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.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).