Celtics' Garnett talks with Rondo during a time out against Knicks in the second half during their NBA basketball game in New York

NBA Season Preview: Boston Celtics

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Last season: They went 39-27 and won the Atlantic Division, which was nice but in Boston division titles are not how a team is measured. They handled the Hawks as expected in the first round of the playoffs, then in the second round ran into a plucky but inexperienced Sixers team and Boston won in 7 games.

But what really happened through the course of the season and the first two rounds is Boston found its identity — Avery Bradley starting at the two, going small with Kevin Garnett at the five, Brandon Bass at the four and playing great defense. That identity was enough to give the Celtics a 3-2 series lead over the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. They had a real chance. Then Chris Bosh returned from injury, Miami won the final two and Boston’s season ended with a feeling this core wasn’t done.

Key Departures: Ray Allen, frustrated with being the sixth man behind Bradley and not thinking Rajon Rondo was looking out for him, signed for less money in Miami. Boston is also going to miss the size and solid play off the bench that Greg Stiemsma provided. The other guys that left — Marquis Daniels, Ryan Hollins, E’Twaun Moore, Mickael Pietrus and others — can be replaced.

Key Additions: They brought in one of the better sixth men in the league in Jason Terry, who will provide both points and shot creation off the bench. They signed Courtney Lee, who will start at the two for Boston until Bradley returns from shoulder surgery, and Lee will bring good defense and three-point shooting that goes well with their style.

While technically he was around Boston last year, it’s like they add Jeff Green after he missed a season due to heart surgery. Good to see him back. I think Boston overpaid for Green, but he is a solid player off the bench. They also drafted a guy who should be solid as a rookie in Jared Sullinger (but some Boston fans seem to overvalue what he did at Summer League — he is not near the quality of Brandon Bass right now). Chris Wilcox is there and that’s a nice pickup. Jason Collin is there and… well, he’s there.

Three keys to the Celtics season:

1) The old guys all stay healthy and don’t regress too much. Yes, it’s cliché to say Boston is old and, really, they are not as old as they seem. With Allen gone and the return of guys like Green and Lee, Boston is younger overall than they were last year. They certainly are a deeper squad.

But in the end, they need Kevin Garnett (age 36) and Paul Pierce (35 when the season starts) to still be elite players. And to stay healthy. While neither are really injury prone, as players get older injuries (and the length of time they need to recover from them) become more prevalent. Pierce played through a knee injury last playoffs and it slowed him (even if he refused to admit it). Doc Rivers gets it as a coach and he is willing to lose games and sit guys to have his team ready, rested and healthy when the playoffs start. But it is still a concern.

2) They have got to improve on offense. We know Boston is going to defend like beasts — Rajon Rondo is one of the best defensive point guards in the game, Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley give them good wing defenders, and even a step slower Kevin Garnett’s defense in the paint is still quality. Boston will be a top three defensive team. But they were 24th in points per possession on offense last season (98.9 points per 100 possessions, when the league average was 101.8). One way to do that is to improve on their league-worst offensive rebound rate (they grabbed just 19.7 percent of their missed shots, the league average is 26.9 percent). Offensive rebounds are often easy buckets on put backs. Even if Boston is going small next season, they need to get more of these easy buckets.

3) Get to the free throw line more. This ties into No. 2 above. Doc Rivers has talked about this during the summer — last season Boston was 22nd in percentage of trips to the free throw line per possession. That number needs to come up for a couple reasons. It’s not Rajon Rondo’s game, but he needs to be part of the change. First, it’s easy points, just hit your free throws (and Boston is a solid free throw shooting team). Second, it lets them set their defense. Miami had success in the playoffs running off missed shots or turnovers, converting those into some easy buckets. Boston doesn’t score enough to make up for a lot of easy buckets. They need to eliminate them, and getting to the line more — meaning more guys attacking the rim and not settling just for jump shots.

What one thing should scare Celtics fans? Boston fans have let me have it on twitter when I suggested this before, but that may be because it strikes a little too close to home — even if everything goes right Boston still doesn’t beat Miami if the Heat are healthy. Boston fans point to getting to Game 7 with a host of injuries last year and a deeper team this year. Both true. But Miami had their second and third best players injured, they still won the series. Then they got better this summer. There’s a reason Rivers wants his team to hate the Heat. In the end, all the smart moves by Danny Ainge may not be enough.

How it likely works out: Boston is going to be one of the league’s better teams. They are going to defend. Jason Terry is going to have a big year (I think). The newfound depth will allow Doc Rivers to wear opponents down without wearing his own roster down. They are going to finish the season as one of the top three teams in the East… but the regular season is not how teams in Boston are judged. And in the playoffs the Celtics will be the kind of veteran threat that should scare opponents. They are going to make a run.

But in the end, their season probably ends pretty much like it did last year.

Prediction: 51-31, which I’m betting is the two or three seed in the East (the Heat will be on top and I think the Pacers will finish close to Boston in record). Come the playoffs, if they are healthy, another run to the conference finals is within their grasp. And if the Heat stumble at all, the Celtics could be right there. But don’t bet on a new banner in Boston, this team still remains a step below the league’s elite.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle reveals hilarious strategy for unlimited timeouts

Rick Carlisle
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Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle isn’t afraid to speak his mind or put his intelligence on display. The 2011 NBA Champion recently made comments amid a losing season that the NBA is better than digging ditches, where most of us would have to agree.

He’s also not afraid to game the game a little bit.

Via Twitter:

This feels like one of those moments where you realize that the answer to something simple is often right in front of you the entire time.

Carlisle is a basketball genius, and there’s nothing wrong if he’s technically playing within the rules — even if what he’s doing is asking for a penalty within those rules.

Don’t hate the player — or the coach — hate the game.

Wizards’ Tomas Satoransky says new role making adjustment to NBA hard

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26:  Tomas Satoransky #31 of the Washington Wizards dribbles the ball against the San Antonio Spurs at Verizon Center on November 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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There was a lot of preseason buzz about Wizards rookie Tomas Satoransky — he’s 6’7″, long, athletic, he’s got handles, and he made some impressive plays in preseason.

His regular season has been a disappointment. He’s playing more than 16 minutes a night, but is shooting just 40 percent from the field, is scoring 3.8 points with 2.4 assists per game, and he has a PER at 8 that suggests he could use some D-League run.

Why is he having trouble adjusting? He spoke to gigantes.com and said a lot of it is learning a new position (translation via Sportando).

“I’m not playing as a point guard, I’m playing mainly as 2 or 3 and that’s difficult for me,” Satoransky said. ‘When you played your entire career as point guard, it’s difficult to adapt to a new role, especially because you have to play defense against bigger guys. I know I have to do better to play in these roles”

With John Wall and Trey Burke on the Wizards, there isn’t a lot of room for run at the point for Satoransky. He also is adjusting to the NBA game — a third of his possessions come as the pick-and-roll ball handler (a big role for an NBA point guard) and he is shooting 34.8 percent on those, although he is passing well out of those situations (with passes the Wizards average almost a point per possession when he comes off the pick, stats via Synergy Sports). Satoransky also is getting a fair amount of spot-up looks but is shooting  28.6 percent on those.

There are a lot of things going wrong with the Wizards’ bench units, Satoransky is part of that but at least he’s a guy the Wizards want to take their time and develop. Scott Brooks is still figuring out how to make all this work at the same time. Which means Satoransky may have a good NBA future ahead of him, but there is a lot of work to come first, and this rookie season is going to be rough.

Grizzlies sign GM Chris Wallace, top executives to new deals

MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 24: Mike Conley receives the 2016 Joe Dumars NBA Sportsmanship Award from Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace prior to Game Four of the First Round of the NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on April 24, 2016 in Memphis, Tennessee. 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 Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies have signed general manager Chris Wallace and a pair of executive vice presidents in the front office to multi-year extensions.

The team announced the deals Thursday without disclosing the terms.

Controlling owner Robert Pera said in a statement that Wallace along with John Hollinger, executive vice president of basketball operations, and Ed Stefanski, executive vice president of player personnel, have established the culture he believes is necessary to compete in the NBA.

Wallace has been Memphis’ general manager since June 18, 2007. The Grizzlies have gone to six straight postseasons with 27 playoff victories after having none in the first three appearances.

Hollinger has been with Memphis since December 2012, and Stefanski has been with Memphis since July 2014.

Did Carmelo Anthony throw shade at Phil Jackson on Instagram?

New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) is congratulated by teammates after hitting a shot against the Charlotte Hornets during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, in New York. The Knicks won 113-111 in overtime. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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Phil Jackson, on a CBS show this week, took a little dig at Carmelo Anthony and how he plays in the Knicks offense.

“He can play that role that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant played. That’s a perfect spot for him, to be in that isolated position on the weak side. Because it’s an overload offense and there’s a weak-side man that always has an advantage if the ball is swung. Carmelo, a lot of times, wants to hold the ball longer than… we have a rule, if you hold a pass two seconds, you benefit the defense. So he has a little bit of a tendency to hold the ball for three, four, five seconds, then everybody comes to a stop. That is one of the things we work with. But he has adjusted to it, he knows what it can do and he’s willing to see its success.”

Anthony didn’t want to talk about it. However, after Knicks got their heads handed to them by the Cavaliers on national television Wednesday, Anthony took to Instagram.

UN-Phased (MyLifeSummedUpInOnePhoto) #StayMe7o

A photo posted by @carmeloanthony on

We can safely assume those were not messages to Kristaps Porzingis and Derrick Rose. Was it intended for Jackson? Anthony has plausible deniability here, but that seems the most likely answer.

To be fair, according to the Sports VU tracking cameras in arenas (stats via NBA.com), this season Anthony is holding the ball for less time and taking fewer dribbles than he did a season ago (1.64 dribbles per touch this season). He’s doing better.

But Jackson can never quite resist a dig. If you want to play conspiracy theory and try to read more into that, well, that seems to be the trend in America, in general, these days.