By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The 2018-19 Boston Celtics were one of the most disappointing teams in the franchise’s long and storied history. They came into the season with aspirations of adding to the TD Garden’s robust collection of championship banners, but chemistry issues and long stretches of uninspiring play led to a disheartening regular season and an embarrassing second-round exit in the playoffs.
“The expectation is a banner or nothing, and we came up with nothing,” Jaylen Brown said during his end-of-season media session on Thursday. “Definitely a letdown to the Celtics fan base. We apologize for that, but we build on it, we learn, and we try to build for the next opportunity.
“The best days have yet to come for a lot of us,” the 22-year-old added.
If you’re looking for a bright spot in the mess that was the 2018-19 Celtics, you certainly have to dig deep. But underneath all the Kyrie Irving melodrama, the struggles of Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, and the plethora of disappointing losses, there was Jaylen Brown. In a season that featured so many steps backwards, Brown took a few of his athletic leaps in the right direction.
Brown was not without his own issues throughout the campaign, and he’ll readily admit to them. He certainly didn’t help the hype ahead of the season, proclaiming that he expected to have a handful of championship rings on his fingers in the next few years. And all of that preseason puffery just magnified Boston’s struggles on the floor when the season began. No one was prepared for the bump in the road to happen right out of the gate, or the circus that surrounded those struggles. Lesson learned for Brown.
On the floor, the season began poorly for Boston’s athletic wing. He took his usual spot in the Celtics’ starting five but struggled out of the gate. He shot just 40 percent from the floor over his first 19 games, and really struggled beyond the arc. After hitting 39 percent of his bids from downtown last season, his three-point groove escaped him and he hits just 25 percent to start the season. A nasty fall against the Mavericks on Nov. 24 led to a three-game absence, and when he was ready to return, Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris had sparked the Boston starting five.
That move to the bench was not easy for Brown. But it was a big part of his growth throughout the season.
“It tested me mentally. It tested my physically. When you get challenged, that’s where growth happen,” he said Thursday. “Being uncomfortable this year was something I had to adapt to. My role changed, my responsibility changed, I had to adapt in so many different ways.
“Mentally, I had to grow up. I grew up this year,” he continued. “The little kid stuff kind of went out the window. Being mature, handling everything the right way, there’s no time for cry babies. Nobody cares in this league, so I had to grow up. That made me better as a person and that made me better as a basketball player.”
Brown wouldn’t get back into the starting lineup until the playoffs rolled around, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t play like a starter the rest of the regular season. His shooting vastly improved as a member of the second unit, hitting 51 percent from the floor and 36 percent from three in his first six weeks off the bench. His aggressiveness was back on both ends of the floor, and Brown just got better as the year went along.
He had his best month of the year in March, averaging 14.2 points while hitting half of his shots from the floor and 42 percent from downtown. Brown ended the season as a 47 percent shooter, and was back in the starting five when Smart went down with a late-season injury. Along with Morris, he was one of the few Celtics to play consistently well throughout their disappointing playoff run. He played some lock down defense on Indiana’s Bojan Bogdonovich in the first round, and averaged 16.2 points against the Bucks in the East semis.
Brown was also one of the more vocal Celtics players throughout the season, but not in the bad way that caused all those aggressive eye rolls among green teamers. In late January, as Irving continued to shout about the team’s lack of experience following another disheveled loss, Brown made it clear that all those public critiques weren’t doing the team any good.
“We’ve just got to have each other’s backs at the end of the day. We can’t make comments, we can’t point fingers. We just have to continue to empower each other and have each other’s backs,” Brown said at the time, standing up to Irving’s ongoing war on Boston’s young players.
Brown is still growing, but he’s showing signs of developing into one of Boston’s leaders and a great spokesman for the NBA. With his Summer League days over, Brown hosted an event to teach the league’s newest players what life in the NBA was like. He was named Vice President of the Players’ Association’s Executive Committee in February, and has said he hopes to one day be the head honcho of the NBPA.
There is still a lot of areas that Brown needs to grow, both as a player and a leader. He knows this. But he’s always eager to learn, whether it’s about the world of basketball or the world of… well just about anything and everything. Whether it’s hoop talk or not, he’s soaking up whatever advice anyone is willing to give him.
“I take notes and learn from a lot of guys. I learn from Al [Horford], I learn from Kyrie. I learn from guys who have the keys in our organization,” he said. “One day, if I ever get to that position, I want to be prepared. I continue to work and continue to learn from the older guys, and I appreciate them for everything they taught me this year.”
If he’s learned anything these last three years, it’s that it pays to be prepared. Prepared for a demotion. Prepared for fans to call for your head when you struggled. Prepared for disappointment.
That was not the case at the beginning of the season, and it led to Brown’s slow start. Brown, and many other Celtics players, had their eyes on success they hadn’t achieved yet, and not on how to actually attaining it. Now with the season over far sooner than anyone wanted, he’s ready to do whatever it takes over the next four months and beyond to make sure it doesn’t happen again next year.
There are a lot of questions surrounding the Celtics this offseason. Kyrie Irving likely won’t be back, and if he is, there’s a good chance most of Boston’s young core won’t be. But Brown is ready for anything, and if he is one of the building blocks of the Celtics future, he’s shown that he’ll just keep getting better and better with time.