NBA Season Preview: The Boston Celtics


Thumbnail image for Pierce_celebrate.jpgLast season: 50-32 during the regular season, but 17-17 down the stretch as key players got rest and healthy for the playoffs. Then they played like the 2008 Celtics in the postseason and advanced all the way to Game 7 of the NBA Finals before falling.

Head Coach: Doc Rivers, back for what may well be his final season. That may come up in motivational speeches by team members.

Key Departures: Tony Allen will be missed; Rasheed Wallace will only be missed by sports talk radio hosts on a slow day looking to piss off Celtics faithful by bringing him up.

Key Additions: Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal, who will bring some scoring to the Celtics front line that Kendrick Perkins could not. They will not bring his defense, however. Also added were DeLonte West and Von Wafer, the former of which will make good contributions.

We also need to note under additions that they kept the core of this team together. Boston could have let Paul Pierce and Ray Allen go and started to rebuild this team around Rajon Rondo, but they brought everybody back for a couple years and a couple more runs at it. Then the rebuilding will start.

Best case scenario: An NBA Championship. They were within one game of it last year and may have pulled it off if Kendrick Perkins had been healthy for Game 7 in Los Angeles. (But the Lakers dealt with injuries, too, so it’s a slippery slope.) This team is poised to make two more runs at a title, then the rebuilding will start in Boston.

For that to happen: Two key things will have to take place. First, this team has to stay healthy. That is true of the contenders in Miami and Los Angeles and everywhere else, too, but it is particularly key for a Celtics squad just slightly younger than Dick Bavetta.

The health thing starts with Kevin Garnett coming back healthy enough to be 90 percent of his 2008 self. He is still the heart and soul of this team, he is the guy who makes the defense work, who can get some easy buckets in the halfcourt. Along with that, Kendrick Perkins needs to come back and by the playoffs be close to the defensive force that he was before Game 6 of the finals last season. And, of course, no other key players can go down with big injuries.

The other key thing is that the Celtics defense has to remain as good as any in the league. It is going to have to do that with Lawrence Frank in charge of it, not Tom Thibodeau. It is going to have to be that way with Shaquille O’Neal and his defensive freelancing, his terrible pick-and-roll defense, getting key minutes. It’s going to have to be that good with Jermaine O’Neal as the starting center. It’s going to need that healthy Garnett we talked about before.

If the defense slips, so does Boston. It’s that simple.

More likely the Celtics will: Be right in there for an NBA title run. Just like in the paragraphs above. This team is one of your handful that is a legitimate title contender. There are questions to be answered, things that need to go their way, but they are in the mix. That is all you can ask to start the season.

I expect Rajon Rondo to continue is upward climb, to become more of the key cog of this team on offense.

Boston is going to need to work on integrating those additions. Particularly the two O’Neals along the front line — those two will bring more offense out of the five spot than the Celtics have seen in the Big 3 era. But neither of them are defensively focused. DeLonte West again is a good fit but will need to blend in. When Perkins comes back the front line rotations will need to be figured out and stabilized.

Still this is the core of a team that went to Game 7 of the NBA finals last season and won a title a couple years ago. This team knows how to answer the questions that are out there. If they can hold up physically, they will be able to answer them. They will be contenders.

There will come a time this season when the Celtics play .500 ball or below for 20 games or so. And we will all put our short memories on display. We will say they don’t look like contenders and this is different than last season, different than 2008. And Rivers will ignore everyone and work on getting guys rested and healthy for the playoffs. He knows if they are, they will be right there, knocking on the door of another banner for the crowded rafters.

Prediction: 50 wins. Same as last year. Certainly, the Celtics could easily win more, but like last season the focus by the Celtics will be less on the regular season and more on being healthy and rested come the playoffs. The depth up front could give them more wins, but the East is deeper too so there will be fewer nights when they win by just walking on the court. I think it all balances itself out.

Basically the same team as last year. One capable of winning a title if things go right.

Report: Rockets management wanted to elevate Clint Capela over Dwight Howard last season, coach resisted

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 17:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets celebrates with General Manager Daryl Morey after they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 113 to 100 during Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals at the Toyota Center for the 2015 NBA Playoffs on May 17, 2015 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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When he was starting at power forward next to Dwight Howard last season, Clint Capela looked like he could eventually supplant Howard as the Rockets’ starting center.

It happened this offseason with Howard leaving for the Hawks.

Houston apparently wanted it to happen even sooner.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Houston Rockets management repeatedly pushed for Clint Capela to get more playing time at the expense of Dwight Howard last season, sources told ESPN, adding to the disharmony that played a prominent role in the team’s disappointing 2015-16 campaign.

Former Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff resisted complying with the wishes of general manager Daryl Morey and owner Leslie Alexander regarding a drastic reduction in Howard’s playing time. Team sources said Alexander never participated in the meetings with Morey and Bickerstaff but fully supported the general manager’s plan to prioritize Capela’s development.

League sources said input from face-of-the-franchise James Harden heavily influenced Houston management’s desire to decrease Howard’s minutes. However, team sources insisted that Harden was not involved in those discussions.

It’s believable Harden conspired against Howard. It’s also believable the Rockets covered for Harden.

Whoever was working against him, Howard clearly understood Houston planned to deemphasize him. Maybe he didn’t always handle that the absolute best way, but to a certain degree, he was just dealing with a difficult reality – one the Rockets should have foreseen.

It’s tough to tell an established star his role is being reduced. It’s far easier to tell a second-year player he must wait his turn. Houston’s management tried to take the harder path – and didn’t even get its own coach to comply, which only muddled the situation further.

The Rockets were coming off a run to the Western Conference finals, and amid so much chaos, still made the playoffs. This was a talented team that came too close to wasting a season due to internal dynamics.

And what does Houston have to show for its Howard plan? The Rockets didn’t trade Howard, didn’t get him to opt in (as they wanted him to do, according to MacMahon) and didn’t re-sign him. Capela will start now, but he’s not substantially more experienced playing center with other starters. Howard is in Atlanta, ready to help another team.

Prolonged breakups just aren’t healthy. Rip off the bandage or leave it on.

Anthony Randolph recreates Vince Carter-Fredric Weis dunk in Spain (video)

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 27:  Anthony Randolph #15 of the Denver Nuggets dribbles against Mirza Teletovic #33 of the Brooklyn Nets at Pepsi Center on February 27, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Nets defeated the Nuggets 112-89. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Remember Anthony Randolph?

The Warriors drafted him No. 14 in 2008, and he also played for the Knicks, Timberwolves and Nuggets, last appearing in the NBA in 2014.

He still has plenty of athleticism – as he showed playing for Real Madrid. The defender isn’t as tall, but the way Randolph leaps over him is reminiscent of Vince Carter‘s famous dunk on Frederic Weis:

(hat tip: Sportando)

Klay Thompson, Steve Kerr slam Golden State official who called Warriors ‘[cowards]’

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 15:  Head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors talks to Klay Thompson #11 on the bench during their preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers at T-Mobile Arena on October 15, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Golden State won 112-107. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Marreese Speights bluntly assessed Draymond Green, but at least Speights put his name behind his words (at least until implying he was misquoted, to which the writer countered by claiming he had audio).

Someone else in the fantastic profile of Green by Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN never attached his name.


multiple Warriors staffers share the opinion that Green is their most important player. Nobody replicates his set of contributions. As one team official puts it: “The guys might be frustrated by his antics, but they had an opportunity to prove themselves without him in Game 5 and they played like a bunch of [cowards].”

Multiple Warriors objected.

Klay Thompson, via Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area:

“That article pissed me off for this reason: If you’re going to call someone a coward, how are you not going to put your name to that quote?” Thompson began. “It’s easy to point to someone and call them a coward behind a shade of a shield. But why don’t you put your name to it? Then you can call us cowards. That’s fine. You can tell us that.

“But to say we played like cowards, and you’re not going to quote the guy who said it? That’s weak to me, man. How are you going to quote Mo (Speights) and not anybody else? That actually got under my skin, because you call us cowards but you’re not going to put your name to the quote? You know what I mean? You’re not going to quote who said it? You’re just going to say, oh, some executive said they’re cowards? Get out of here. That made me mad.”

Steve Kerr, via Poole:

“I don’t know who said that. I’d guarantee it wasn’t any of our coaching staff. I would be shocked if it was anybody in basketball management. We don’t do that. Nobody ever said that to me, not even to the press. But nobody ever said that to me, like, ‘those guys played like cowards.’ So I have no idea where that came from.”

“It’s upsetting because you want to keep things in-house,” he said. “If somebody wants to say something, then they should put their name on it. If you don’t feel like you can put your name on it, you shouldn’t say it.”

Thompson’s and Kerr’s resentment is warranted. It’s the height of irony to anonymously call people “[cowards].”

And the team official was wrong, anyway.

The Warriors lost the pivotal Game 5 of the NBA Finals, because LeBron James and Kyrie Irving played historically well and Golden State missed rim protection from a suspended Green. To say the Warriors played like “[cowards]” wrongly shorts both them and Cleveland. The Cavs were plenty good enough to outplay a focused and driven Golden State team with Green – as Game 7 showed.

The problem isn’t always mettle.

However, in this case, it is – for the anonymous team official.

Russell Westbrook’s Halloween costume? Joe Dirt.

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook spins the ball as he poses for photos during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Who knew Russell Westbrook was a big David Spade fan?

Westbrook was going to have a tough time topping his Steven Adams costume from last season, but he went an unexpected direction with the effort — Joe Dirt. As in the lead character from the David Spade film.

Yo Brandy where you at?? #joedirt

A photo posted by Russell Westbrook (@russwest44) on

Did not see that coming.

It turns out, Westbrook is a big Joe Dirt fan.

Note to self: If he loves Joe Dirt, don’t listen Westbrook’s movie recommendations in the future.