2021 NBA Playoffs: Boston Celtics should teach Orlando Magic to go for it when the window is open

Jayson Tatum continued to build his case for a future MVP. But the Boston Celtics continue to wait instead of act on their championship window. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Jayson Tatum continued to build his case for a future MVP. But the Boston Celtics continue to wait instead of act on their championship window. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

The joke writes itself every year.

When a star player becomes available, the Boston Celtics will be inevitably rumored to be in the hunt for them with their various assets — players, trade exceptions and draft stash — and they will inevitably not come away with them.

In the days following that miss, Danny Ainge will tell reporters in Boston how close the team was to acquire those players. It happened with Nikola Vucevic too. Ainge told members of the media he almost had a deal to acquire the Orlando Magic’s All-Star center.

It was all too predictable and a little bit far-fetched. But the repeated nature of Ainge’s claims of how close he was to acquiring this star or that star reveals a deeper problem the Celtics face. One that finally came to roost in their disappointing five-game exit in the first round.

The Boston Celtics were elimianted in the first round of the playoffs. While there were plenty of reasons, their inability to go for it and pull the trigger to cement their championship status is a lesson for the Orlando Magic.

Boston, a team that went from a seemingly open path to the NBA Finals in the 2020 bubble to a disappointing finish in the Eastern Conference Finals, has never seemingly been able to take advantage of all the talent and assets they had.

Ainge always did a good job keeping the Celtics involved in the big picture. He rightly played everyone’s fascination with Markelle Fultz to get the guy he really wanted in Jayson Tatum, restocking his draft coffers so the Philadelphia 76ers could chase their process (or Bryan Colangelo could at least).

Tatum emerged this year as a true superstar. Fifty-point games in both the Play-In Tournament against the Washington Wizards and Game 3 against the Brooklyn Nets. Those were just the playoff performances. Tatum put in work all season.

Boston’s window to win a title is very clearly open. Yet, the Celtics with all of their advantages are not seemingly putting all in to win a title. In the process, they have struggled to get over the hump several times and watched several teams pass them.

The lesson Boston is teaching the league is that a good base is necessary. But at a certain point, teams have to go all in. The Celtics certainly have some latitude as one of the best franchises in the NBA. But even they cannot win titles unless they push their chips in.

It is not that Boston does not have something to work with. Alongside Jaylen Brown, who missed the playoffs with a wrist injury, the Celtics have a strong core.

But this season just quickly fell off the rails.

This season will likely get brushed off as one beset with injury. In addition to Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker missed significant time managing a knee injury, Marcus Smart was in and out of the lineup and even Evan Fournier had to miss two weeks in health and safety protocols after contracting COVID-19.

The Celtics caused the only game the Magic had postponed due to health and safety protocols this season. It was that kind of season for Boston. There was no way for the team to reach its peak.

Constantly waiting

But the Boston Celtics, in constantly waiting to make the big move, also hurt themselves. They let Al Horford walk to sign Kemba Walker, trading one aging veteran for another. They let Gordon Hayward walk in free agency too but never replaced his playmaking and scoring on the perimeter.

Boston Celtics
Boston Celtics /

Boston Celtics

The Celtics it seemed were only going backward and unable to keep up the positive momentum their talent should net. Boston has been to the conference finals three times since 2017. Yet, there has been no breakthrough to the NBA Finals.

It makes you wonder what Ainge was waiting for to pull the trigger. And it surely should have been clear that what they had was not enough.

Whether Boston was actually close to acquiring Anthony Davis or not — the Celtics were reportedly (and rightfully) leery of Kyrie Irving’s commitment to stay with the team and were unwilling (also rightly) to include Jayson Tatum in the proposed deals — the team will have to make some moves to take its next step.

The team used its $17-million trade exception not on a player to add to their core but on Evan Fournier.

While Fournier had some good moments, he is not exactly an impact player. And it is not clear if he will remain in Boston — the going through is he will seek a contract starting at his final salary around $17 million with hopes of getting to $20 million. Boston, needing to maintain that story might have no choice but to bring Fournier back.

Boston’s window will be open so long as Jayson Tatum wants to be with the team. He has played that well. Tatum showed he was capable of single-handedly winning playoff games. But that is not the goal for a team that has been a frequent player in the conference finals.

The Magic and the window

The Orlando Magic are not the Boston Celtics. They have much thinner line to walk even when they have a superstar player. But they always knew that when their window is open, they have to do everything they can to take advantage of it.

In the summer of 1994, the Magic knew they had something special with Anfernee Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal. Their window was open. So they cleared tons of cap room and sold off veteran point guard Scott Skiles for draft picks to clear up enough cap room to sign All-Star Horace Grant. It was a consequential move for that season.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

After reaching the Finals in 2009, the Magic resolved not to re-sign Hedo Turkoglu. While that was a controversial decision, once it was made, then-general manager Otis Smith went into spending spree mode to keep his team competitive. He acquired former All-Star Vince Carter to give the team some scoring punch, matched restricted free agent offers for J.J. Redick and Marcin Gortat and signed Brandon Bass.

The 2010 season was arguably the better team even though they fell in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Yes, the Magic ended that run swinging wildly, but even the 2011 trades to re-acquire Hedo Turkoglu along with Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas were moves done to try to keep the team in championship contention with Dwight Howard as their centerpiece.

Give the Magic credit for trying and understnading when things were not working. The lesson from those moves is to find the right move instead of any move. But the willingness to make a move helps a team remain competitive.

Keeping the window open

The Milwaukee Bucks understood that after falling short last year. They traded for Jrue Holiday to try to keep their window open. And they will surely be willing to be players for any star players that might come available even now with Giannis Antetokounmpo locked up long-term.

The Brooklyn Nets made their play in free agency to get Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But they still retained the flexibility to go get another star player in James Harden. And they went for it.

Now the Nets are the favorites to win the title.

It is ironic on that sense because much of Boston’s potential success was built on the fateful Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade with Brooklyn. Boston took in a hual of draft picks that helped them get Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Yet, the Nets recovered quick enough to get into title contention before the Celtics could.

Boston likely is sitting around thinking what opportunities they missed and could have done that would have helped them break through sooner.

The Magic will never have the wide-open window the Celtics have. That is the just the reality of the market and franchise reputation baked into the NBA. Until Orlando wins titles and builds a consistent culture, the team will have to prove itself.

But when that window is open, the Celtics show even they are not immune to falling short. Not unless they are willing to take the risk to improve the roster when the opportunity arises.

dark. Next. LeBron's diss shows how far Orlando Magic have to go

Even for them, that championship window is only so wide.