How they can win it all: The Boston Celtics

3 Comments

Let’s just get this myth out of the way: It’s not about Kendrick Perkins.

Would Perkins help Boston right now? Damn straight. Would I have made that deal? No. Has Danny Ainge set himself up as a scapegoat? Yup. And he might want to think about spending the summer outside the city if Boston doesn’t win it all.

But the Celtics essentially played this entire season without Kendrick Perkins in the lineup, not the healthy one doing so well in Oklahoma anyway. Even without him they were as good as or better than any team in the league for considerable stretches. It’s not about what they don’t have, it’s about what they have.

The reality — what the numbers bear out — is that their big four of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett can be paired with just about anyone and be a success. They could throw out 76-year-old Tommy Heinsohn with the big four and probably still win 47 games.

But for the Celtics it’s not about winning games, it’s about banner number 18.

For that to happen, three things have to happen first.

One, the Rajon Rondo that was an assist machine has to return. They don’t need the one that is passing less and shooting more. Teams continue to play off Rondo, but early in the season he used that space to create passing angles, to set up teammates. Of late we’ve seen a lot of Rondo and Glen Davis jumpers. There needs to be less of that and more Ray Allen and Paul Pierce jumpers.

And you’ll see that for sure. Rondo is smart, he knows what works. He knows in the playoffs what needs to be done, and that he is the catalyst for the Boston offense.

The second thing that has to happen is a return to the Celtics stifling defense. It has not been the same lately as the Celtics seemed to once again cruise into the finish line of the regular season.

Boston’s defense is good enough to close down the Knicks pretty quickly, if they bring their best game. If they get Carmelo Anthony into wing isolations, if they shot down the pick-and-roll, if they control the tempo. Again, all things Boston knows how to do and as done for years. Expect to see the frenetic effort return to the Celtics defense.

Finally, there is Shaquille O’Neal. And he is the real wild card.

While Heinsohn might do well with the Boston’s big four, it is Shaq that made them sing — when Shaq was on the floor with them it was the second best five-man unit in the league this season. Shaq could score in the paint, and that opened up better perimeter looks for Pierce and Allen. The Celtics offense was a force.

Shaq’s commitment to defense has long been a question mark, and it couldn’t be in the playoffs. He would have to be controlling the paint, cutting off penetration and making smart plays on the pick-and-roll from the start. Well, maybe not the start against the Knicks, Boston would win that series anyway. But against Miami and Chicago, Boston needs an energetic Shaq for 20 minutes a game. Combine that Shaq with Jermaine O’Neal and Nenad Krstic and you’ve got something.

Boston needs to get around 40 quality minutes a night out of its center by committee, and Shaq needs to be part of it. Do that and Boston can certainly win it all.

The question is will that be too much to ask of the O’Neals?

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

Leave a comment

James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.