BOSTON (CBS) — Danny Ainge refuses to blame Kyrie Irving for the demise of the 2018-19 Boston Celtics. Ainge, instead, is placing the blame squarely on himself.
In an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Ainge continued to defend his former point guard, taking the brunt of the fault for a disappointing season.
“I’m the one who should be blamed for last year,” Ainge told Nichols. “We put a team together that just didn’t have pieces that fit. We had a lot of talent, a lot of expectations. But it’s certainly not Kyrie’s fault.”
The Celtics had an extremely deep team last season, but it was a group that never meshed. No one seemed to have much fun playing together, and that in-fighting led to a second-round ousting by the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs. Irving was a no-show that series, and left for Brooklyn in the offseason.
Asked what he could have done differently when constructing the Boston roster two summers ago, Ainge said there were too many players and not enough shots to go around, which made life difficult for head coach Brad Stevens. He’s second-guessing not making a move ahead of the season that would have created less of a traffic jam on the roster.
“I think that in hindsight, I wish I would have cleaned out the roster a little bit to make it easier for Brad,” Ainge said. “We had a deep roster. We were built for a longer run, but we had a lot of young guys who had a lot of success without Gordon [Hayward] and Kyrie. And the guys that had success without those two guys felt like it was their time for the spotlight, and it just didn’t mesh.”
Without Irving and Hayward in 2017, the Celtics relied on youngsters Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier, with Al Horford providing the veteran leadership. That group made it all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but that success ultimately messed up the hierarchy when Irving and Hayward returned at the start of last season.
“I learned some things last year. I think we all learned some things. I think I’d be a little more careful building another team that had such equal depth,” Ainge told Nichols. “The Lakers have really good depth in my opinion right now, but they have two stars [in LeBron James and Anthony Davis] and there’s no questions — no ifs, ands or buts about it.
“Last year, we had eight guys or nine guys that all thought they were equal to each other, and nobody just took the job and won it,” he continued. “That certainly isn’t going to happen with LeBron and Anthony Davis. It makes it much easier for people to accept their roles when there is a clear hierarchy.”
It’s a lot different in Boston this season, with Kemba Walker now in place of Irving. Ainge says that Kemba has brought a certain joy to the Celtics that wasn’t seen — at all — last season.
“He’s winning games at a higher rate than he ever has, and you can see that joy,” Ainge said of Walker, who signed a max contract with the C’s over the summer. “We didn’t have that last year. Even when we were playing well, we didn’t find the happiness in playing, or the joy with one another. Kemba was a great fit for us.”