I think it's a mental thing - they're unable to maintain the motivation or drive to maintain a sustained level of excellence over the season. Particularly the younger players (but not just them). Last year Hayward went down, so they had something to prove. Tatum wanted to prove he belonged, Brown wanted to prove he had improved and was a genuine starter, same for Rozier. As a result over the course of the season they overachieved, and were anointed to be in the Finals based on their team on paper before the season even started and a ball had been dribbled.
You could see the warning signs even at preseason, they players all said "well it's preseason, we'll be ready come season start". Well we're about a fifth into the season and that drive seems missing, particularly since the expectation before the season was that they would all have reduced roles to accommodate Gordon's return. Whether it's struggling with reduced roles, or uncertainty about what role they are playing, right now they are inconsistent with the fundamentals of the game - shooting the ball, defending with purpose, making the right basketball reads, attacking the basket and not being afraid to go into contact.
Every so often it all clicks, like the Toronto game - it was played like it was a playoff game and we see what they are capable of when they are switched on. But amongst the gold there's a lot of dross, like Utah tonight where they turned up not looking ready to play. All it takes is a few missed shots and their shoulders drop. It's a long season, and by no means is it panic stations, but as coach Brad needs to get them that drive back, that desire to excel every day, that willingness to adhere to the game plan. Play each game like it really matters. Have pride in your performance, no matter what your role is - that's what being a professional is.
Kyrie has it, but he's had years under his belt. The inconsistency from the likes of Tatum, Rozier and Brown is a concern, so I have to remind myself that they are young and inconsistency is part of what young players bring. Just the other night against Philly Mitchell had probably the worst 30-pt game you will see, and he's been inconsistent this year as well. Hayward I can forgive because you really can't diminish what he went through and how that affected him mentally more than physically. We need more from our vets - Horford and Smart - as well. Like Morris, they need to set more of an example.
It's a long season but it's not getting any shorter. At some point the excuses have to end, because come April the result is all that matters, and the purpose of the entire season is to achieve the result they want at that time. Brad is going to have to make some hard decisions to try and shake the team up and iron some of the inconsistency out of them if it continues.
The warning signs are blinking, and right now there's still time to do something about them. There may not be by January or February.