Let's start here: the Boston Celtics would be making a colossal mistake by trading Jaylen Brown. Two-way wings, capable of creating for themselves offensively, are what teams covet most in today's NBA. Not only do the Celtics have a pair of those players, but Brown, the older half of the duo, turned 25 in late October.
The question that gets thrown around constantly is whether Brown and Jayson Tatum can play together. Well, the duo led the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals twice in three years. The franchise needs a three-pronged shakeup, but finding a new running mate for Tatum isn't necessary, and doing so could prove catastrophic.
In Brown, the Celtics have a player who, even when the offseason gets truncated due to the pandemic's impact on the NBA's schedule, or he's spending a significant portion of the break between seasons rehabbing from injury, has shown a remarkable ability to address his weaknesses.
Tatum, now 23-years-old and in his fifth NBA season, is sharpening his all-around game. According to NBA.com, he's averaging 8.5 potential assists for the second season in a row. He's also grabbing a career-high 8.6 rebounds per contest and generating sixth free throws per game, which is also a personal best for him. Both speak to the work Tatum has done on his body. The latter is also a testament to the improvement in his shot selection. And until entering health and safety protocols, Tatum had been an iron man for the Celtics, not missing a game, averaging 36.7 minutes per contest, the fifth-most in the league, per NBA.com, and carrying the heaviest burden on the team.
However, a team with two All-Star wings who combine for nearly 50 points per game (25.6 from Tatum and 22.8 by Brown) should not be 16-18, sitting ninth in the Eastern Conference. Boston's rarely played with the top-eight members of its rotation intact, but can't count on that happening, and even if it did, it's unlikely to translate to a trip to the conference finals; it may not even get them to the second round of the playoffs.
The roster around Tatum and Brown needs to complement the team's two stars more than it currently does. More specifically, that means upgrading the shooting and the facilitating around Boston's burgeoning duo.
The Celtics rank 22nd in assists per game. They're 23rd in assist points created, which is the number of points scored off assists. Boston's averaging 59.5 per contest, per NBA.com. Tatum's becoming a better facilitator, Brown's further behind in that department, but he's getting better, too. Robert Williams' abilities as a passer is an underutilized resource. Al Horford can act as an offensive hub, and Marcus Smart is an effective pick-and-roll point guard. However, the Celtics need a floor general who can more effectively orchestrate the offense.
And when it comes to long-range prowess, the Celtics rank 13th in threes made and attempted, knocking down an average of 12.4 of the 36.6 shots they take from beyond the arc. That translates to a 34 percent conversion rate, the eighth-worst in the NBA. Outside of Brown and Tatum, and the latter's only shooting 32.9 percent from beyond the arc this season -- granted, it's on 8.5 threes per game -- Boston doesn't have a knock-down three-point shooter. Adding a player who fits that description would take considerable pressure off Tatum and Brown.
The Celtics have their first-round picks for the foreseeable future. They have contracts to make the math work when pursuing those on sizable contracts. And Boston has players like Dennis Schroder, Josh Richardson, and the improving Romeo Langford, who have varying degrees of value on the trade market. The franchise also has a $17.1 million trade exception via the deal that sent Evan Fournier to the New York Knicks, plus a $9.7 million TPE, courtesy of the trade that sent Tristan Thompson to the Sacramento Kings. As most Celtic fans know by now, those cannot get combined. Even with those resources, it'll be difficult for the team to fortify its two weakest links between now and the Feb. 10 trade deadline, but that's not to say it can't improve in both categories.
As for internal solutions, there's a glaring need for improvement in two areas. Offensively, the Celtics don't get enough help from the system they employ. Too often, they're working without much direction. That's how you get players remaining stationed in the same spot throughout a possession; relying too heavily on isolations; and a lack of investment and energy in what's happening on the floor.
The loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves was only Ime Udoka's 34th game as an NBA head coach. But to this point, it's disappointing the team's offensive system hasn't changed despite these problems being prevalent during the Brad Stevens era. The solution isn't as simple as copying and pasting the best plays from each team, but the Celtics need to add reliable scoring options. That's especially true for when Boston has difficulty producing points.
A team that can't consider shooting or facilitating as strengths of their offense is in trouble. The lack of help the Celtics get from the system they're running makes the game that much more difficult for them. However, as Udoka and Horford discussed after the loss in Minnesota, the Celtics' effort needs to improve, and they have to play with more discipline.