Tyler Zeller

Associated Press

Report: Nets to sign center Tyler Zeller to two-year contract

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A couple years ago, Tyler Zeller was a regular part of the Celtics rotation, and while his game had slipped as of Monday morning he still was one of PBT’s 10 best free agents still on the market.

He’s not on the market anymore.

He will join Timofey Mozgov and Jarrett Allen in the big man rotation in Brooklyn reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The second year of the deal is not guaranteed.

This is another of the smart gamble moves by the Nets, taking a chance on a player who didn’t fit elsewhere but has some potential (like D'Angelo Russell). Zeller is fairly athletic and moves well for a big man, but he is not efficient on offense and struggles to defend in space. He has a midrange game, but if he could get some easy buckets at the rim he’d be much more efficient.

He will get his chance with the Nets to prove he still has a role in the NBA.

Report: Celtics signing Shane Larkin to guaranteed contract, still plan to sign Guerschon Yabusele

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The Celtics lost their third-string point guard (Demetrius Jackson) and plenty of big men (Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Tyler Zeller and Jordan Mickey)  in their quest for Gordon Hayward.

That paid off in a big way, but it’s time for Boston to restock its depth.

Enter Shane Larkin and, as previously expected, Guerschon Yabusele and Daniel Theis.

Jay King of MassLive:

The Boston Celtics have agreed to sign Shane Larkin for point guard depth, league sources confirmed to MassLive.com.

The one-year contract, which pulled Larkin away from bigger money in Europe, will be fully guaranteed for the coming season, a source indicated.

Despite adding another guaranteed contract in Larkin, the Celtics still plan to sign 2016 draft pick Guerschon Yabusele

Theis:

Theis signed a two-year deal with the first-year salary fully guaranteed, according to Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. Yabusele will be on a rookie-scale contract for a No. 16 pick.

They, with Larkin, give Boston 16 players on standard contracts – one more than the regular-season limit. All those deals apparently include guaranteed 2016-17 salaries, but the Celtics can always eat (or trade) a contract. It costs only money. This just increases the likelihood Boston fields the best possible roster after the preseason.

Larkin showed promise early in his career, opted out of a $1.5 million Nets contract then fell out of the NBA. He adds another viable point guard behind Isaiah Thomas, joining Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. Smart and Rozier can spend time off the ball, but the 5-foot-11 Larkin probably can’t. Fortunately for Larkin’s chances of making the regular-season roster, the Celtics likely need Smart and Rozier to spend time at shooting guard after trading Avery Bradley.

Report: Celtics signing Aron Baynes

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After letting Kelly Olynyk (Heat), Amir Johnson (76ers) and Tyler Zeller walk to clear cap space for Gordon Hayward, the Celtics – armed with just the $4,328,000 room exception – needed another big man.

Enter Aron Baynes.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Baynes declined a $6.5 million player option with the Pistons. So, he’s taking a $2,172,000 loss this year without gaining any long-term security.

At least he joins a better team.

Baynes might even start at center. He or rookie Ante Zizic would allow Al Horford to spend more time at power forward, a less physically demanding position. Boston’s best lineup still projects to be Horford at center with Hayward and Jae Crowder at forward. But teams still tend to start big, especially in the regular season.

At minimum, Baynes provides a beefier alternative to Horford – a more skilled, but more finesse, big. Baynes should help with the Celtics’ long-standing rebounding problems. Unlike Zizic, Baynes also plays much more reliable defense.

The Pistons have already moved on, signing Boban Marjanovic last summer with the intent he’d assume Baynes’ job as Andre Drummond‘s primary backup this season.

Three things we learned on Thursday: Boston improving, not at Cleveland’s level yet

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It’s the last “three things we learned” of 2016, we tried to make it a good one.

1) Boston is improving, finding its groove, but there is still a gap to Cleveland. Boston players may have tried to deny this was a measuring stick game in the run up to it, but this was a measuring stick game. After stumbling to start the season, the Celtics had won six of seven and looked more like the team we expected before the season — one on par with Toronto in the East’s second tier.

It didn’t look like that early on Thursday night. For three quarters, this was a blowout, with the Cavaliers offense carving up what has been lately a solid Celtics defense. Kyrie Irving was the head of the snake and finished with 32.

Cleveland was up 15 early in the fourth and seemed to be cruising in for the win before Boston started a comeback that eventually cut the lead all the way to one. Boston’s fourth quarter run was sparked by Marcus Smart/Tyler Zeller pick-and-rolls, which the Cleveland bench — specifically Channing Frye — struggled to stop when he had to switch. This was also an efficient night from Isaiah Thomas, who finished with 31 points on 8-of-13 shooting (he got to the free throw line 13 times).

Boston is showing signs of life, but they are not at Toronto’s level yet — and they are certainly not at Cleveland’s. Maybe the Celtics can get to a spot where they are a threat to the Raptors in the second round of the playoffs, the fourth quarter comeback shows that kind of spark, but the first three quarters reminds us of the real pecking order in the East.

2) Russell Westbrook gets ejected, and with it dreams of a Thunder comeback died. Oklahoma City Thunder was already down by 16 points to Memphis when Russell Westbrook lost it midway through the third quarter and got sent to the showers early. Meaning OKC was well on its way to racking up a loss. The ejection just killed the idea of a comeback, and the Thunder ended up getting beat by 34, 114-80.

The Oklahoma City Thunder star was ejected with 6:41 remaining in the third quarter after complaining during a trip to the free-throw line for the Memphis Grizzlies.

The first technical came after Andre Roberson fouled Memphis’ JaMychal Green — officials said after the game Westbrook was arguing about whether the ball had touched the rim before the foul, and he was hit with his first technical by Brian Forte for not relenting when the official said the discussion was over. That continued through the ensuing free throws, and finally, the officials had enough and gave Westbrook a second.

You can be sure a fine is coming for Westbrook, not for the ejection but his postgame comments.

As noted above, that was the end of any comeback, the Thunder have no offense to speak of without Westbrook on the court. He finished with 21 points, 5 rebounds, and no assists, but he is still averaging a triple double.

3) Another ugly second half shows how teams have adjusted to Lakers, and they have not progressed. That fast 10-10 start for the Lakers seems so very long ago. They have gone 2-14 since, a slide that began with some injuries but has morphed into much more than that — and there is a lot of frustration in the locker room. The Lakers have played slightly better of late as they have gotten healthy, but it’s hard to see a path to a lot of victories — they don’t have the defense, and they don’t have easy answers to how the league has adapted to them.

The latest evidence of that was Dallas — with no Dirk Nowitzki all game and no Andrew Bogut most of the second half — blowing out the Lakers after the break and winning 101-89 in Los Angeles.

On defense, the Lakers just do not have answers for teams that can attack with a good pick-and-roll and have athletes who can space the floor. Coach Luke Walton was frustrated with his team’s focus and effort after the game, and it’s hard to argue with him.

That said, the Lakers problems on defense or more than effort and focus — I’m not sure they have enough plus defenders out there to make a difference consistently anyway. They certainly could be better with more effort, but do they have the players to get the job done?

On offense, you don’t see the ball movement — or movement off the ball — needed to handle the pressure and ball denial tactics they are seeing. Try to pressure a good offense like defenses now pressure the Lakers and that offense responds with strong weak-side action, counters that open things up, and the ball moves to get good shots away from the pressure. The Lakers aren’t doing that, and they are not a team loaded with guys whose instinct is to pass like that anyway.

There is real frustration in Los Angeles with this team’s progress — from the players, the coaching staff, and the fans. But welcome to rebuilding — it’s a frustrating process. One that is long, has setbacks, and is just difficult all around. It takes time and patience. I think Charles Barkley may be right that despite all that talent the Lakers do not have a Top 10 player on that roster, something they will eventually need to get to contend for another banner. However, this core of potentially good to very good players — D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram in particular — have a ways to go before that kind of elite free agent thinks “I want to play with them.”

Bonus thing we learned Thursday: Dan D’Antoni gets it. Dan D’Antoni is the brother of Mike, a former NBA assistant coach who now coaches college ball at Marshall. But he gets it. And he shot down an old-school, pound-it-inside reporter beautifully.

Three things we learned Thursday: The Warriors are who we thought they were

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Thursday night the eyes of the NBA were focused on the Bay Area, as were ours. Here’s a recap of what you should have learned from the Thursday night slate of games around the league.

1) Golden State is figuring everything out, Kevin Durant is unstoppable, The Destructor’s form has been chosen.
So much for that slow start to the season…

Kevin Durant is not going to be able to change the narrative this season — for many fans he is a traitor to a small market team he helped build, he took the easy path to a ring (as if there is an easy path), the Warriors are the villains — but that doesn’t make the potential in Golden State any less real. The Warriors unleashed the full force of their machine on the previously undefeated Thunder Thursday night, and it was an awesome show. Oklahoma City was basically Alderaan. A fired-up Durant was everywhere, scoring 39, hitting seven threes, and playing strong defense.

By the way, Oklahoma City had the best defense in the NBA as of Thursday morning, and Golden State just toyed with it starting in the second quarter — OKC had allowed 88 points per 100 possessions through four games, the Warriors put up 123. It wasn’t just KD, the Warriors kept getting Steven Adams switched onto Stephen Curry, then Curry would blow by him and get the shot he wanted. A lot of Warriors got the shots they wanted.

More importantly, the Warriors are playing strong defense again. Russell Westbrook was just 4-of-15 shooting, as a team the Thunder shot 40.2 percent (with a true shooting percentage of 48.3, well below average). Look at OKC’s second-quarter shot chart (hat tip Nate Duncan), and notice the shots at the rim.

Thunder shotcart

When Golden State plays like this, when focused and motivated, maybe one or two teams in the NBA stand a chance to steal a game. To win four-out-of-seven against the Warriors when they play like this… good luck with that.

2) The best part of the Thunder/Warriors game was Durant and Westbrook blocking each other’s shots.
Okay, the best part was Westbrook showing up to the game in a photographer’s vest, which no matter what he says was a dig at Durant. But Westbrook and Durant rejected each other’s shots during the game and it was fun.

3) LeBron James is 5-0 to start the season for the first time in his career. One team that looks like a threat to Golden State is in the East — the defending champs and the NBA’s only undefeated team. Cleveland brushed aside a short-handed Boston team Thursday (no Al Horford or Jae Crowder), and Cleveland seemingly has picked up right where it left off last season. Don’t take my word for it.

LeBron was the ridiculous version of himself we’ve come to take for granted — 30 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds — but what has been most impressive is that for much of this young season he has pulled back. As he has done the past couple of seasons, we see a largely restrained LeBron during the regular season as he paces himself so he can unleash his full force in the playoffs. The difference has been that peak Kyrie Irving — playing with a post-Olympics bounce — and the rest of the Cavaliers have stepped it up. Tristan Thompson was a force against the Celtics, with 15 points on seven shots, plus 14 boards. Oh, and he did this to poor Tyler Zeller.