Leandre: Celtics Still Need Veteran Presence

(Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox - Getty Images/ North America)

Eight straight wins. A lot of people have tried to de-legitimize the win streak for the Boston Celtics, calling it a “cupcake” portion of the schedule.

But let’s face it, they’re doing what good teams are supposed to be doing to these cupcake teams—absolutely throttle them. The closest margin of victory was a five-point overtime win against the Washington Wizards, who always play the Celtics tough.

The Celtics showcased a lot of promising things throughout these eight games, starting from the top with Gordon Hayward. Hayward has finally seemed to have found his niche in the Celtic offense coming off the bench. Keep on moving down the rotation and you see the likes of Daniel Theis stepping up big-time in the place of injured Al Horford.

Even guys like Semi Ojeleye, Brad Wanamaker, and Robert Williams have made key contributions to this run that has catapulted the Celtics into the five seed, just four games out of first in the Eastern Conference. But there is still something missing from this Celtics squad—a veteran.

While Kyrie Irving’s November quote sounded very excuse-like when he said it, but he was still right. This team does need somebody on that bench who has been around and can really attest to the hardships of playing a lot of games every year.

I got on Irving originally, saying he should be the leader because not that many guys in the league have more playoff experience than he does. But looking back, he has missed 10 plus games in every season but one, and has even missed five Finals games against the Warriors. Irving can’t speak to playing a full season—he still doesn’t know what it feels like.

That’s not nearly enough to completely justify Irving’s logic, but it does provide a little bit of leeway. But who could this veteran be?

The guy I’d watch out for in the next couple months is Vince Carter. At 42-years-old, Carter has played in 25 of Atlanta’s 27 games and is averaging 18.9 points per 100 possessions on the year—his most in three years. Despite a 21-point defeat on Friday at the hands of the Celtics, he shined for a young Hawks team. Carter contributed 12 points on 5-8 shooting in just 16 minutes.

But why does Carter make the most sense? For starters, his contract is very movable—he makes just a tick over $1.5 million this season. It’s realistic for just about any team in basketball to acquire the league-wide respected small forward. Plus, if there is anybody who could mentor the likes of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum from a veteran standpoint, Carter would be towards the top of the list.

But the fact of the matter is, in bunches, the dude can still ball. Which he showed Friday night at the Garden. He’s been seeking a ring for years now; jumping around from Dallas to Memphis, before settling down in Sacramento for a year, and now Atlanta. But if there’s one thing missing from this first-ballot Hall of Famer’s career, it’s an NBA Finals win.

It just makes so much sense for Carter’s career to end with him hoisting his first NBA Finals trophy in June. He’s a 21-year veteran, and one of the hardest workers in the NBA. He’d thrive in limited minutes with Brad Stevens’ system, with the likes of Terry Rozier, Semi Ojeleye, and Jaylen Brown doing the dirty work for him so he can maximize his value.

Carter would be on my radar if I were Danny Ainge as he looks for small pieces to round this team into form for the home stretch.

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