As Celtics offense falls off map they search for an identity

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It’s been this bad — in the last 10 games the Celtics offense has averaged 96.9 points per 100 possessions (via NBA.com’s own stats), which over the course of the season would be 29th in the NBA. Barely better than what’s left of the Wizards. At the other end, Boston’s defense has been inconsistent (it was not good against Chicago Tuesday, it had been better in general of late).

The result is a 12-12 team that is the current eight seed in the East. The Celtics right now are average.

Who are the Boston Celtics right now? A defensive team that likes to run and has great shooters? It doesn’t show and they look like a team searching for itself.

I’m not ready to start shoveling dirt on the Celtics yet, we did that early last season and they pulled it all together for a very good playoff run. But the hole is dug and they seem to be lowering themselves into it this season.

To me the issues start on offense. What leaps out of the statistics in the last 10 games is that while Boston is not shooting terribly well, they are really getting hurt by a lack of offensive rebounding and turnovers. Both of those have been long-standing issues for the Celtics, but ones they were able to overcome in the past by knocking down shots and getting to the free throw line. However Boston is pretty average to slightly below average in their last 10 games in shooting and free throws, which is not enough to cover up the flaws.

Boston turned its offense more over to Rajon Rondo this year and Doc Rivers told A. Sherrod Blakely he thinks Rondo is trying to do too much.

“He’s trying to do too much; forcing it instead of letting the ball find the scorer,” Rivers said. “It looked like Rondo was trying to make the play every time down. You know, that’s tough to do. And it’s not good for your offense anyway. He understands that.”

Frankly, I’m not worried about Rondo getting his groove back. Or for that matter Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce contributing well now and better late in the season and the playoffs.

But the bench is another issue — Boston thought they were adding depth this season but Jason Terry is not playing as big a role in the offense as he did in Dallas, Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee have struggled, and Jeff Green has been the guy Oklahoma City was willing to trade (he teases you with flashes and a good game or two, then reverts to form). Rivers is throwing everything, every lineup he can think of against a wall but nothing is sticking. Not consistently.

Which comes back to the identity question. Boston has always been a defensive team, but they just gave up a triple-double to Joakim Noah. Not Derrick Rose, but Joakim Noah. Rivers and Pierce said after Tuesday night they are still searching to see who they are, as reported by Blakely at CSNNE.com.

“This team is not a good team right now,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers whose team is now 12-12 on the season. “It’s who we are right now. We’re a .500 team and we play like that. We’ve won two games in a row for the season. Right now, we’re not a good team. We’re going to find, but not right now. We’re going to keep searching for it.”

“Right now we have no identity,” said a visibly disappointed Paul Pierce following Tuesday’s loss to the Bulls, their third straight. “We’re supposed to be a defensive team. But giving up 100 points every night, we’re inconsistent on the court … we’re still searching, trying to find out who we want to be for this season.”

More than 20 games in, that’s not good. Especially in an East where the Heat know who they are (even if they don’t execute it nightly) and the Knicks have figured themselves out.

Boston has a long way to go to reach their goals. But we said that about them last season.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.