BOSTON (CBS) — Danny Ainge played in the NBA for 14 years, for four different teams. He was a head coach for four seasons. And he’s been an executive in Boston since 2003.
When it comes to understanding the dynamics of relationships in the NBA, Ainge has experienced it all.READ MORE: Trucking Company President To Plead Guilty In Randolph, NH Crash That Killed 7 Motorcyclists
That’s why, when he was asked by Rich Shertenlieb on Thursday about the reports and whispers that players have begun “tuning out” head coach Brad Stevens, his answer was rather interesting.
“That’s just … those types of things. Even if a player was [tuning out Stevens], that’s just his way of coping,” Ainge said during his weekly Toucher & Rich interview.
Ainge said that he’s been “amazed at how great a defensive team our teams have been in the Brad Stevens era” despite a number of undersized players on the floor at various positions. He indicated the current team’s issue has more to do with confidence than it does with coaching.
“That is a commitment to winning, that is a team that’s playing with some confidence and intensity and bringing it night in and night out, to be able to do that with being undersized,” Ainge said. “So I think that it’s obviously not in our game plan, in our strategy. So when I hear players or a coach is being tuned out, that’s usually from a coach that’s just doing nothing but screaming and yelling.”
Shertenlieb pushed back a bit, saying that even if a coach isn’t yelling and screaming, he can still become “white noise” to the players. Ainge did not think that applies to Stevens, and instead put the Celtics’ current predicament on the shoulders of himself and the players on the floor.
“I just think that this is a Danny Ainge and our players commitment issue more than anything else,” Ainge said. “I know that everybody is committed to some level. I don’t know anybody that’s more committed to getting players prepared [than Stevens].”
Ainge added: “We have to find a way to endure and have more resolve. It doesn’t seem that we have much resolve at this moment in time. And so we need to try to fix that. And sometimes that is just a lack of confidence or belief in one another. We’ll try to direct our attention toward that as much as we can.”
That message was in line with what Stevens said on Wednesday night, after the Hawks handed Boston an embarrassing loss in Atlanta. Both Ainge and Stevens seem to agree that the Celtics have lost a certain amount of confidence.READ MORE: I-Team Call For Action Helps Cape Couple Get $15,000 Refund For Canceled Cruise
“I think that what some people don’t’ realize is that sometimes confidence — lack of confidence in one another, a lack of belief, a lack of individual belief in one’s own abilities — comes and goes over the course of the season,” Ainge said. “I just think that it’s an interesting year. I wish I had answers for you. I don’t. I do believe in my players, I like all of them individually, I think they have good futures. I just think that right now our team is in a major funk. I don’t have all the answers as to why. I wish they were playing better, for them and for our fans. I wish they were playing up to their potential. I don’t see that they are. I hope they start playing better and harder.”
Ainge also addressed the notion that Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been slowing down the offense and thus have been hurting the team overall. Ainge said he believed this is all part of the growth process for young stars.
“I think that I would say differently. I think at times it’s unfair to just say that they’re ball stoppers. But here’s the biggest thing about Jaylen and Jayson is. They’ve been shielded before because they’ve had other players around them,” Ainge said, likely referencing Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford and Isaiah Thomas. “Now it’s on them. Now they’re the stars. And they got the big contracts and they got the All-Star nods. So the microscope is on them. I’ve been in this league a long, long time. And I think that it’s unfair to think that. I think that the ball stoppage is partly their fault and the ball stoppage is partly other players’ fault.”
Ainge thought back to when he shared the floor with Larry Bird or Charles Barkley, who were “strong, dominant personalities” that teammates looked to in order to drive the offense.
“I think it’s a fair assessment that we do stop the ball, and that they do stop the ball, because great players — Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant as examples, guys that these guys idolized growing up as young players — the ball stops when it comes to them,” Ainge said. “So I think it’s a little bit unfair to just hold the ball stoppage on them. But I understand it and I think that they will get better at it. I think that we need to surround them with more scoring off the bench, we need guys to play with more swagger and confidence, who aren’t subservient to Jaylen and Jayson. They’ll go out and play their game also and just let it go. There’s a lot of things going on but I think it’s part of the development and growth of young star players in our league to, as we know, from Michael Jordan getting the brunt of it when he was a young player and LeBron even when he was a young player, and Kobe. … This is not out of the ordinary for young star players to get the brunt of their teams losing.”
Ainge added: “This is a me problem. I’m saying I love my two young guys. They’re not perfect. And this adversity is part of their growth and development.”
And overall, with the Celtics sitting at 15-17 after three straight painful losses, Ainge admitted that he doesn’t have the answer to all of the Celtics’ woes right now.
“It’s hard to explain. We talked last week about the attention level and how it hasn’t been there. I don’t have an explanation. The team is not playing well. We’re not playing hard consistently,” he said.
Of a potential trade to shake up the roster or solve some problems, Ainge likewise did not promise an easy solution.MORE NEWS: Gov. Baker Signs Student Nutrition Bill Into Law
“Well, listen, I understand. I have my friends and fans and — not my fans but Celtics fans who I’ve run into on the street — understand that’s what everyone wants to know. But I don’t have those answers,” Ainge said. “It’s rare that trades get done closer to the deadline. But we’re talking and we’re trying to do some things. And we’ve come close a couple of times. I don’t know the answer. Time will tell.”