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.

DeMarcus Cousins has dropped a ton of weight this offseason already (PHOTO)

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New Orleans Pelicans DeMarcus Cousins has been known to carry a bit of weight on his frame. He is currently listed at 6-foot-11 and 270 pounds.

It appears that last bit has significantly changed over the off-season.

Cousins has reportedly dropped quite a bit of weight during his off-season regimen, eating right and even hiring the personal trainer who made Julius Randle look so good in just a short amount of time for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Speaking to WDSU, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry Said cousins was primed to take a new role for the pelicans next season, taking on a bit of a ball handler role as a point center. That should be easily done now that cousins has gained a little bit of mobility by shedding some weight.

Via WDSU:

When I saw DeMarcus, his body looked great. He invited us to his house for lunch; he’s eating really healthy — he’s got a chef that he’s hired. I was really, really excited about what he’s taken from the standpoint of trying to get himself ready for the season and obviously he feels like this is a very important season for him.

Looking at Cousins’ Instagram, you can clearly see the results of his eating and training regimen. He looks damn near svelte.

The newly-formed Pelicans had a disappointing end to the season, but with more time together they will certainly be one of the teams to watch in the Western Conference.

Rumor: Cavaliers, Pacers, and Nuggets discussed 3-way deal with Paul George, Kevin Love

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Don’t count the Cleveland Cavaliers out of the Paul George sweepstakes just yet.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein and Chris Haynes, the Cavaliers are still working on a way to get George with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in Ohio.

The latest rumor involves a three way deal being discussed between the Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, and Denver Nuggets. According to Hayes, the deal would send George and Kenenth Faried to Cleveland and Kevin Love to Denver.

Presumably, Indiana would end up with good picks and a few young assets.

Via Twitter:

There is a lot to think about here given the potential for this trade. The first is how the Cavaliers would be able to complete a deal without a general manager in place. Owner Dan Gilbert fired David Griffin just last week. The Cavaliers are still talking to former NBA player Chauncey Billups about a chance to run the front office, but nothing has been decided just yet.

As good as George is, with the way that Kevin Love played in the 2017 NBA playoffs, it’s a wonder that the Cavaliers would want to let him go. The Golden State Warriors ate up Tristan Thompson in several of their Finals games, and Love was often the best player outside of LeBron on the floor for Cleveland.

Rumors also have George as being adamant that he is a one year rental only. His preferred landing place is still Los Angeles with the Lakers.

How a one year rental would work in exchange for one of Cleveland’s best players is sort of confusing. Even if the Cavaliers landed George and Faried, they would need to add yet another piece in order to get over the hump as the Eastern Conference strengthens and as they try to face off against the Warriors yet again.

This NBA off-season has been particularly crazy, and I don’t expected to calm down anytime soon.

Watch Isiah Thomas work out Lakers No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball (VIDEO)

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Lonzo Ball Is finally a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. Magic Johnson & Co. took him with the second overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft on Thursday.

Despite a few issues with his draft workouts with the Lakers, Ball was still the top choice for Los Angeles when they came to select after Markelle Fultz was off the board. The Lakers have already given Ball more control of the team after trading D'Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets last week.

Before the draft, Ball took some time out to work in his back yard and on his home court with NBA legend Isiah Thomas.

Check out the interaction between the two and see where Ball grew up learning to shoot his oddly-formed but highly-accurate jumper.

Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki to Harrison Barnes: “You need major skill to get to 20 years”

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Harrison Barnes is set to be a foundational piece for the Dallas Mavericks for years to come. He is trying to learn all he can from one of the greatest Mavericks of all time in Dirk Nowitzki.

So what has Barnes learned under Nowitzki’s tutelage?

Well, for one thing, he’s going to need to learn an elite-level skill if he wants to lead when Nowitzki is gone.

Speaking with the Dallas News, Barnes said that Nowitzki sarcastic but tough when it comes to gym habits and player development.

Via Dallas News:

“Honestly, I’ve just been trying to work as hard as I can and spend as much time as I can with him in the gym. I remember one day at practice we’re standing on the sidelines on the gym and said, ‘Oh man, Dirk, you’re about to get to 20 years. That’s impressive. Do you think I can get to 20 years?’ He’s like, ‘No way man. You need major skill to get to 20 years.’ So that’s kind of the nature of our relationship. I just want to try to become the best basketball player that I can and follow the mold that he’s set here in Dallas for years and years of just constantly getting better every single year.”

Knowing Dirk’s personality, there is a fair bit of tongue-in-cheek happening here but he’s not entirely wrong.Barnes was a jack of all trades for the Golden State Warriors before he signed his contract with the Mavericks. Nowitzki is one of the greatest scores in NBA history, and he obviously has more than one major skill under his belt.

Even still, it’s good advice for Barnes moving forward.