NBA finals: How do the Celtics match up?

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piercegm6.jpgAnd lo, I saw green horse, and on them green riders, and their names were the Celtics. And hell followed with them.

The Boston Celtics are returning to the NBA finals with a defense of the fiercest machinations, led by veteran stars who are still quite capable of eviscerating a defense. After dispatching the Magic in Game 6, ending any discussion of a chokejob in Beantown (well, another one, eh Bruins?), the Celtics can turn their attention towards their final opponent, whoever that may be.

So how do the Celtics match up with the two Western contenders? Let’s begin with the less likely of the two options.

Phoenix Suns: I’d bother with telling you the Suns won both regular season matchups, but the Celtics have already shown that the regular season doesn’t mean anything to them and the results are meaningless. The Suns do represent the classic foil to the Celtics. Even with a tougher, more defensive approach, they’re still the unstoppable force to the Celtics’ immovable object.

The Phoenix offense isn’t exactly a cake walk for the Celtics. The same spread perimeter attack that enabled the Magic to crawl back into that series is there for the Suns. Steve Nash is one of the few point guards with the confidence and versatility to counter Rondo’s brilliance on the offensive end. The Suns rebound well and have considerable length. They have experience in Grant Hill and versatile wings in Jason Richardson and Goran Dragic. And they possess a bench unit with considerable advantages over Boston.

The run and gun style of the Suns would give the Celtics problems, as injuries and fatigue have become more and more  of a factor for the Celtics, though it’s a factor they’ve admirably overcome. Slowing down that transition attack by stopping the ball in Nash’s hands would fall to Rondo, whose length would likely give the Celtics a chance to do so. Coverage of the perimeter shooters in transition would be more difficult, but it’s also a shot the Celtics are willing to take.

All in all, you have to give the Celtics the advantage based on two factors. One, the Celtics’ toughness and physical nature would likely knock the Suns back on their heels. Amar’e Stoudemire would be pounded by tough, long defenders, and the Suns’ mob bench would be overwhelmed on the glass from Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace, and Glen Davis. Jason Richardson wouldn’t be able to counter Pierce, nor Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo would make Nash look like Derek Fisher on the defensive end. This has to be the result the Celtics are looking for if they want an easy route to the ring.

Los Angeles Lakers: Hello, darkness my old friend, I’ve come to welcome you again. The Lakers and Celtics know each other and an epic ratings-soaring finals matchup would satisfy both clubs’ requirement for destroying the other on their way to the championship. Any championship without beating the other would seem empty for these two.

There are plenty of reasons to suspect this matchup to follow the blueprint of two years ago.Paul Pierce is controlling the force of the game with his offense, as he did in 2008. Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins create a tough bullying counter to Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom is always likely to vanish for a game or three.

So what’s different? Ron Artest gives the Lakers a defensive attack dog to unleash on Paul Pierce, which they didn’t have in 08. Shannon Brown can at least deflect some of the damage from Nate Robinson, and Andrew Bynum’s appearance is significant in a possible series. It would open Pau Gasol in space. The Lakers can’t just depend on Kobe Bryant, but this time they have enough weapons to offset the Celtics’ defense.

The one huge red flag for the Lakers has to be the play of Rajon Rondo. Derek Fisher has done a phenomenal job in managing Steve Nash, but Rondo’s a whole other set of problems. With length, speed, and a sick amount of athleticism, Fisher would need considerable weakside help to slow down Rondo. At some point in that series, Kobe Bryant may be switched on to Rondo much like he was to Russell Westbrook in round one.

The Lakers overall talent probably puts them in a favorable position. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned this postseason, the Celtics don’t care how big of an underdog they are, how much more talented the other team is. They focus, execute, and deliver. If these two meet in the finals as it seems destined they will, it will be fire on the mountain.

Derrick Rose: ‘I felt I didn’t do anything wrong’

FILE - In this June 24, 2016, file photo, New York Knicks' Derrick Rose speaks during a news conference at Madison Square Garden in New York. Phil Jackson made a risky move when he traded for the injury-prone Rose in June, and now the Knicks face the possibility of their point guard's involvement in a rape trial in California during his first preseason with the team.  (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
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The Knicks say they’re not concerned about Derrick Rose, who’s facing a civil lawsuit and criminal investigation for an alleged rape.

Rose doesn’t sound concerned, either.

Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal:

Maybe Rose said he believes he did nothing wrong because he did nothing wrong. Maybe Rose said he believes he did nothing wrong because he’s lying.

Or maybe Rose said he believes he did nothing wrong because he doesn’t understand he did something wrong.

That’s the sad possibility of this case and countless others. People sometimes rape because they don’t understand consent.

Having sex with someone too drunk to give proper consent is rape. Doing a sexual act to someone who consented to sex but not that specific act is rape.

Rose should be concerned. The evidence against him is compelling, and it could lead to civil and criminal penalties. He should also be concerned whether he properly understands the line between rape and consent. You don’t know what you don’t know, and I hope Rose – even if he already already possessed a clear understanding of rape and consent – and everyone else uses this as an opportunity to thoughtfully examine what is and isn’t consensual. It’s important information to hold, because ignorance of what’s rape does not justify rape.

This isn’t an issue to brush aside for something as trivial as basketball.

Cavaliers guard Mo Williams reverses course, retiring now

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 22:  Mo Williams #52 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Mo Williams, despite retirement rumors, announced last week he’d return to the Cavaliers for one more year. Williams knew Cleveland would face major challenges without him, being forced to rely on young and unproven Kay Felder and Jordan McRae behind Kyrie Irving at point guard .

Williams, via David McMenamin of ESPN:

I didn’t want to put the Cavs in that situation at the end of the day.

Well, Williams is putting the Cavs in that situation.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Williams, 33, informed the Cavaliers just before Media Day Monday that he was retiring from basketball, not even a week after announcing via Twitter that he would return for one more season.

Cleveland general manager David Griffin said at the top of his press conference that Williams’ agent, Raymond Brothers, informed the Cavs of Williams’ latest decision in the morning.

It seemed possible Williams wanted to retire but was trying to extract a buyout on his $2,194,500 salary. Doing so would’ve required convincing the Cavs he’d grind through the season but, hampered by injuries, not produce enough to justify his salary and roster spot.

It’s unclear whether the Cavaliers called a bluff, agreed to a buyout or Williams had a true change of heart. Cleveland would be especially reluctant to give him a portion of his salary, because those payments would count toward the luxury tax. But maybe the Cavs are willing to incur a small hit.

This puts plenty of pressure on Felder, the No. 54 pick. He has shooting and distributing talent, and his hops are eye-catching. But the adjustment from mid-major Oakland to the NBA is tough for anyone, let alone someone 5-foot-9.

At least the Cavs can turn to LeBron James as the de facto backup point guard in big games. Give him the ball, flank him with a few wings, and Cleveland will be alright.

This just makes it a little harder – which is not to say hard – for the Cavs to claim the No. 1 seed while limiting their stars’ minutes and set themselves up for those big games next spring and summer.

51Q: Can Dave Joerger get DeMarcus Cousins, rest of Kings on same page?

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 13:  Head coach David Joerger of the Memphis Grizzlies looks on during the game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on April 13, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season. Today:

Can Dave Joerger get DeMarcus Cousins, rest of Kings on the same page?

This season is a crossroads in Sacramento.

In two weeks the Kings will play their first preseason game in the beautiful new downtown building that kept the Kings in Sacramento. It’s the season that owner Vivek Ranadive desperately wants to see end with a trip to the playoffs — it would be the first time the Kings made the postseason in 10 years. It is the season the Kings need to show that they are developing a basketball culture that can win, which matters because it is the last chance to convince their All-NBA, gold medal winning center DeMarcus Cousins that this is a franchise headed in the right direction and he should want to stay. (Cousins is a free agent in the summer of 2018, if the Kings can’t get a commitment from him after this season the team has to consider trading him;, they can’t afford to lose him for nothing.)

That’s a lot on the shoulders of new coach Dave Joerger.

Considering the roster he was given, and the timeline to meet, maybe too much.

Joerger was brought in to work with GM Vlade Divac and turn the Kings from a laughingstock organization to something respectable — a team that wins consistently. The kind of franchise where it’s star player doesn’t tweet things out on draft night about how much he hates the picks (but sure, he tweeted about hot yoga).

Joerger had a lot of success in Memphis building on the “grit and grind” culture that Lionel Hollins had established. He’s a strong Xs and Os coach who puts players in good positions, playing to their strengths. Joerger had good relationships with some challenging personalities on that Grizzlies roster (Tony Allen, Matt Barnes, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol at times, and others). It’s why Sacramento wanted him, management saw someone who could handle their roster and start building a culture.

A new coach in a new building for a new day.

Joerger seems to have passed the one big summer test — he and Cousins get along. At least so far, before Joerger calls him out on a missed defensive assignment or gets in his face over effort getting back in transition. This summer Joerger has been seen golfing and speaking with Cousins, trying to build a bond between himself and the elite center who is not always trusting of coaches. To put it kindly. At least this summer we have seen no snake in the grass tweets from Cousins, it’s been all good.

Cousins is coming off winning an Olympic gold, and while he never figured out FIBA officiating — which is not all on him, FIBA officials have all the consistency of Jim Carrey’s acting career — players coming out of the ultra-competitive, high-level Team USA practices and environment often have one of their best seasons.

The Kings are going to need that from Cousins, and a culture from Joerger that catches on quickly, because they have some other serious hurdles to overcome this season if they are dreaming of the playoffs.

• Their starting point guard is Darren Collison, and the Kings were better with him on the court last season than Rajon Rondo. Collison looks for his own shot first but is an efficient scorer who can get into the lane or hit the three. This all sounds good except for one problem: He is going to be suspended to start the season. Collison pled guilty to a domestic violence charge and the last player to do that was suspended 24 games (Charlotte’s Jeff Taylor). That’s a quarter of the season where Ty Lawson and Jordan Farmar (with maybe some Garrett Temple) will run the point for the Kings, and that is a considerable step down.

• Their starting three is Rudy Gay, an inefficient isolation scorer who loves to shoot from the midrange — a guy who doesn’t fit in the modern NBA. And a player who has said he is leaving as a free agent at the end of the season, so the Kings are shopping him around. That will be a distraction.

• Can a bench of Kosta Koufos, Omri Casspi, Matt Barnes, Anthony Tolliver and a few others keep the team close in a deep Western Conference?

And that’s not even getting into the questions of Willie Cauley-Stein‘s fit, Ben McLemore‘s development, Skal Labissiere‘s development (I think he could become a quality stretch four next to Cousins in a couple of years), why Georgios Papagiannis was drafted that high (a Cousins’ replacement?), or what Arron Afflalo has left in the tank?.

I believe Joerger can build the kind of culture and — with some roster tweaks — team that can make the playoffs and start to turn things around in Sacramento. But it is going to take one thing:

Patience.

Which has never been owner Ranadive’s strong suit. Last time he had a coach who got along well with Cousins and understood how to build a culture, Ranadive fired him mid-season because Cousins got sick and the owner wanted a faster style of play.

Plus, the Kings don’t have much time to win Cousins over, assuming that can still be done (the conventional wisdom around the league is that it is too late and he is gone, the only question is how much the Kings get in return). Sacramento is not going to make a rash decision here, they are going to keep Cousins in Sacramento the full season in the new building and work to make him want to stay. But next summer, if there is no commitment from him, the team has no choice, it needs to get something for him before he walks.

I see the Kings as a 35-win team this season, give or take a couple. About where they were a year ago, but with a foundation being put in place for the future.

That may not be enough, or at least fast enough.

It’s a lot to ask of Joerger. He’s walked into maybe the most challenging coaching job in the NBA. Good luck.

Pelicans sign D-League Rookie of the Year Quinn Cook

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With Jrue Holiday away from the team and Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter both hurt, the Pelicans need help on the perimeter.

The latest candidate to provide it: Quinn Cook.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans today announced that the team has signed free agent guard Quinn Cook.

Cook went undrafted last year after a four-year career at Duke then went to the D-League, where he won Rookie of the Year, went to the All-Star game and made all-league third team. It was an encouraging start to his pro career.

Despite having 15 players ( the regular-season roster limit) with guaranteed salaries, the Pelicans keep attracting players – including Lance Stephenson – to training camp on unguaranteed or barely guaranteed deals. I wonder whether New Orleans has assured anyone it would open a roster spot somehow. If so, Cook has a real chance to claim it.