What the Celtics should do when the lockout ends

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PBT is working its way through what every team in the NBA should do when the NBA lockout ends. To see all the teams we’ve done so far, click here. Today, we talk Boston Celtics.

Last season in Boston: The Celtics won 56 games, entered the playoffs as the three seed and smacked the Knicks around in the first round. For a lot of teams that would be a good season. In Boston it started the “end of the dynasty that wasn’t really a dynasty” talk. Everyone seemed to focus on two things. One was the trade of Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the deadline for Jeff Green, and how that impacted chemistry. Second is how easily Miami knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs in five games in the second round.

For the record, the Perkins traded is not what cost the Celtics against Miami — they needed offense in the paint against the Heat, something Perkins would not have provided. The loss to Miami happened because the Heat were better at the time. Which is an issue because they are also younger and likely to be even better next season.

Since we last saw the Celtics… they have seen very little change — which is news itself. Boston is keeping its core together — Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo — plus keeping Doc Rivers in charge. They are going to make one more run at a ring. Then it is transition time.

The Celtics did draft E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson from Purdue back in June, both potentially good players. However, neither is going to play a significant role as a rookie on a contender. And the Celtics fancy themselves contenders.

When the lockout ends, the Celtics need to… figure out what to do about Jeff Green, find some help in the paint and find a way to get a little more athletic. Then go sacrifice a goat to the injury gods, or do whatever else it takes to keep this team healthy for a season.

About the decision to make one more run at it with this core, Jeff Clark is the man behind the fantastic OG Boston hoops site CelticsBlog, explains it for us.

For what seems like the third straight year, the Celtics have one more shot with the Big 3. With Garnett and Allen on the final year of their deals there’s a sense of finality this time. Next year, if they are still in Celtic green, it will likely be because they are back on a steep discount, or something went wrong with the grand plan. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. When this mess of a labor situation is resolved, they have to bring out the duct tape, wires, and bubble gum and hope it looks more like McGyver and less like uncle Cletus’ pickup.

Those guys need help and Celtics fans dream big, but this will be help on a budget for Boston. They are shopping at Payless Shoes, not the Nike store. If Green accepts the qualifying offer ($5.9 million, and the Celtics hope he does) they will have $66 million in salary on the books and seven players under contract. Again Jeff Clark explains:

Regardless of what kind of CBA the sides agree on, the Celtics won’t have much money to throw around. They will hope that the same goes for other teams as well since they are hoping against hope that Jeff Green gets no other reasonable offers and accepts the qualifying offer. “Big Baby” Glen Davis is the other free agent and they’ll probably wait for the market to set his value. He’d help the team, but I don’t think Doc will shed any tears seeing him move on.

Personally, I’m not the world’s biggest Green fan. Oh, he’s a nice player. But the expectations are consistently higher than the result and his defense has lacked. I’d say Boston wouldn’t miss him, but in a down free agent year there are not a lot of viable replacements for him floating around. So hope he takes a one-year offer, then the Celtics can let him go.

Defense is still the calling card for the Celtics and KG is still the anchor of that defense. But he needs help on the front line — that is what Perkins did bring. Ideally they’d get a little offense out of that spot too, but what they need most is defense and rebounding. Clark of CelticsBlog does not paint an optimistic picture.

The biggest need the team has, however, is finding some help in the middle. They need someone that can rebound and defend and get out of the way on offense. Names like Kwame Brown, Jason Collins, and Joel Przybilla don’t exactly quicken the pulse, but they will likely be available in the discount bins that we’ll be shopping at. The other hope is that some amnesty casualty decides to spurn the Heat and sign with the Celtics instead.

Finally the rest of the squad will be filled with rookies (like 1st round pick JaJuan Johnson), young players (like last year’s first rounder Avery Bradley), old faces (probably Delonte West), and maybe even some old flames (Danny has always had a thing for guys like Yi Jianlian, Robert Swift, and Josh Howard). Will it be enough to get the Celtics another shot at a banner or will it just be a “bridge year?” Only father time will tell.

Father time is the key. If healthy and rested, with some help in the paint, the Celtics are a contender. But they are a now a team that is in the second tier of contenders — they need everything to go right for them for it to work. There is no margin for error anymore. And it can be a long season when you need everything to go right.

But count out Boston at your own risk. There are a lot of banners up in that city for a reason.

Marc Gasol makes 3/4-court shot just after buzzer (video)

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When Marc Gasol‘s 3/4-court attempt went through the net, it seemed to barely matter the ball left his hands just after the first-quarter buzzer. After all, the Grizzlies led the Mavericks by 15, anyway.

Turns out, Memphis really needed that basket.

Watch Knicks string together 28-0 run against Raptors

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Toronto has been the second best team in the East this young season. Not that anyone is really convinced they will be called that by the time we get to the playoffs (or even the All-Star break, or even Christmas), but for the first 16-18 games of the season their new move-the-ball offense had them at 11-5 and looking solid.

Wednesday night the Knicks dismantled the Raptors.

Especially in the third quarter when the Knicks went on a 28-0 run to blow the doors off the Raptors (video above). The Knicks dominated the third 41-10, when Toronto shot just 1-of-16 from the floor.

New York is gaining confidence with each win this season, they are a fun team to watch that is starting to find an identity (now that a certain three-sided shaped one is not being forced upon them). Kristaps Porzingis is a monster, and while the Knicks overpaid the market for Tim Hardaway Jr. he has lived up to his contract this season. With rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina showing some nice defense and playmaking skills as a rookie (although he is undoubtedly still a work in progress), you can see a path to a strong future unfolding. There are real reasons for hope in New York. Someone just keep James Dolan distracted and away from the basketball operations side of the building.

Devin Booker forces OT with deep turnaround buzzer-beating 3-pointer, but Bucks beat Suns (video)

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I’m not sure who benefited from Devin Booker‘s buzzer-beating, overtime-forcing 3-pointer. The Suns still lost to the Bucks, 113-107. The extra five minutes featured more of the same relatively bad basketball we’d seen between Phoenix (bad) and Milwaukee (shorthanded) through 48 minutes.

But darn if this shot wasn’t really cool and clutch.

Three Things to Know: Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder against Warriors

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. As a matter of housekeeping, this will be the last Three Things of this week, as we take a holiday break. Happy Thanksgiving!

1) Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder we’ve been waiting for. Don’t make Russell Westbrook angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Unless you’re a Thunder fan, then you’ll love him. Westbrook came out with an edge we haven’t seen from him this season as he has tried to play nice and integrate Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Not Wednesday night. Wednesday night Kevin Durant and his Warriors came to town, and Westbrook was not taking it from anyone.

That sparked the Thunder team we have been waiting for all season. Westbrook finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and he was joined by Anthony with 22 points, and George with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 steals. The Thunder used a 22-10 first-quarter run to take the lead and never looked back, leading by 26 at one point and going on to win 108-91. This was by far the best the Thunder have looked all season as they have stumbled to a 7-9 start before Wednesday. Maybe this game was the spark they needed to start playing well at the end of games — they closed out well against Golden State. Maybe this was what the Thunder needed to find themselves and become the playoff threat to the Warriors we expected.

As for the Warriors… ¯_(ツ)_/¯. We haven’t said this about them this season (only the Cavaliers), but they looked disinterested much of the night (outside of Durant). Give credit to the Thunder, physical and aggressive defenses that can overplay the Warriors (and recover) give them trouble, and OKC did that. The Warriors just didn’t care to counter. They looked like a team coasting through a road trip (2-2 in their last 4), and when they ran into a quality, motivated team they didn’t have the gear. That doesn’t mean anything long-term, but it means they may be vulnerable during the season until they find their edge again. Whenever they flip the switch.

2) Miami ends Boston’s win streak at 16. For a couple of weeks now the Celtics had been living dangerously — they had to come back from double-digits to win four of their last five games heading into Wednesday night.

Their luck ran out against the Miami Heat.

Miami raced out to a double-digit first-quarter lead, pushed that lead to 19 and were comfortably ahead most of the game, and we kept waiting for the Boston run. It came in the fourth, a 13-0 push that made it a game again. However, Miami responded with a 5-0 run of their own, Dion Waiters seemed especially motivated to take on Kyrie Irving, and the Heat held on for the 104-98 win. Goran Dragic had 27 points, Waiters 26 and 6 assists.

Boston’s streak was bound to end, but they established themselves as a strong defensive team during that run, and the squad in the East best poised to knock off LeBron James and the Cavaliers. We’re a long way from the games that matter in that push — the Cavs have won six in a row, and are playing defense again — but we know the pecking order for who gets a shot at the champs. Boston will get their shot, and early on they look like they will be ready.

3) Patrick Beverley is out for the season and the Los Angeles Clippers have some hard questions to answer. For the first four games of the season, we saw the potential of what this Clipper roster could be — four head-turning wins. Then the injuries started to pile up — Milos Teodosic, Danilo Gallinari, and starting point guard Patrick Beverley — and so did the losses. Nine in a row, until they picked up a road win in Atlanta Wednesday.

Now comes a brutal blow — the Clippers have lost point guard Patrick Beverley for the season. He had microfracture surgery on his knee and will be out until next season.

That’s a real blow to the Clippers, and it means they may need to answer some harsh questions. If the losses continue to pile up and this is clearly not a playoff team by the time we get to Christmas — a reality that became a more possible on Wednesday — do they need to trade free agent to be DeAndre Jordan? Other teams are already calling and asking if he is available in a trade, if the Clippers think they can’t resign him this summer (or at least the odds are lower than they like) they have to consider the move. Los Angeles wouldn’t get a lot back for a rental, but they would get something to help the rebuild they need to consider.

The other question: How much longer is Doc Rivers the coach. The sense from many around the league is the reason he wasn’t let go when he was stripped of his GM powers this summer was he is making more than $10 million a year and had a couple of years left on his deal, and that was too much for even Steve Ballmer to just eat. Plus Rivers has shown he can coach. Whether he can coach this team still is a different question entirely. Right now, this team is not responding to him, and the sense around the league is the question is when, not if, he will be let go.