Brandon Bass,  Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo

Should we consider Boston a title contender now?


The play for the first three quarters of this season confirmed the conventional wisdom going in — the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls were the class of the East, everybody else was a couple of steps back.

But in the past 10 days, the Boston Celtics have thumped the Heat twice. And although the Bulls beat the Celtics in that time frame, anybody who has seen Chicago of late and waited for the return of Derrick Rose knows the Bulls are not at their peak. They look vulnerable.

With their play of late, do we have to consider the Celtics contenders?

Yes. But for them everything needs to go right — health, good matchups. Which is pretty much what everyone said about Dallas before last playoffs and…

Boston has certainly hit its stride of late. That all starts with their defense — that has been their calling card during this run, it had taken a small step back in recent seasons but this year they are back to being the best defensive team in the league. When you defend like that, you have a chance every night in the playoffs. And Kevin Garnett is still at the heart of that (and he’s scoring well of late, too).

The Celtics also are getting great play from their role players — against the Heat on Thursday Greg Stiemsma was a force in the first half, defending at the rim and knocking down midrange jumpers. The emergence of Avery Bradley has allowed Doc Rivers to bring the scoring punch of Ray Allen off the bench, giving the Celtics frightening depth. Brandon Bass is an upgrade from Big Baby. Even guys like Sasha Pavlovic are stepping up.

Rajon Rondo keys the offense — he is the guy who has to create for others, to get some easy buckets in transition, he has to keep the ball moving. Boston has become an offense that finds the mismatch and takes what the defense gives them. Miami gave them jump shots, Boston was disciplined and knocked down the looks. Boston also runs some nice Paul Pierce/Garnett pick and rolls, plus they move off the ball well.

It may come down to matchups — Boston clearly gives the Heat trouble. Boston’s ball movement exposes the help rotations of the Heat, then Boston has guys who can knock down the jumpers. It was not a lack of effort from the Heat Tuesday night, they just struggle with Rondo and Boston. Chicago — from the same defensive school as the Celtics — may be a tougher matchup for the Celtics. And it’s also the more likely second round contest.

But right now, when you talk of teams that have a chance to come out of the East, you have to mention the Celtics. They have earned their way into the conversation.

Beef? Bradley Beal says he wouldn’t have re-signed with Wizards and John Wall says he wouldn’t have begged Beal back if true

Bradley Beal, John Wall
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John Wall and Bradley Beal defined their relationship this summer.

Wall: “I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court.”

Beal: “It’s tough because we’re both alphas. … Sometimes I think we both lose sight of the fact that we need each other.”

It’s hard to spin those direct quotes. These aren’t anonymous sources or players venting after a tough loss. In the calm of the offseason, Wall and Beal spoke bluntly about their partnership in the Wizards backcourt.

But no matter how difficult now, Beal and Wall are trying to cast their relationship in a different light.

Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports:

“This is my brother at the end of the day,” Beal told The Vertical. “Nothing is going to change. If I didn’t want to be here, if we did beef, I wouldn’t have signed my contract. That’s what it ultimately comes down to.”

“And I wouldn’t have begged him to come back,” Wall interjected. “I would’ve been, ‘Don’t come back because in two years, I ain’t coming back.’ We would’ve figured something out. … I think everybody blew it out of proportion for no reason. I mean, if you look at any two great teammates, and two young, great guys, that’s talented and want to be great, you’re going to have ups and downs. Everything is not going to be perfect.”

The flaws in that logic:

Beal was a restricted free agent. The Wizards weren’t letting him go.

Wall is locked up for three more years. It’s in his best interest to have the best teammates possible in that time, whether or not he stays in Washington past 2019. The Wizards had no way to replace Beal with a similar-caliber player.

So, maybe Wall and Beal are completely cohesive. But even if they aren’t, circumstances dictated they continue their basketball partnership.

I believe last summer’s interviews exposed a rift that was forming somewhat beneath the surface. Their honest assessments in the open, Wall and Beal can now go about repairing any cracks in the foundation.

There’s an mostly unavoidable tension between a team’s two leading scorers. That they’re both guards who want to handle the ball makes it only more difficult.

But if Wall and Beal acknowledge their problems, they can try to work past them and win together.

Manu Ginobili: ‘I gave my right one for the Spurs. I can say it. I can really say it’

San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) poses for photos during Spurs Media Day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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Manu Ginobili missed weeks last season due to a testicular injury.

Once you finish wincing, let’s share a good laugh.

Casey Keirnan of News 4 San Antonio asked Ginobili whether he’s familiar with the phrase “I’d give my left…”


I gave my right one. I gave it all. I gave it all. I gave my right one for the Spurs. I can say it. I can really say it. True.

Why again did we anoint Tim Duncan THE franchise icon in San Antonio? I don’t think he ever made that level of sacrifice to the Spurs.

Report: Timberwolves declining Adreian Payne’s fourth-year option

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 7: Adreian Payne #33 of the Minnesota Timberwolves shoots a basket against Mitch McGary #33 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter of the preseason game on October 7, 2015 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Thunder defeated Timberwolves 122-99. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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A few players – Mitch McGary, Jordan Adams and R.J. Hunter – had their rookie-scale-contract team options declined as their teams waived them this offseason. Another player, P.J. Hairston, had his third-year option declined last fall.

But only one player that we know of so far from the 2013 and 2014 draft classes remains on a team but won’t finish his rookie-scale deal:

Timberwolves forward Adreian Payne, the No. 15 pick in 2014.

Minnesota will decline his $3,100,094 team option for 2017-18, a decision that will become official Tuesday.

Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN:

Payne will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. The Timberwolves can re-sign him, but only at a starting salary up to $3,100,094. Any other team can offer up to the max.

Payne probably won’t be worth $3,100,094 next summer. He’s a stretch four without 3-point range and a long 2-point jumper that is expectedly inefficient. He doesn’t move well enough in any direction, including vertically, to defend well. The concern on him coming out of Michigan State – that he relied too heavily on beating up on younger players – looks valid. Payne will be a 26-year-old free agent.

But $3,100,094 is a small amount against a large salary cap. Is it really worth letting Payne hit the open market without seeing what he does this season first?

This is the problem the Pacers ran into with Solomon Hill. They declined his $2,306,019 2016-17 team option, and he had a breakout year. He signed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Pelicans this summer as Indiana could do nothing but watch.

I don’t expect Payne to duplicate Hill’s emergence, but the Pacers obviously didn’t see it coming with Hill, either. As long as Payne remains on the team, it’s probably worth Minnesota buying itself an extra year of potentially cheap labor.

If Payne develops, he could be an irreplaceable bargain. If he doesn’t, it won’t cost much to waive him – especially because the Timberwolves can stretch him.

Even if the odds are against that plan bearing fruit, the upside is high enough to justify exercising the option.

But Minnesota apparently feels differently. Barring a sudden change of plans in the next few days, Payne will be on an expiring contract.

Kobe Bryant says he was nearly late to final game, because was busy editing short stories

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 13:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers waves to the crowd as he is taken out of the game after scoring 60 points against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center on April 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Already eliminated from the playoff chase, the Jazz weren’t focused for Kobe Bryant’s final game. They ceded 60 points to the over-the-hill superstar.

How locked in was Kobe?

Kobe via Thu-Huong Ha of Quartz:

“I was actually at the office until 4 or 4:15 editing a bunch of short stories, and lost track of time,” Bryant told the Wall Street Journal’s Dennis K. Berman. “And I looked at my watch, ‘Oh…I better go home. I got my last game to play.’”

Kobe clearly summoned a will to compete by the time he reached the arena. That was a sendoff for the ages.

But this is another sign he was ready for the next chapter in his life.