Shane Larkin

Associated Press

Even without Kyrie Irving, Celtics hold off Hornets 90-87

1 Comment

BOSTON (AP) — Another game, another injury, another win for the Boston Celtics.

Jayson Tatum had 16 points, Shane Larkin added 16 off the bench and the Celtics overcame an injury to Kyrie Irving and a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Charlotte Hornets 90-87 on Friday night.

Terry Rozier finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, and four assists, playing an increased role after Irving left the game in the first quarter after taking an elbow to the face. Jaylen Brown added 10 points and 13 rebounds.

The Celtics extended their win streak to 11 games. Charlotte has lost four straight.

“We just got a lot of fighters, a lot of resilient guys,” Larkin said of a team that’s now seen Gordon Hayward, Al Horford and now Irving beset by injuries.

He said his teammates’ misfortunes have underlined the necessity of staying ready.

“I’m always locked it. That’s my job. I don’t know when my opportunity’s gonna be there,” Larkin said. “Tonight I hit some shots early, coach kept rocking with me, so I tried to throw my best.”

Celtics center Aron Baynes‘ elbow inadvertently struck Irving when Baynes was landing after a rebound attempt. Irving fell to the floor and was bleeding from the nose as he was escorted back to the locker room. Irving was ruled out for the rest of the game while he was monitored for possible concussion symptoms.

Larkin said Irving spoke to the team at halftime and texted them all congratulations on the win.

Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 20 points and 11 assists.

Celtics trailed by 12 after three quarters, but opened the fourth on a 16-3 run and took the lead with 4:05 to play on a basket by Brown.

The lead grew to five before Walker’s three-point play got the Hornets back within 86-85. Marcus Morris connected on a jumper, but Walker responded with a driving layup to get it back to a point.

Boston called timeout, but Rozier accidently stepped out of bounds on the ensuing inbounds play. Walker dribbled the clock down, but his jumper bounced off the back of the rim and was rebounded by Rozier. He was fouled and sank two free throws with 3.6 seconds left.

Charlotte struggled throughout the final period, going 4 of 20 from the field and committing six turnovers.

“We’re giving up huge leads. We’re not maintaining our game,” Walker said. “We’ve got to be better as a whole.”

With Irving out, Charlotte took advantage against Boston’s reserves early, stretching its lead to as many as 18 in the second quarter and taking a 16-point lead into halftime.

 

Report: Cavaliers evaluating Kyrie Irving trade after Isaiah Thomas physical

9 Comments

The Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick – pending physicals.

Boston acknowledged that Thomas’ hip injury played a role in the deal. It also might factor into the trade getting voided.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

It doesn’t take Miss Cleo to read these tea leaves. Cleveland is clearly concerned.

The Cavs don’t need Thomas ready to start the season. With him on an expiring contract, they don’t even necessarily need him to have great longevity – though he would certainly like to be healthy enough to cash in next summer, and they would ideally like to re-sign him (and LeBron James). But most of all, the Cavaliers need Thomas healthy this May and June for a playoff run that could realistically culminate with another championship.

If it appears too unlikely Thomas is up to that, the Cavs have no choice but to flunk his physical and negate the trade.

The big question: How unlikely is too unlikely?

Cleveland got so much in the deal – Crowder (a versatile wing built to match up with the Warriors), Zizic (a fine young prospect) and that sweet, sweet Brooklyn pick that alone might near Irving’s value. The Cavaliers obviously don’t need Thomas perfectly healthy to come out ahead, which is self-evident in them making the trade while Thomas is still rehabbing his hip.

The teams could always try to re-work the trade, though it wouldn’t be easy. They tried for weeks before finding this configuration.

Thomas, an All-NBA second-teamer who averaged 29 points per game last season, was supposedly key in appeasing Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s desire to acquire a star for Irving. Maybe Boston can swap in other players – including point guards Marcus Smart and/or Terry Rozier – but that might not placate Cleveland. It’d also be superfluous for the Celtics to keep Thomas while adding Irving, at least if Thomas can play.

And just which players would Boston include in a revised deal? Marcus Morris can’t be aggregated in a trade until Sept. 7. Aron Baynes, Shane Larkin and Daniel Theis can’t be traded at all until Dec. 15. Options are narrow.

If the deal gets undone, there would be a lot of hurt feelings on both sides.

Irving, of course, requested a trade from Cleveland. How would he handle returning after believing he had moved on? How would his teammates welcome him back after coming to terms with his exit?

Likewise, Thomas might not be keen on returning to the Celtics. I wouldn’t blame him for looking around the locker room and front office and wondering whom he can trust. Even if Thomas returned to Boston and played well, there’d be no chance of pitching him with loyalty in free agency next summer.

The simplest answer might be the Cavaliers getting another pick from the Celtics, which wouldn’t affect the trade’s cap math, in exchange for taking greater risk on Thomas’ hip. That’d avoid a lot of drama.

If even amenable to that – they’re already giving up so much – the Celtics would probably want to conduct another physical of their own on Thomas. Otherwise, what would stop the Cavs from signaling concern just to extort an extra pick from Boston?

There are good reasons for both teams to take their time in evaluating this. It just must be excruciating for everyone involved.

Kyrie Irving leaves $1,668,172-$5,845,172 on the table by waiving trade kicker

1 Comment

Kyrie Irving wanted a trade from the Cavaliers.

He put his money where his mouth is to facilitate a deal to the Celtics.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Irving’s trade bonus could have been worth 15% of his remaining salary before a 2019 player option – up to $5,845,172. But that amount would have rendered the trade – Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick – illegal under the NBA’s salary-matching trade rules. Boston could take back only its outgoing salary plus $5 million, and Irving’s base salary left just $834,086 to spare.

That meant the maximum trade bonus Irving could have received in this deal was $1,668,172 – $834,086 applied to both seasons before his player option.

The Celtics could have sent out more salary, allowing Irving to earn a higher portion of his kicker, which would have been paid by the Cavs by rule. But Boston is short on filler salary – especially because Marcus Morris can’t be aggregated in a trade until Sept. 7, and Aron Baynes, Shane Larkin and Daniel Theis can’t be traded at all until Dec. 15. Including anyone else would have meant the Celtics surrendering even more value – and they already gave up so much. Maybe Cleveland would have balked at paying extra to Irving, who already threw them for a loop with his trade request.

But the possibility of Irving pocketing a trade bonus was there. Whether $1,668,172 is a lot to someone earning $18,868,626 this season is in the eye of the beholder.

That Irving didn’t maximize his income by pushing for a different trade that could’ve allowed him to receive more of his trade bonus or even demanding the maximum amount allowable in this trade speaks to his desire to leave Cleveland. It also says something about his eagerness to join the Celtics, which should make them a little more confident about re-signing him in two years.

Though Irving signing an extension is almost certainly unrealistic, these little signals matter as his free agency looms.

With Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, Celtics continue ascent – just not as steeply as hoped

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
3 Comments

NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Celtics landed the No. 1 pick and signed the top free agent to change teams.

Given that, it feels like their offseason should have gone better.

Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward are nice, and I won’t lose sight of that here. But…

Boston traded down from the top pick to No. 3 to draft Tatum. Count me among those who believed there was a significant drop from Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball to the next tier – and the tier after that.

The extra first-rounder the Celtics acquired has also only lost value since the trade.

It’d convey from the Lakers if they pick 2-5 next year. But they added two players, Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, better than they were expected to get. Los Angeles looks less likely to stumble into a top-five pick – especially without incentive to tank.

If not the Lakers’ pick this season, Boston will get the higher of Sacramento’s and Philadelphia’s 2019 first-rounders (or lower if one is No. 1). The Kings signed a couple veterans, George Hill and Zach Randolph, to help them in 2018-19. Sacramento’s young players will be more developed by then, and mirroring the Lakers this year, there’s no incentive to tank. (Philadelphia is also on the rise, but the Celtics probably already knew that.)

There’s still a chance Boston winds up with a high pick – or even wins the trade with a middling additional selection. Tatum, as the Celtics have claimed, might be a better prospect than Fultz outright.

I originally thought the trade was about fair. Developments swing the pendulum away from Boston, though perhaps I’m overly colored by my relatively dim evaluation of Tatum. (I expected the Celtics to draft Josh Jackson when the trade was made.)

Boston’s next big move, signing Hayward, also comes with a major caveat. To get Hayward, the Celtics had to downgrade from Avery Bradley to Marcus Morris.

The reasons are clear: Bradley is earning $8,808,989 in the final season of his contract. Morris is locked up for two more seasons at $5 million and $5,375,000.

Not only was that salary difference essential for clearing max cap space now, Bradley will enter unrestricted free agency with Isaiah Thomas next summer. The raises necessary to re-sign both likely would’ve pushed the Celtics higher into the luxury tax than they’re willing to go. Thomas and Morris should be affordable.

Morris is a fine player, but it looks like he’s caught between better combo forwards (Hayward and Jae Crowder) and higher-upside/younger combo forwards (Jaylen Brown and Tatum). How much will Morris matter in Boston?

Bradley certainly did plenty, defending the better opposing guard so the undersized Thomas didn’t have to. Marcus Smart can handle some of that responsibility, but that cuts into the time he can play in relief of Thomas at point guard and the time he can defend forwards.

Getting Aron Baynes for the room exception was solid. He might even start for the Celtics, eating up minutes against big starting centers. I suspect Al Horford will play center in most pivotal minutes, though.

Signing Baynes was one of Boston’s several respectable moves – drafting Semi Ojeleye in the second round, signing 2016 first-rounders Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic and paying to take a flier on Shane Larkin.

But the real needle-movers were signing Hayward, a 27-year-old versatile star, and adding a highly touted talent in Tatum. Even in the less-flattering greater context, those are huge additions.

Offseason grade: A-

Phil Jackson names biggest mistake with Knicks: Not taking Jae Crowder in Mavericks trade

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
3 Comments

Jae Crowderone of the NBA’s most underrated players – went to the Celtics from the Mavericks in the Rajon Rondo trade (which, in hindsight, should be called the Jae Crowder trade). He then re-signed with Boston on an absurdly cheap contract.

But the Knicks could’ve had him instead.

New York traded Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Mavericks for a package of middling assets in June 2014. One of those middling assets was the No. 34 pick in the upcoming draft. It could’ve been Crowder.

Knicks president Phil Jackson, via Charley Rosen of Today’s Fastbreak:

I think the biggest mistake I made was actually this…One of the first deals I engineered when I came back to New York was to trade Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, plus a second-round pick that the Mavs owed to the Celtics. In talking with Boston, I was given the option of taking that pick or else taking Jae Crowder. I liked Crowder but I thought he wouldn’t get much of a chance to play behind Carmelo, so I took the pick which turned out to be Cleanthony Early. While Cleanthony has missed lots of time in the past two seasons with us, he still has the potential to be a valuable player. Even so, I should have taken Crowder.

I’m not sure what the Celtics had to do with this. Crowder was with Dallas then, and so was the No. 34 pick that became Early (though that selection was originally Boston’s before a 2013 draft-night trade with the Mavericks). Jackson wouldn’t have been negotiating with the Celtics at all. My guess: Rosen got mixed up in his transcription.

Anyway, yeah, that stinks for the Knicks.

This is definitely an after-the-fact critique. Crowder hadn’t come into his own yet.

But he and Carmelo Anthony could’ve played together as combo forwards. The beauty of Crowder’s game is his ability to fit with anyone. So, Jackson’s logic leaves plenty to be desired. Passing on Crowder because an early second-rounder appeared more valuable at the time is far more defensible.

That Early is already out of the league only adds to the sting.

On the bright side, Crowder would’ve made the Knicks better and maybe cost them Kristaps Porzingis – who’s even more valuable than Crowder.