AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Celtics making unprecedented playoff run without their top regular-season player, Kyrie Irving

16 Comments

The Celtics’ season as they envisioned it ended when Gordon Hayward went down with a gruesome leg injury in the first game.

The Celtics’ season as they knew it ended when Kyrie Irving underwent surgery that’d keep him out for the playoffs.

Boston had grand dreams of Hayward and Irving leading the team deep into the playoffs, but those were dashed nearly immediately. Without Hayward, the Celtics were viewed as a team that must scratch and claw its way just into the postseason.

Months later, we learned the truth: Boston was still very good. The Celtics won 55 games and secured the No. 2 seed.

Hayward is a prominent character in the narrative of Boston’s 2017-18 season. But the actual on-court results? He was irrelevant.

Irving, on the other hand, was integral to the team’s on-court success. He was an All-Star, MVP-ballot candidate and the Celtics’ best player. Not only did he lead them, they spent the year building chemistry around him.

And then he was sidelined, too.

Weakened, Boston entered the playoffs with little hope. Nearly every statistical evaluation of Boston’s chances factored Irving’s contributions. Those that tried to exclude him didn’t view the Celtics favorably.

Yet, Boston beat the Bucks in the first round and the 76ers in the second round. Young players Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier are stepping up. Al Horford is a star who dialed it up a level. Brad Stevens is out-coaching his counterparts.

This is a momentous rally.

From the NBA-ABA merger until this year, teams were 0-10 in playoff series without their top regular-season player, as defined by win shares. The 2018 Celtics are 2-0 entering the Eastern Conference finals.

Boston is the first team in NBA history to win multiple playoff series without its regular-season win shares leader.

The last to win at all was the 1971 Lakers, who beat the Bulls in the conference semifinals (then the opening round) then lost to the Bucks in the conference finals without Jerry West. Yes, it was so far back, Los Angeles was playing Chicago and Milwaukee in the Western Conference playoffs.

At least the league was known as the National Basketball Association by then. The only other two teams to win a series without their regular-season win-share leaders did it when it was still called the Basketball Association of America.

Here’s every playoff run by a team missing its regular-season win-share leader:

2016 Memphis Grizzlies (Mike Conley)

Lost to San Antonio Spurs in first round, 4-0

2013 Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe Bryant)

Lost to San Antonio Spurs in first round, 4-0

2010 Milwaukee Bucks (Andrew Bogut)

Lost to Atlanta Hawks in first round, 4-3

2008 Houston Rockets (Yao Ming)

Lost to Utah Jazz in first round, 4-2

2007 Washington Wizards (Gilbert Arenas)

Lost to Cleveland Cavaliers in first round, 4-0

2002 Toronto Raptors (Vince Carter)

Lost to Detroit Pistons in first round, 3-2

2000 San Antonio Spurs (Tim Duncan)

Lost to Phoenix Suns in first round, 3-1

1992 San Antonio Spurs (David Robinson)

Lost to Phoenix Suns in first round, 3-0

1986 Utah Jazz (Adrian Dantley)

Lost to Dallas Mavericks in first round, 3-1

1985 Phoenix Suns (Larry Nance)

Lost to Los Angeles Lakers in first round, 3-0

1971 Los Angeles Lakers (Jerry West)

Beat Chicago Bulls in conference semifinals, 4-3

Lost to Milwaukee Bucks in conference finals, 4-1

1950  Tri-Cities Blackhawks (Don Otten)

Lost to Anderson Packers in division semifinals, 2-1

1949 Washington Capitols (Bob Feerick)*

Beat Philadelphia Warriors in division semifinals, 2-0

Lost to Minneapolis Lakers in BAA Finals, 4-2

*Feerick played one game in the division finals, in which the Capitols beat the New York Knicks, 2-1.

1947 New York Knicks (Ossie Schectman)

Beat Cleveland Rebels in quarterfinals, 2-1

Lost to Philadelphia Warriors in semifinals, 2-0

Andrew Bogut appears to take shot at LeBron on Twitter

Getty Images
2 Comments

The NBA wants it to, and it will eventually fade some (only to flare up again later), but the NBA/China relationship issue is not going away.

The latest spark comes from across the ocean, down in Australia, where former Warrior (and Buck and a couple other teams in the middle) Andrew Bogut takes what is a pretty clear a dig at LeBron James over the China issue.

Let me explain… No, there is too much. Let me sum up. Rockets GM Daryl Morey Tweeted support for the Hong Kong protesters just before the NBA was about to send the Lakers and Nets were about to head to China for a couple of exhibition games. China flexed its muscle to punish the NBA for touching a third-rail issue by having corporate sponsors pause their involvement with the league and preseason games were not shown in China. Adam Silver issued a milquetoast statement that seemed aimed to appease China, and when a backlash from the United States — still by far the largest NBA market — came swiftly Silver adjusted his position and came out more backing Morey’s right to free speech.

After all that, once back in the states, LeBron vented about the situation, saying Morey wasn’t “educated” on the topic, and seeming frustrated because the Tweet put the players in China on the front lines of an international trade dispute — remember, there is a trade war and tariffs. However, LeBron’s meandering comments came off as being more concerned about money than free speech. LeBron said he was saying Morey didn’t think through the consequences of his Tweet (true) and that he doesn’t have to take a public stand on every issue (also true) but it all came off as LeBron prioritizing protecting his brand,

Which leads to a lot of criticism. Some a lot more direct than what Andrew Bogut said.

Report: Grizzlies, Bulls have conversations with Iman Shumpert

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Iman Shumpert is just 29 years old, which seems crazy because it wasn’t that long ago he was making the All-Rookie team in New York or winning a title with LeBron James.

The point is he’s still young, was on the court for the Rockets during the postseason last year, and is the best free agent available. He turned down a contract offer from the Rockets before the preseason (which may have been incentive heavy, like Nene’s) and remains on the market.

Some team is going to snap him up. That team could end up being the Memphis. Or, maybe Chicago. That according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Free-agent guard Iman Shumpert has had conversations with teams, including Memphis and Chicago, league sources said. Shumpert, an eight-year NBA veteran, is one of the best players remaining on the market.

Chicago has Zach LaVine and Otto Porter starting on the wing, but they may want more veteran depth behind them. Memphis has the combination of Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen at the two, they may want to add some veteran depth to that mix.

At this point, teams are just starting to accurately assess where they are and where they need help — players they thought would step up didn’t, or there are injuries creating gaps — and that will continue into the first weeks of the season. As that happens, a few of the veterans on the sideline will get picked up (no, probably not Carmelo Anthony, that’s another topic).

Shumpert should be at the front of that line. He’s already got interest.

 

Pacers reportedly testing trade market for Domantas Sabonis

Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

Two factors are in play here.

First, the Pacers and Domantas Sabonis‘ representatives are reportedly nowhere near an agreement on a contract extension.

Second, there are real questions about how Sabonis and Pacers’ center Myles Turner can play together. If they can’t, then the question becomes how much do the Pacers want to pay Sabonis to be a backup five (because Turner is the better player and a guy they can build their defense around).

That has led to the Pacers exploring possible Sabonis trades, reports Sam Amick of The Athletic.

…sources say the Pacers have engaged in active trade talks with several teams this week about the fourth-year forward. Sabonis, the 23-year-old who arrived with Victor Oladipo in late June 2017 in the Paul George trade with Oklahoma City, is clearly on the market.

There is no lack of interest in Sabonis, who averaged 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists last season as the Pacers — who lost Oladipo to a season-ending ruptured quad injury in a game against Toronto on Jan. 23 — pulled off such a surprising campaign (48-34; lost in the first round to Boston). Thus far, sources say the Pacers’ asking price in talks with several teams has been too high.

Sabonis is a skilled offensive big man who is versatile. That makes him a fantastic pick-and-roll or dribble hand-off guy who can help create space for the ball handler to find a lane, then he rolls into open space. He’s strong around the basket and plays a crafty, high IQ game. He can help a lot of teams. However, two things limit Sabonis: He is not good defensively and he does not space the floor (76.4 percent of his shots came within 10 feet of the basket last season, and he doesn’t make many beyond that range).

Sabonis is in the final year of his rookie contract and has a healthy pay raise coming next season, up from the $3.5 million he will make this time around. The Pacers, however, just forked out big cash for Myles Turner (four-years, $72 million) and Malcolm Brogdon (four years, $85 million). They may be a little gun shy about doing that now for Sabonis, and there are other teams interested. That doesn’t even count Victor Oladipo’s payday. All this for a team not likely to venture into the luxury tax.

How much the Pacers can get for Sabonis remains to be seen, but the Pacers may want picks because not much salary needs to be exchanged. Of course right now the Pacers are asking for everything but the GM’s firstborn son from other teams, and of course the other teams are lowballing the Pacers with their first offers. That’s how negotiations work. When things start to evolve to a middle ground, the Pacers may well find a deal because, as much as they like him, it’s hard to make everything fit with Sabonis on the team.

Draymond Green says teams deserve blame for draft picks not developing, Marquese Chriss agrees

Getty Images
3 Comments

Marquese Chriss was a No. 8 pick in the NBA draft who has yet to pan out. He showed a little promise as a rookie in Phoenix, but by Summer League the next July issues already seemed to pop up. His shooting percentages dropped, mostly because of questionable shot selection — every season he has taken more threes and made a lower percentage (22.2 percent last season). He wasn’t strong on defense. He looked like a player who might not be long for the NBA.

Now he’s going to make the Warriors roster. Maybe injuries to other frontcourt players — Willie Cauley-Stein, rookie Alen Smailagic, and Kevon Looney are — made keeping the 6’10” forward a smart move, but Chriss’ play in the preseason helped earn him that spot.

After a preseason game against the Lakers Wednesday, Draymond Green stuck up for Chriss, saying it may be less about the player and more about the organization. Via NBC Sports Bay Area’s Monte Poole.

“He’s been in some pretty tough situations,” Green told reporters… “No one ever blames the situation, though. It’s always the kid. No one ever blames these s***y franchises. They always want to blame the kid. It’s not always the kid’s fault.

“He’s getting older now, so he’s not a kid anymore. But he came into this league as a kid. But it’s never the organization’s fault. It’s always that guy. So I’m happy he’s got another opportunity to show what he can really do. Because he’s a prime example.”

Chriss was grateful for what Green said, as reported by Logan Murdock of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“I appreciate him for having my back and I wholeheartedly believe what he said,” Chriss said. “Being a person to go through things like that. Having a lot of blame on you for stuff you can’t really control is tough and its growing pains with being in the NBA. I feel like it takes time to develop and learn.

“It bothers me when people try to come for my character,” he added. “I know what type of person I am and I know how my mom raised me and I know how I want to represent myself and my family so that’s the biggest thing for me is just showing that things that have been said are not true.”

Jared Dudley, who was with Chriss in Phoenix, said that it was a combination of an immature Chriss but also a Suns organization that did not create a good environment to develop players.

“He was immature,” former teammate Jared Dudley told NBC Sports Bay Area Friday afternoon. “But it’s not a bad immaturity, he just had to grow up and they threw him into the fire and sometimes kids aren’t ready for that…

“At the time Phoenix didn’t have the infrastructure to manage and control people and to develop people at that time,” Dudley added. “Three coaches in his year and a half. He was partially to blame, he was getting technical fouls, he was shooting bad shots but sometimes it’s on the organization and they failed him.”

The Warriors have a strong development program for young players, and a strong culture, on that Chriss seems to be thriving in.

Injuries helped open the door for Chriss in Golden State, but to his credit he has pushed it open wide with his play and it would not have been easy for the Warriors to let him go. He’s attacking the rim and scoring 9.5 points per game on 60.9 percent shooting (he’s still struggling from three, 20 percent, but he’s only taking 22 percent of his shots from there, down from nearly half last season). Chriss also has been a beast on the boards, grabbing 8.3 rebounds a game.

That’s impressive, but it’s also the preseason. If he can do it when things get serious starting next week, Chriss will have the redemption he wanted.