NBA Season Preview: Boston Celtics

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Last season: 56-26 and a tough out by the hand of LeBron James.

Head Coach: The perennially fantastic Doc Rivers. He may not have the mystique of Gregg Popovich or the cult appeal of Stan Van Gundy, but Rivers consistently does a great job of balancing the personalities on Boston’s roster while drawing up highly effective plays. Swell guy, to boot.

Key Departures: Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal, Nenad Krstic

Key Additions: Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling, Chris Wilcox

Best case scenario: Rajon Rondo puts together a complete campaign to power Boston to the East’s second seed, but a tough Conference Semifinal with the third-seeded Bulls looms. Even the Big Four’s collective brilliance in that highly competitive series isn’t good enough, as Boston’s run — and this era of Celtics basketball — is fittingly brought to a close due to the team’s lack of depth. The more things change, the more you have to uncomfortably rely on Jeff Green to provide productive minutes.

For that to happen: First, the obvious: Rondo needs to find a way to dispose of all that weighs on his mind, and make an impact rivaling that of the league’s other top point guards. When focused, Rondo is Boston’s best player, and a true terror on both ends of the court. When moody and distracted, he’s a legitimate tax on his squad, and a thorn in the side of Boston’s core vets. Sadly, there’s no Rondsetta stone (I’m so, so sorry) for the Celtics to harness, no cipher that reveals the path to accessing his complete potential. It’s all between Rondo’s ears, and if he can find some sense of peace (Or consistent rage? Rondo seems to play rather well when he’s angry), Boston will roll through almost any competition.

It’s also essential that Boston’s bigs stay healthy and productive for the entire season. This Celtics aren’t at all in a position to deal with a significant frontcourt injury; Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal, Brandon Bass, and Chris Wilcox make up a pretty solid rotation of bigs, but Green would have to play some serious minutes at the 4 in case of disaster. Considering the injury histories of Garnett and O’Neal — and Green’s career to date — that should make Celtics Nation a bit nervous.

More likely, the Celtics will: Follow a different course of action to a similar fate. Rondo’s performance may have a ridiculous amount of variability, but the same can hardly be said of the Celtics’ likely result. Boston — even if hobbled — isn’t likely at all to be dropped in the first round by inferior competition, and yet the Celtics lack serious potential to compete with either the Bulls or the Heat. There’s a chance they could still overwhelm the new-and-improved Knicks, but even that much is far from certain.

It’s been a great run for the Celtics, but the road ends in this year’s playoffs. Maybe the’ll go out in style as they claw their way into a Game 7, or maybe they’ll go quietly in the night. But it seems inescapable that the Celtics will go before they’re good and ready. This just isn’t a championship team — there are just too many pitfalls, and so little potential for offensive improvement. The league’s 18th best offense isn’t going to cut it for a title team, no matter how oppressive its defense.

Prediction: 44-22, good for the East’s third seed.

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).