By Staff

BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics are slumping, sitting at .500 on the season with a trio of losses to bad teams over the last week. They’ve lost five of their last seven, and just haven’t looked like a very good team for most of the season.

After Sunday’s lifeless loss to the dreadful Washington Wizards, The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn said that Boston looks like a team that is tuning out its coach. Celtics president of basketball ops. Danny Ainge admits that the team has plenty of issues, but is adamant that Stevens is not one of them, and he doesn’t believe that players are tuning out Stevens based on what he sees every day.

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“Absolutely not. That is ridiculous,” Ainge told 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Thursday. “I just think that’s the culture of sports and sports reporting. It’s a common theme; it must be this if you don’t show up to play or show up to play with the intensity and motivation it takes to win. I don’t see that at all.

“We had a really good game against Denver and last night [in a loss to the Hawks], I thought we were playing pretty well early. I don’t think it has anything to do with the head coach. I’m around the team every day and I just don’t see that at all,” he added.

Ainge agrees that losses to bad teams like the Pistons, the Wizards and the Hawks are unacceptable, but they didn’t occur because of Stevens. Ainge put the blame on Boston’s players — and shoulders the blame for the team’s depth issues.

“I saw a team with a lot of holes on defense. I saw a lack of intensity and respect for our opponents in Detroit and Washington. I do see issues, but it’s not [a coaching problem],” he said. “My coach is more prepared and humble than anybody, and respects Washington and Detroit more than anyone in the locker room. I wish our players respected them as much. It’s a fear I have where you have some success and you don’t respect the opponent enough. It has nothing to do with coaching and everything to do with players. I think it’s a maturity issue with the team.

“We should not have lost any of those three games if we had played like we’re capable of. But we didn’t and we’re not playing that way, therefore we have issues we need to fix,” Ainge added.

While fans are begging for Ainge to make a trade — and he’s exploring moves every day — he isn’t going to make a deal just to make a deal. He continued to say that around the deadline is the best time to make a trade, and he’s confident that the team could turn things around over the next five weeks.

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But he also admitted the team isn’t good enough to just “flip a switch” and win a title as currently constituted, and feels the Celtics a piece or two away from reaching that ceiling.

“It’s not as simple as we need to make a change or add a center or get a point guard,” he said. “I don’t think it’s as much that as  — those would help if our objective is to win playoff games. But we don’t know who we are just yet. We know we’re 14-14 and that we haven’t played well and we haven’t played consistent.”

Ainge didn’t want this to come off as an excuse, but he noted that Boston’s best group — Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Daniel Theis — have played limited minutes together due to a variety of injuries.

“We just haven’t gotten any sort of consistent flow or groove. We’ve had great moments in games, good wins, and a lot of stinkers. Our consistency has been bad,” he said. “Our roster is obviously not good. We are a 14-14 team, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. That’s who we are.”

The Celtics are not the only team struggling at the moment, with the majority of the NBA playing mediocre ball. Only the Jazz and Lakers are truly dominant at the moment, which has created a bit of a logjam in the playoff picture. And despite their struggles and .500 record, the Celtics are only 4.5 games back of first place in the East.

They’re also just 2.5 games from falling out of the playoff picture, so there is a lot that can shake out between now and April. But Ainge said the goal remains to win a championship — he just needs to get a much better feel of what it will take to turn these Celtics into a contender.

“I hate to put expectations on players. I know in Boston it’s championship or nothing but I don’t view the world that way. My internal goal is to win a championship all the time, but it’s a process. Its not as simple as going to get player A, B, C, or D – we’re a contender. That’s not typically what it takes,” he said. “I do believe some little things can help us be better, but nothing will help us get better than being 100 percent healthy so we can play at our best.

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“We’re going to try to get better. We’re trying to win a championship. Maybe our team can do something phenomenal and unbelievable to win one this year. Maybe by getting healthy. And maybe our time is not right now,” he added. “I don’t know the answer to those questions.” Staff