How they can win it all: The Boston Celtics

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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?

What exactly was on the table for Bulls in Jimmy Butler trade?

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It’s been the cry since the Bulls’ front office traded Jimmy Butler for Zach LaVine (coming off an ACL surgery), Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick (Lauri Markkanen):

Why didn’t the Bulls get more?

I’m in the camp they didn’t get enough, starting with the question why did they give Minnesota the No. 16 pick in the deal? Even if the Bulls keep that pick, it doesn’t feel like they got enough for an All-NBA player, a top-flight wing defender who can also get buckets with the ball in his hands. The Bulls could have been patient and waited out a better offer, one of this quality would always have been on the table.

However, the deals for Butler may not have been as rich as fans assume. Here is part of what ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote breaking down the trade.

It’s not as if Chicago didn’t canvas the league, either. The Bulls talked to Phoenix about a package centered around Eric Bledsoe and the No. 4 pick, but nothing came close, according to league sources. (Those talks may have been linked at one point to Cleveland’s pursuit of Butler, which apparently fizzled Thursday as Dan Gilbert, the Cavs’ owner, tried to hire a new president of basketball operations on the freaking day of the draft.)

They poked around with Denver, but the Nuggets drew a line at Jamal Murray, sources say. Those teams had to weigh the possibility of Butler bolting in 2019, which cooled the market a bit, sources say.

Boston has danced around Butler for almost a year now, and would not include the No. 3 pick in any package for him as the draft approached, sources say. Other reports suggest they refused to offer next year’s Nets pick, or the Lakers-Kings pick they snagged from Philly in the Markelle Fultz deal.

Boston’s Danny Ainge wanted a deal, a bit of a discount, and the Bulls were not going to give it. Those pick requests are reasonable for a Top 15 player, but Ainge knows he can be patient and the Celtics will still win more than 50 games next season and be a contender in a couple of years. Ainge knows he has a real shot at Gordon Hayward as a free agent this summer. He knows it’s not Butler or bust, so he didn’t go all in. He can afford to be patient right now, but eventually he will have to make a move.

The lack of a better market for Butler speaks to a couple of things. Phoenix, Denver, and other teams are correct to worry about overpaying for a player that could leave in a couple of years. Maybe they can win him over with their culture, maybe a team like Denver becomes very dangerous with Butler in the mix with Nikola Jokic, but is that enough. This is also where the looming shadow of Golden State, the Mount Everest looming over all things in the West, comes into play — how much do teams want to pay to try to contend right now?

Still, the Bulls could have done better. At least know a direction is set, the Bulls are rebuilding. Can Gar/Pax pull that off is another question entirely.

Klay Thompson goes up for 360 dunk in exhibition… and he’s not a dunker (VIDEO)

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Klay Thompson has an amazing skill set — one of the best pure shooters in the league, he can put the ball on the floor and create, and he’s a very good perimeter defender.

He’s not a dunker. Oh, he can dunk, but he’s not the guy you’re inviting to the Dunk Contest.

Case in point, this video out of China where Thompson was part of an exhibition and tried to show off his dunking skills.

Thompson’s shoe sponsor is China-based Anta, which explains why he’s there playing some exhibition ball. In case you missed it, Thompson had a Finals shoe released.

Those are about as good as the 360 dunk.

Sixers will talk contract extension for Joel Embiid this summer, want to lock him up

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Could Joel Embiid be Philadelphia’s Stephen Curry?

No, I don’t mean taking 30-foot bombs that demoralize opponents (although, no doubt Embiid is game for trying it). I mean in having a contract extension off his rookie deal for less than the max, a value contract that allows the Sixers the cap room to secure a title contender around him.

After three seasons in the NBA, Joel Embiid is eligible for a contract extension this summer (one that would be negotiated now but not kick in until the 2018-19 season). Teams lock up their stars at this point, and Embiid is that — he was dominant in the 31 games he played. But it’s 31 games in three seasons, how much do the Sixers want to pay here?

Sixers owner Joshua Harris said extending Embiid is a priority for the team this summer, speaking at a press conference, via the Courier Times.

“Look, I’d just say we want Joel to be on the team for a long time,” Harris said. “We want us all to grow old together. That’s the way I would put it.”

A max contract for Embiid would be five years at about $130 million, an average annual salary of $26 million. Because of his injury history, would he be willing to sign five years at $100 million, maybe with an opt-out after four? That extra cap space may not sound like a lot, it’s not a Curry-level savings, but it would help the Sixers’ team building.

If the two sides can’t reach a deal by Oct. 31 (the deadline), Embiid will play out this season then be a restricted free agent next season. If he stays healthy, he will get a max deal from another team that the Sixers would just match (the Sixers and Embiid could also reach a deal).

The Sixers are not about to let Embiid go, they have their young core they believe they can contend with in a few years. Plus he is a fan favorite. The only question left is cost.

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.