Celtics will be back for one more run, but they shouldn’t

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The time has now passed. The window has closed.

Make no mistake, the Celtics are still a good team. Bring them back next year and they will win 50-plus games and put up a fight in the playoffs. But they are not a great team. Nor will they be again with this group. Boston fought valiantly in Game 5 in Miami; they showed the resolve of a champion. Kevin Garnett was a lion.

Except, the future showed itself in the final minutes, when Miami pulled away. Miami was better, more athletic, more aggressive. The Celtics are not championship-caliber any longer. And this group will not be again.

Don’t get caught up in the “if Rajon Rondo were healthy,” “if Shaq were healthy/if we hadn’t traded Perkins,” “if this one shot had fallen” line of thinking. It’s a fool’s gold future to think that tweaks are all that is needed to get another banner with this group.

Next season, Ray Allen will be 36 years old, Kevin Garnett 35, Paul Pierce 34. If you can keep them healthy until the playoffs, you still know that you’re best players are going to be less athletic, less mobile, easier to defend and not able to defend as well.

The Heat will get better — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are just starting to figure out how to play off each other in these playoffs, how to work as a unit. And their supporting cast will only get better (they are starting Mike Bibby, and have you seen him?).

Pretty much the same story in Chicago. The Bulls will get better and maybe find another good scoring option besides league MVP Derrick Rose.

It’s time, Boston. The window has closed.

The Celtics’ Big Three are all under contract for next season (technically, Allen has a $10 million option, but he will pick it up). Coach Doc Rivers is talking about coming back rather than spending a year hanging out at Mike Krzyzewski’s practices to watch his son play for Duke.

He should walk now. For Boston, it’s time to think about moving one or more of the Big Three to bring in quality, younger parts to start rebuilding around Rondo. Younger shooters, younger big men. You have to welcome Rivers back if he wants to do it, but you need to think about who is next and who can take this team into the future (that could be Rivers, but does he want to is another question).

The best teams rebuild too early rather than too late. The hated Lakers did it moving Shaq to get Lamar Odom and parts that eventually became Pau Gasol. (Which was kind of a steal at the time, but that Marc Gasol guy turns out was good.) Better too soon than too late.

The Celtics would be wise to follow that path, despite what their hearts tell them. General manager Danny Ainge has shown a willingness to make that choice (even if the Kendrick Perkins trade was ill-advised — the right idea but bad execution).

It’s not clear right now what the path is to another title (it’s clouded by a new collective bargaining agreement in the offing), but it is not clinging to the past. It’s time to start walking down the road to the future. The time for the Big Three is done, it’s time to break them up. Time for the Celtics to move on to their next iteration. To build for another title with another core.

It’s sad to do. But it’s time.

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.

Clippers win likely playoff preview 108-95 over Jazz

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jamal Crawford scored 28 points off the bench, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Utah Jazz 108-95 on Saturday to clinch a playoff berth for the sixth straight year.

The Clippers trail the Jazz by a half-game in their race for the No. 4 playoff seed in the West. The teams are likely to face in the first round of the postseason.

Blake Griffin added 15 points and DeAndre Jordan had 15 rebounds for the Clippers.

Rudy Gobert had 26 points and 14 rebounds for Utah, and reserve Joe Johnson added 17 points. The Jazz have dropped four of five.

Utah rallied in the third, putting together a 20-6 spurt to trim Los Angeles’ lead to 72-70 heading into the final period. Gobert had nine points and Johnson scored seven during the run that included 10 straight points for the Jazz over one stretch.

Chris Paul and Crawford both got technicals while the Clippers struggled to score and defend.

But Los Angeles turned things around in the fourth, scoring the first eight points for an 80-70 lead. Crawford had 17 points in the quarter, scoring six in a row to push the Clippers’ lead to 103-84. He was 9 of 9 at the free-throw line for the game.

The Clippers grabbed control early on, shooting 52 percent in the first quarter while building a 15-point lead.

The Jazz got within seven to start the second before the Clippers restored their 15-point margin and eventually led 49-41 at halftime.

Utah’s top two scorers, Gordon Hayward and George Hill, struggled. Hayward, who averages 22 points, had 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Hill, who averages 17.1, had nine points while shooting 4 of 11.

TIP-INS

Jazz: Gobert was coming off a career-high 35-point, 15-rebound performance against the Knicks on Tuesday. … G Sheldon Mack missed his 11th straight game with a left ankle sprain. … F/C Derrick Favors remains out with a left knee bone contusion.

Clippers: Their six-year playoff run is the longest in franchise history. … They have won 18 of 20 against the Jazz dating to Feb. 1, 2012. … They won the season series 3-1.

 

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Sixers’ Joel Embiid officially has knee surgery, expected to be back on court in summer

Associated Press
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“The… follow-up MRI of Joel Embiid‘s left knee appears to reveal… the previously identified meniscus tear appears more pronounced in this most recent scan.”

When Philadelphia’s chief medical director Dr. Jonathan Glashow said that in a statement announcing Joel Embiid was being shut down for the season, the chance of knee surgery to clean up that meniscus was possible. Friday it became a reality, the team announced.

CSNPhilly.com had the details.

The team expects Embiid to resume basketball activities during this summer, according to Sixers director of performance research and development Dr. David T. Martin. Embiid will begin his rehab in Los Angeles with specialists and Sixers medical and training staff members.

“The overall status of Joel’s lateral meniscus and his cartilage is very good,” surgeon Dr. Neal S. ElAttrache, M.D., who performed the surgery, said in a statement. “Today’s procedure focused on removing a small portion of the meniscus that was responsible for his symptoms.

“The recovery program that has been established targets Joel transitioning back to full weight-bearing in approximately two weeks, at which point a conservative approach to his rehabilitation will be introduced.”

After Embiid missed two seasons with foot issues, there is a tendency to lump everything together and call him injury prone. This, however, was a minor surgery with a relatively short recovery period, even as the Sixers bring him along slowly. There is reason for concern, but this shouldn’t be an issue by next training camp.

Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game despite a minutes restriction all season. He was incredibly efficient in getting his numbers — he had an All-Star level PER of 24.2 — and when he was on the court the Sixers outscored their opponents by 3 points per 100 possessions. He’s still likely a top three finisher in Rookie of the Year balloting despite playing in just 31 games.