What many view as a blueprint to success only goes as far as its usefulness. The accolades and results that come with “what works” becomes the standard that others will follow, although emulation doesn’t always yield the same results.
Among the teams that tried to accumulate assets in recent years, the Boston Celtics were perhaps the most successful in terms of procuring talent and translating it to success. The Philadelphia 76ers may also fall into this category, but only Joel Embiid remains from The Process that became a divisive topic in the NBA.
When Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were selected by the Celtics with the third overall pick in the 2016 and 2017 NBA Drafts, respectively, both were viewed as the centerpiece of the fruits of then-President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge’s quest to collect draft picks and talent while remaining competitive in the Eastern Conference.
The things Brown and Tatum brought to the table accelerated that timeline, although this was also complemented by solid signings and trades that were built around their respective games. As their games grew, so too did the level of excitement surrounding the team and its quest to continue Boston’s winning tradition.
This season, despite its initial bumps and bruises, is shaping up to be the year both could take another step further.
After combining for 60 points in a 124-104 win over the Denver Nuggets, Brown and Tatum took it up a notch, albeit slightly, scoring 61 points in a 132-123 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Tatum did a little bit of everything as shown by his 36 points (on 57.9/45.5/100.0 shooting splits), seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block. Meanwhile, Brown finished with 25 points and was a menace on both ends of the floor.
On the whole, their partnership has been a huge reason why the Celtics have been able to climb up the Eastern Conference standings this season despite having a 17-19 win-loss record by the end of 2021. With the way they are playing, they will likely reach the 50-win mark for the first time since the 2017-2018 Season and carry momentum for what they hope to be a long playoff run.
However, this partnership has, due in part to the high standards of Celtics tradition, left the city of Boston wanting for more. After their first season together, where Brown and Tatum were a win away from entering the NBA Finals and unseating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics postseason trips in succeeding years went only as far as the Eastern Conference Finals. During that span of time, the Toronto Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks each won championships, while the Miami Heat also earned a trip to the finals at their expense back in 2020.
Years of stability in terms of coaching and the team’s core did not help them break a title drought that has gone on for more than a decade. Of course, some of these circumstances came due to factors beyond their control. Tatum was visibly affected by his bout with COVID-19 last season, while Brown, who hasn’t played in at least 70 games since 2018-2019, has had his fair share of injuries this season. Ime Udoka also became Boston’s head coach this season after Brad Stevens took on the role of President of Basketball Operations with Ainge’s retirement.
After each disappointing (at least by their standards) end to the season, rumors of the Celtics shopping Brown would resurface, but the cast of characters around Brown and Tatum would usually be the ones out the door. Results have generally been mixed as the additions of Grant Williams and Robert Williams III have been offset by the likes of Kemba Walker and Enes
Nevertheless, hope springs eternal especially with how Tatum and Brown continue to get better. Both have made strides numbers-wise in recent years and the supporting cast has inched closer towards its final form, with most of the members falling within the developmental timelines of Boston’s foundational pieces.
Any of the other 29 NBA teams would want to have a dynamic duo just like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to anchor their franchise with, whether or not they care to admit it. The Boston Celtics are certainly happy with the success both have brought so far but in the grand scheme of things, none of those can quench the Celtics’ thirst for their 18th NBA championship.