rozier admitted after the Game 5 loss. “It’s just business was tough, it was tough, dealing with all the talent we had, different guys wanted to be in the limelight, guys in the limelight, s- — like that — it’s been a lot. Like we all can step back — this is the time right now We can all go on vacation, reflect on the season and learn from it. Nothing we can do about the season now — it’s over with.”
Rozier was one of the culprits, but he was not alone.
“I don’t think anyone was prepared this year in terms of what the circus was going to be like — media, everything, and balancing all that, rotations,” Jaylen Brown said in his exit interview. “Didn’t know what it was going to be like, so definitely I’ve learned a lot, and my approach will be different from here on out. I don’t think anybody was prepared for what this season brought.”
That put Boston in a tough situation from the beginning.
“There were times when we frustrated with ourselves for sure,” Marcus Smart said. “We also had time where we did see that. We had glimpse, and that’s what kept us very optimistic is those times. I think if you ask anybody on the team, we wish we could do it over and just wipe this out of our minds.”
There are no do-overs, though. In the business of the NBA, contracts and personal brand-building are part of the ethos. This isn’t college or high school where players can rally together for each other without any other cares in the world. Business infiltrates locker rooms from all angles, and it can make everyone’s job difficult.
“It was frustrating, for (Brad) as well. It wasn’t easy for him, you know,” Smart said. “He has to go through those trial and tribulations as well. He’s the young coach, he’s a great coach, it’s only going to make him even better.”
The Celtics had more than eight months to figure things out, but they never could. They might get a chance to run it back, depending on the decisions made by some of the players and the Celtics front office. That doesn’t mean things will be peachy next year, though, even with the lessons learned.
Jaylen Brown will be a restricted free agent after next season. Aron Baynes, assuming he opts in for one more year, will be an unrestricted free agent. And who knows what kind of contract Kyrie Irving might sign if he comes back.
Business will always surround an NBA team. The question is whether that team will be able to work within that atmosphere. Boston couldn’t this past season, but their hope is that they’ve learned enough to do so next season.
“It’s good for us all,” Smart said. “Some adversity — adversity is good for you. It builds character and it makes you more wiser in the future. It’s going to benefit everybody. Like I said, you live and you learn.”