The most important goal for a team in the prestigious category Boston Celtics is almost the same every season. It has to do with the history of the club, which has won the championship seventeen times since the founding of the National Basketball Association more than 75 years ago. However, building a title-winning squad is a special art in a league like the NBA and depends on the seventh sense of team management in personnel decisions. And that doesn't just apply to athletic performance.
As in the case of Ime Udoka, who was initially suspended in September and dismissed from his post as head coach weeks later after it became known that he had had an affair with a club employee in addition to his long-term relationship. A violation of the Code of Conduct for Employees of the franchise. The breakup came at a bad time.
Too many litters messed up
Because under Udoka, after a long dry spell, the Celtics had reached the level again to belong to the circle that plays for the title. The final series last June against the Golden State Warriors was lost 2-4. But the squad remained unchanged in its most important positions.
In view of this, hardly anyone would have foreseen that the team could run out of steam in the second round of the play-offs. The 95-86 victory in the sixth game of the series against the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday gave the Celtics a chance to advance. But for that to happen, all the important players would have to be in top form in the seventh and decisive game this Sunday (21:30 CEST on DAZN). And don't just turn up the heat just before the end like Jayson Tatum, who did almost nothing in attack for three quarters. By then, he had missed twelve of thirteen basket shots, including six three-pointers.
Focus on Tatum and Brown
In the event of a victory, the team would meet the winner of the series between the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks in the semifinals next week. Otherwise, the season will end prematurely. At least for Tatum and his most important sideman Jaylen Brown, it can still be considered a success. The two collected excellent rankings in the annual vote of a hundred trade journalists on the best players of the season. The 25-year-old Tatum made it into the selection of the top five. Brown is one of the next five best.
But that's not all. This is because Tatum secured the right to a so-called supermax contract with the Celtics due to the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players' union. True, the agreement can be concluded only in 2024. But it is already clear that she would set a new salary record in the NBA. The order of magnitude: the equivalent of around 290 million euros gross, with a term of five years.
Saved on the trainer
A contract extension for the Celtics with the 26-year-old Brown would also not be due until next year, but theoretically would hardly bring in less – 270 million euros – and would also go over five years. Provided, however, that the Celtics are willing to spend such sums. This is because the club is entering an area in which the salary cap stipulated in the collective agreement creates enormous pressure on the profitability of the company.
Clubs that invest in player salaries beyond this limit must pay a so-called luxury tax to the league, which distributes this money to teams that are frugal. The idea behind it: to enable competitive parity between the richer and poorer franchises.
The Celtics have found a position where they could cut corners. The salary of Joe Mazzulla, who was promoted to head coach after Udoka was sacked in September, is two million euros, far below the top wages in the league. Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs and Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors earn five times as much. The considerable difference seems justified. Because the two defeats in games four and five of the series against the Philadelphia 76ers are probably on Mazzulla's cap.
It wasn't until the sixth game that he found a way to give the Celtics advantages near the basket – both offensively and defensively – with a tactical variation and the early use of center Robert Williams. The change shows that Mazzulla, who is just 34 years old, is ready to learn, said playmaker Marcus Smart after the victory. "I know he's been criticized a lot. And for good reasons." But this is not about finding a scapegoat, but about strengthening the sense of togetherness and using the whole thing as a learning experience.