Will the Celtics defense be as good next year?

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celtics_defense.jpgFor all the talk about getting the old gang back together in Boston for one more run, it isn’t exactly the same old gang that is coming back next year.

And the changes that are coming could cut right to the core of what won Boston one title and almost two — great defense.

Jeff Clark over at Celtics blog takes a good look at the question, which really is a series of questions. The first one is — how big a loss is Tom Thibodeau, and can Lawrence Frank keep the defense going?

Frank is a diligent worker with head coaching experience.  He’ll provide a different voice and perhaps take a fresh approach to the lead assistant position.  However, he’s not Tom Thibodeau and perhaps he shouldn’t be expected to be just like Tom.  For the last three years Tom has essentially played the role of Defensive Coordinator, but most teams don’t define roles that strictly.  Frank is certainly going to help out with the defense, but he’ll have some say in the offense as well.  In fact as I’ve mentioned, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him groomed to take over for Doc if and when he leaves.  It remains to be seen if the loss of Thibodeau will hurt the team or if they’ll actually benefit from a fresh take.

Then there is the center spot — you can’t have a good defense in today’s slashing NBA without a long-armed big man protecting the rim.

Kendrick Perkins was that big body, and may be again late in the season. In the interim, Jermaine O’Neal gets that role. He is not Perkins, but he is not a bad defender either. He’s solid. In the right system with defined roles where his rotations are clear, he can do the job well enough.

Behind him is Shaquille O’Neal. Doc Rivers is already on record worried about teams pick-and-rolling Shaq into the ground. But the other problem is he has long been a freelancer on defense, not someone who has stuck with a system but looked for his own play. He makes them, sometimes, he’s fairly smart about it. But the Celtics system is built around rotations Shaq may well ignore.

That may be an issue.

But the biggest issue — as it is with all things Celtics — is health. If Kevin Garnett is healthy, the Celtics defense is going to be fine. If he is out, things drop off fast.

Readers on Celtics blog expect the team defense to be about the same with these new Celtics. I don’t see it, I think there is some regular season drop off. But that’s not the point — if all the key players are healthy come the playoffs, the Boston defense will be stifling teams once again. And Boston will be a title threat.

Report: Timberwolves active in trying to land Paul George or Jimmy Butler

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Minnesota is one of the NBA’s best positioned up-and-coming teams. They have a franchise cornerstone in Karl-Anthony Towns, a quality No. 2 in Andrew Wiggins, maybe like Zach LaVine can blossom into an All-Star, and players such as Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica could be part of the picture. Maybe Ricky Rubio, too, although he’s further along his career arc. A lot of people look at this team and think around 2020, when the Warriors fade (or break apart), the Timberwolves can step up to elite.

Tom Thibodeau is apparently not willing to be that patient — he’s looking to get in the Paul George/Jimmy Butler talks, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Thibodeau helped develop Butler in Chicago and they have a great relationship, he certainly makes the Timberwolves better next season. Same with George, although he’s a rental who almost certainly bolts after the coming season

My question to the Timberwolves: Why?

What was wrong with the building trajectory they are on? I get it, they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2004, a ton of money was just sunk into upgrades at the Target Center, and the owner is not getting younger. Those are all non-basketball reasons to screw up what the basketball side is doing right. It’s the mistake of poor franchises to let that happen.

Could the Timberwolves use a point guard of the future, more depth on the wings and better defenders all around? You bet. But they don’t need to rush the development program either. If Minnesota can land Butler only giving up Rubio and a protected future first or something, sure, but the Bulls continue to ask a very high price for a deal.

Outside of personal feelings, why would the Timberwolves do that?

Report: LaMarcus Aldridge unhappy playing for Spurs

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The Spurs trading LaMarcus Aldridge – they’re reportedly shopping him – could open enough cap space to sign Chris Paul.

But that isn’t the only reason San Antonio is trying to move Aldridge.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

According to a person with knowledge of the Spurs forward’s situation, it’s the 31-year-old’s unhappiness in San Antonio that is the driving force behind the Spurs’ trade talks on Thursday. The five-time All-Star, according to the person, is hopeful that San Antonio can find a better fit for his talents.

Rumors about the Spurs trading Aldridge emerged early in the season, as he was reportedly unhappy about Kawhi Leonard getting the spotlight. When Aldridge signed with San Antonio, it seemed Leonard could do the heavy lifting as the team’s best player and Aldridge could get outsized credit as the leading scorer. But Leonard has emerged as the go-to offensive player, pushing Aldridge into a supporting role both in reality and reputation. Gregg Popovich calling out Aldridge publicly during the playoffs surely didn’t improve relations.

Aldridge turns 32 this summer and will likely become a free agent after next season. Wanting to leave the Spurs – held up as the NBA’s best culture – will raise additional red flags.

San Antonio might not get as much as it hopes in a trade for Aldridge. If Chris Paul is coming, the Spurs wouldn’t need as much for Aldridge. But they won’t know about Paul until July.

San Antonio also values building a roster of players who’ve, as Popovich puts it, “gotten over themselves.” If that’s not Aldridge, the Spurs might not want to keep him around.

There are numerous factors to weigh and incomplete information, but this is the twisting road San Antonio is navigating.

Here’s Knicks’ reported asking price from Celtics in Kristaps Porzingis trade

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Knicks president Phil Jackson’s asking price for Kristaps Porzingis is reportedly “massive.”

Just what does that mean?

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

According to a Knicks source, Jackson is asking for the third overall pick in Thursday’s draft as well as next year’s Brooklyn pick along with Jaylen Brown and Jae Crowder. This version of the deal would not include Boston taking on Joakim Noah‘s contract.

All the Knicks fans who threatened to relinquish their fandom if the team traded Porzingis – most would love this deal.

Would the Celtics? I doubt it.

The question is whether there’s a middle ground between what New York wants and what Boston would do. It’s possible Jackson won’t budge and is just shopping Porzingis on the off chance someone accepts outlandish requests like these and to teach Porzingis a lesson for skipping his exit meeting.

Report: First-round draft prospect says Phil Jackson fell asleep during his workout

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Like I said, there are better reasons to criticize Phil Jackson than him saying his priority was the Knicks and that he had discussed trading Kristaps Porzingis.

Jay Williams of ESPN:

A top-15 draft pick told me the other day, because we were involved in this out of this conversation about Phil Jackson and the Knicks, and he said, “Phil Jackson was falling in and out of sleep in my workout.”

Yes. “Falling in and out of sleep at my workout.” This is what this guy told me.

Especially given Jackson’s salary and reputation for not being a diligent worker, this story is too good to check out.