In a wide-ranging interview covering everything from former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick‘s chess match challenge to French soccer legend Thierry Henry’s book recommendations, the most interesting answer Boston Celtics sophomore Jaylen Brown gave Complex magazine came in regard to the trade that dominated much of the discussion during the NBA dog days of August.
“It changes the whole dynamic, the whole culture,” Brown told Complex. “We’ll see if it’s for good or bad, time will tell. But it’s still a little weird to me, to be honest, because when I came in everything they stressed was culture, environment, Celtic basketball. Now, it’s like what is the environment, the culture, what is Celtic basketball?
“I think it’s a great opportunity for me, great opportunity for the Celtics, great opportunity for Kyrie. Obviously, I loved Isaiah. He was like a big brother to me. I watched him, admired him, the chip he carried on his shoulder, I love him. I still do. I’ve kept in contact with him. Congratulated him when he got traded to the Cavs.
“It’s tough because it’s the business we live in. Do I agree with it? Not necessarily. I think Isaiah definitely tried to plant his flag in Boston. He will definitely be missed — he and Jae both. And Avery [Bradley], too. Those three guys are truly going to be missed. I love them and I thanked all of them for helping me out and said I’d see them down the line.”
That’s a heck of a straightforward answer from a second-year player, and there’s a lot to unpack there.
[Chris Mannix: Hayward, Irving usher in new era of Celtics basketball]
Nothing Brown said was wrong. Thomas and Crowder were the most dominant voices in Boston’s locker room last season, and Bradley — a salary cap casualty when the Celtics made room for Gordon Hayward — was a stoic leader, the last remaining piece from the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett era.
There is no doubt Boston is searching for a new identity with Irving and Hayward at the top of the bill and just four players returning from last year’s roster — a group of largely under-appreciated players led by Thomas, the pint-sized point guard and former last pick in the draft who transformed into an MVP-caliber talent under Celtics coach Brad Stevens and took the team on a magical 2017 playoff run.
Still, it’s jarring to hear a Celtics player say of a trade that landed them a guy many believe to be the better player, “We’ll see if it’s for good or bad, time will tell.” It speaks to: 1) the level of respect they had for Thomas and Crowder, 2) the impossibility of grading a trade involving a badly injured Thomas and an unprotected pick that could turn into a franchise cornerstone, and 3) Brown’s brutal honesty.
Brown told Complex that his welcome-to-the-NBA moment came defending Carmelo Anthony in his first preseason game, but every young player experiences another rite of passage: The time you realize the league is a business. And this was it for Brown, who found out earlier than most, entering the league as a No. 3 overall pick on a playoff team in a town that doesn’t settle for runner-up status.
I’m of the belief that the Celtics figured Stevens maximized his team’s potential last year, Thomas will never be as good as he was in 2016-17, and it still wasn’t good enough. Changes were necessary, and as cold as it may sound, they had nothing to do with the emotional connection Thomas, Crowder and Bradley had to Boston or vice versa. Irving and Hayward were business decisions, plain and simple.
But often times when we analyze roster-building, we forget about the chemistry component, so it’s just as eye-catching to see Brown say of the business, “Do I agree with it? Not necessarily.” How long he holds on to that idea could impact his relationships with the organization and his new teammates.
Brown may have saved himself from a few awkward conversations with this line: “I think it’s a great opportunity for me, great opportunity for the Celtics, great opportunity for Kyrie.” That sounds like a man who understands the game both on and off the court, so let’s not undersell the ability of a guy who wants to be his team’s National Basketball Players Association representative at age 20 to communicate his sentimentality for former teammates and excitement about new ones to everyone.
Brown and Irving are seated next to each other in the reorganized locker room, and those two are cerebral players, as is Hayward, which should help forge a unique bond of their own. Time will tell, as Brown said, but the results from Monday night’s preseason opener — a game in which all three started and the Celtics moved the ball with ease — just may be the beginning of another beautiful friendship.
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