NBA Playoffs: Celtics still have championship recipe, even if they have to improvise on ingredients

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Garnette_Game.jpgThe Celtics won it all two years ago, you know.

They were hungrier then, and healthier, too. James Posey-er, even. But that team, with a Rajon Rondo that wasn’t quite this impressive and absolutely depressing depth at center. Paul Pierce was more prolific then, Kevin Garnett was more productive then, Ray Allen was more consistent then. But for all the talk of how far this team has fallen since their championship season, would you like to guess how many spots they’ve dropped in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions)?

Four. The Celtics went from the most intimidating defense in the league to simply being the fifth best, regardless of how their season numbers may be distorted by KG’s injuries.

There’s absolutely, positively no way that this team should be considered the favorite to win the title. In all honesty, their odds shouldn’t even be handicapped. That doesn’t mean that under the right conditions and with a few lucky breaks they couldn’t stumble their way to the top of the Eastern Conference and will themselves to the title.

The Celtics struggles this season are distinctly different from the Lakers, if only because L.A.’s problems seem rather self-imposed. They’re mental mistakes, effort issues, and admittedly a few injuries to go along with them. In Boston, there’s a lot of natural decline, but these guys still care. Paul Pierce still thinks he’s the best in the world, and this is his chance to prove it. Garnett still thinks that every piece of hardwood in the United States belongs to him, and you shouldn’t be able to set foot on it without him working you. Ray Allen is still be a brutally efficient three-point shooter, and can go white-hot for stretches at a time.

Boston’s season doesn’t speak for itself, because when the sample size is reduced (like it is in the playoffs, from 82 to, at most, 28), all kinds of odd results may unfold. All Boston needs to do is have a few productive stretches at the right times, and exploit their match-up advantages as they unfold. Doc Rivers never got enough credit for his coaching with the 2008 Celtics, but if Boston goes on any kind of extended run it will be a testament to not only his motivational ability, but his knowledge of the game’s X’s and O’s as well.

Then there’s Rajon Rondo. Rondo’s PER has jumped from 15.6 to 19.4 since the title run, and last year in the playoffs Rondo proved that regardless of his competition, he’s consistently one of the best players on the floor. He’s a defender capable of stopping a defense at its point of attack, and developed some impressive versatility in his ability to both score and set up his teammates. His drastic improvement since 2008 is something that’s largely overlooked, but making the jump from decent young point guard to legit All-Star is nothing to scoff at. Rondo can make a huge difference in any series on both ends of the court, and if he takes another step up like he did against Chicago in the playoffs last year? That’s fearsome.

Boston’s competition in the East is better than ever, but they’ll waltz into the postseason with zero external expectations. Don’t think for a second that they won’t be using that to their advantage. All Boston needs is to refine their focus, catch a few (insanely) lucky breaks, and show that they’re still capable of playing championship-caliber defense. All any team can ask for is a shot at this thing, and even though the Celtics may be taking a shot in the dark, it’s something.

Report: Cavaliers trade Kyrie Irving to Celtics for Thomas, Crowder, Brooklyn pick

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Opening night Oct. 17, when the Boston Celtics visit the Cleveland Cavaliers, just got a more interesting.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have found a taker for Kyrie Irving — the Boston Celtics. The deal is done, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Amazingly, the Cavaliers and Celtics just traded the No. 1 and No. 60 (dead last) picks in the 2011 NBA draft.

The sides had discussed this trade in the past but Cleveland demanded Jayson Tatum in the deal, and that was the end of it. Things moved fast now because the Cavaliers came off that demand.

This is an emotional blow to a lot of Boston fans — they embraced the underdog, undersized Thomas as one of their own. They got back a younger player on a better contract who will age better, but Thomas is still a fan favorite. With good reason. He will be loved in Cleveland. But Celtics fans will come around.

Cleveland did as well as they could have realistically hoped for in an Irving trade — which is why this is a win for them. They get an All-NBA point guard in Isaiah Thomas with numbers similar last season to Irving to put next to LeBron James, and they add a quality wing defender in Jae Crowder who can help them against Boston and Golden State (plus Crowder is on a great contract). Cleveland remains the team to beat in the East and can make another run at the Warriors and a ring, then if LeBron leaves after the season as a free agent the Cavaliers can decide whether to tear it down and rebuild or bring Thomas back (on less than max deal).

Here’s another reason Dan Gilbert wins.

Boston may like this deal, but Cleveland remains the team to beat in the East today — and they will have a very high pick in the upcoming draft (which is deep with quality bigs).

Boston’s starting five is very good but more focused on the future — Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, and Al Horford, with Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum coming off the bench. And they still have the Lakers’ first round pick next year (protected).  That is not enough to beat a healthy Cavaliers team next season, but if LeBron leaves in 2018 Boston is the team poised to take charge in the East. Danny Ainge and the Celtics have been playing the long game and this fits with that.

Boston can argue they won the trade because they got the best player in Irving — and he is going to look even better in Brad Steven’s system. After next season this can work for Boston. For next season, Boston got a player in Irving who put up marginally better numbers than Thomas, is a marginally better defender, and they gave up a lot of assets to do it. Short term this is a win for Cleveland, and maybe long term depending on the Brooklyn pick. But Boston has to like where they are sitting — especially if they can re-sign Irving in 2019.

Reports: Cleveland, Boston in “serious” trade talks for Kyrie Irving

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Among the list of teams that have the pieces to offer Cleveland everything they are asking for in a Kyrie Irving trade, the Boston Celtics might be at the top of the list. They can send back a quality point guard in Isaiah Thomas, they have a number of rotation players who can help now, they have the Brooklyn pick next year or the Lakers’ pick (protected), and they have young stars such as Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum who could be thrown in a deal.

The question is, would the two top teams in the East want to do business with each other, potentially helping the other out? Can you see Dan Gilbert helping the Celtics? Danny Ainge helping the Cavaliers?

The two sides are at least talking seriously, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The latest buzz from reports and sources is the deal is Thomas, Crowder, and the Brooklyn unprotected pick for Irving.

I get why Boston would want Irving over Thomas — he’s younger, taller, and has a couple of years left on his current contract. Plus, if Boston is going all in for a ring Irving is a fit — the guy knows how to win. I get why Cleveland would want Thomas back in an Irving trade, it puts a scoring point guard next to LeBron James and keeps them as the team to beat in the East next season.

The unprotected first-round Brooklyn pick is a big chip. Boston could offer the Lakers’ pick (protected by the Sixers), depending on who else is involved.

But it would be a mistake for Boston to give up Jae Crowder in the deal — they need his wing defense against Cleveland and, theoretically, Golden State. Crowder would make Cleveland much better. Plus Crowder is on a good contract. Boston would prefer to send Thomas, Ante Zizic, whichever pick, and some players to round out the deal. That may not be enough for Cleveland.

If this deal happens as Wojnarowski reports it, to my eye, Boston would be getting somewhat better production next season from Irving that they would Thomas, but they are giving up a lot of other assets for that limited improvement. Is it really worth it?

Danny Ainge has a long history of getting serious in talks, asking for a lot, then deciding it wasn’t enough and pulling back.

That said, the pieces can be made to work. But do these teams want to deal with one another? Maybe so.

Mike D’Antoni thinks “synergy” between James Harden, Chris Paul will be beautiful thing

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It’s been one of the most interesting questions of the offseason — how will Chris Paul and James Harden share the ball and control of the Rockets?

In particular, how will they do it in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo system that made Harden an MVP candidate and is not the calculated, surgical style that CP3 uses to carve defenses up?

Mike D’Antoni isn’t too worried about it. In an interview with our old friend Matt Moore of CBS Sports, the 2017 NBA Coach of the Year said the greats figure out how to work things out.

Team USA is an interesting example. Mike Krzyzewski wants to play fast (the USA is far more athletic than any team they face, they should take advantage of that) but he gives his players freedom within that outline to do what works. D’Antoni sounds like he wants to give Paul and Harden some space to figure out how to play together, what works for them. (The advantage is Team USA plays inferior opponents, often vastly inferior, and that will not be the same case for the Rockets in the NBA.)

Do the same rules apply if/when Carmelo Anthony gets traded to Houston? Probably.

D’Antoni is rightfully high on the Rockets’ offensive potential.

The real question is on the other end of the court. The Rockets were a middle of the pack defensive team last season (18th in points allowed per possession), but they have added quality defenders in Paul, P.J. Tucker, and Luc Mbah a Moute. Can the Rockets become a top-10 defensive team, one with players who can match up with Golden State? Because we know the Warriors are going to finish the season top three on both ends of the court.

It’s going to be a fascinating season in Houston.

Morris twins have day in court next week on 2015 assault charge

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Back in 2015, brothers Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris — both then playing for the Suns — were investigated and eventually charged with felony aggravated assault joining three other men to allegedly beat up Erik Hood at a recreational basketball tournament in the Phoenix area (hood ended up in the hospital with a broken nose and other injuries). The motivation allegedly had been Hood sending “inappropriate” text messages to the Morris brothers’ mother. From the start, both brothers have denied any involvement.

Next week, the brothers will get their day in court. The Boston Globe has the details (Marcus now plays for the Celtics, Markieff for the Wizards).

Celtics forward Marcus Morris and his brother Markieff, each facing aggravated assault charges stemming from an incident in 2015, will get their day in court on Aug. 28 in Arizona.

Often cases like this are pled down to a lesser charge that the defendant accepts, and that usually happens close to trial. However, it is unclear if the Morris twins would be willing to do that — any admission of guilt would likely come with some level of suspension from the NBA in addition to whatever punishment is ordered by the court. If convicted of a felony, each Morris brother would face a minimum 10-game suspension from the NBA.

If the Morris twins were not involved, they are right to fight this. Either way, it will head to court next week.