Bucks eliminate Celtics in Game 5 rout

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What a difference a year makes.

On April 28, 2018, the Boston Celtics eliminated the Milwaukee Bucks from the playoffs in a Game 7 where Al Horford and Terry Rozier each stepped up with 26 points. It was a relatively easy Celtics win at home.

Out of that game and the ensuing playoff run, Boston became a team on the rise. They were the preseason favorites in the East after getting Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back from injury, adding them to a roster that had shown great chemistry in the postseason. On the other side, Milwaukee had questions — starting with could they keep Giannis Antetokounmpo happy — and opted for a major change, letting go of coach Jason Kidd and bringing in Mike Budenholzer, plus adding some shooting to the roster. Milwaukee entered this season still feeling at least a year, maybe more, away.

Wednesday night May 8, 2019, the Milwaukee Bucks easily eliminated the Boston Celtics from the playoffs in five games, sealing the deal at home in a 116-91 blowout.

The Bucks — who grew into the best regular season team in the NBA out of last year’s lessons — advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, hosting either the Toronto Raptors or Philadelphia 76ers (Toronto leads that series 3-2).

Boston went down without a fight. That was true in Game 5 but also for most of the series. When faced with adversity the Celtics became a team of individuals that lacked genuine effort or trust for teammates. — the polar opposite of the team that made the conference finals a season ago.

This loss sends the Celtics into a summer where it is the team facing big questions about chemistry and fit, not to mention the future of free agent to be Kyrie Irving. (Al Horford also has a player option and there are other major roster decisions.) One way or another, it feels like Boston’s roster will look very different next training camp. Irving, who at a ticket holder event early in the season said he would be back if the Celtics fans would have him, now is going to at least look at his options this summer, according to the buzz around the NBA. (Talk about him leaving Boston has grown louder as these playoffs have worn on.)

That is just the start of the roster questions about a Celtics’ team that all season lacked cohesion and trust, and in the playoffs that came back to embarrass them.

This series was a total role reversal. Milwaukee eliminated Boston in game 5 the way the Celtics eliminated them a year ago — defense and good team play.

The Bucks held the Celtics to an offensive rating of 86 (well below a point per possession) while shooting 25 percent in the first half and 31.2 percent for the game, although that was as much about Boston’s desire as it was anything Milwaukee did. The Bucks used their length to contest shots in the paint — the Bucks shot 6-of-19 in the paint for the first half — and still get into passing lanes.

Part of the problem with the Celtics’ offense started with Irving and his desire to play hero ball, which played into the hands of the Bucks’ defense. Irving shot 7-of-22 in Game 4 and said of that “I should have shot 30.” Well, in the first half he shot 5-of-16, had zero assists, and his Celtics were down by 11. Irving finished the game 6-of-21 from the floor for 15 points.

On the other end of the court, the Bucks had a balanced attack. Antetokounmpo led the way with 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists.

However, Antetokounmpo had only had 6 points on 2-of-6 shooting in the first half, the Bucks took charge of the game because his teammates stepped up. Khris Middleton had 19 points and 8 rebounds for the game, Eric Bledsoe had 18 points, and George Hill had another impressive night off the bench with 16 points.

The Bucks are going to need that kind of balance in the next round, but they looked like a team that has grown a lot in the last year — their time is now.

Boston players can watch those games from their hotel rooms in Cancun, while they ponder their future.

Report: Rockets to be “aggressive” going after Jimmy Butler, do sign-and-trade with Capela, Gordon

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It is fully expected in league circles that come Sunday evening, when free agency opens, the Philadelphia 76ers are going to offer Jimmy Butler a five-year max contract at $189.7 million. Considering the Sixers are contenders, plus the facts Butler will be 30 next season and has a building history of injuries (not unexpected considering his hard-charging style of play), he may well jump at that offer.

The Houston Rockets are going to try hard to convince him to come to Houston with James Harden and Chris Paul.

That’s been reported for a while, but Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN added details and emphasis to that on Tuesday:

Once free agency starts on Sunday, the Rockets are planning to recruit Jimmy Butler to push the Philadelphia 76ers for a sign-and-trade deal that would allow the All-Star forward to join James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston, league sources tell ESPN.

The Rockets don’t have the salary-cap space to sign Butler, so they’d need the threat of the Sixers losing him for nothing to a team with the available room to motivate Philadelphia into a trade. The Rockets also would potentially need to make this a multiteam deal to satisfy the rules of base year compensation that would cover Butler’s outgoing salary…

Butler would be eligible to sign a four-year, $140 million contract on the way to the Rockets, but Houston likely would need to include two of these players — center Clint Capela, guard Eric Gordon and power forward P.J. Tucker — to make the financial deal work, sources said.

A few thoughts here:

• If Philadelphia balks at giving Butler a fifth guaranteed year on his new contract — which is reasonable, sources from other teams told me they would be scared of the fourth year of a max with him — that could push this closer to reality. If that fifth year is on the table, then Butler has a different choice to make.

• The other question here: Does Butler want out of Philadelphia? Because to head to Houston he would give up guaranteed money and leave a team clearly a contender for a more uncertain situation.

• As noted by Woj, Philly would only agree to a sign-and-trade if Butler told them he was leaving anyway so the Sixers might as well get something for him.

• Under the new CBA, Butler can sign “only” a four-year, $140 million contract for a sign-and-trade, he cannot get that fifth year and the larger raises the Sixers can offer then trade that contract to Houston. A sign-and-trade can only be for what the team receiving the player could have signed him for as a free agent.

• Jimmy Butler, James Harden, and Chris Paul all in one locker room with a lame duck coach. What could possibly go wrong?

• If Butler forced this to happen, it would not be the worst result ever for the Sixers. Eric Gordon would be a great fit (especially if J.J. Redick leaves in free agency) and Capela could be platooned with Joel Embiid up front, or traded for another player the Sixers see as a fit. Capela has real value around the league.

• Houston, however, would be giving up a lot to go all-in for the season the Warriors are down due to injuries (and maybe defections). This trade would hurt Houston’s depth and make them top heavy (how did that work for the Warriors this past Finals?), but with that big three they would need to be mentioned among the contenders in the West, no matter how the rest of free agency shakes out.

 

Cavaliers still look to trade, waive J.R. Smith before Sunday; He may ultimately be a Laker

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The math is simple: J.R. Smith is set to make $15.7 million next season, however, if he is waived before Sunday, the Cavaliers team — or whatever team he is a member of — only has to pay $3.9 million of that. For a team looking for salary cap savings in this fiscal year, that’s about as good a deal as can be found.

Which is why the Cavaliers listened to trade offers for Smith on draft night, but they didn’t jump at anything reports Chris Fodor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Cleveland Cavaliers entered Thursday night hoping to trade JR Smith, but turned down a few offers that would have returned a first-round pick, league sources tell cleveland.com…

As of now, the Cavs are still trying to make a deal, according to sources familiar with those conversations, but it’s complicated and it has to be the right move, as general manager Koby Altman laid out when recapping the NBA Draft late Thursday night.

“We’re definitely going to investigate what we can do there,” Altman said. “There’s a pain threshold of doing it, going into the tax, which we would have to do in terms of taking back money and the rest of the NBA knowing that we’re in the tax and my job would be getting us out of the tax.”

Those savings are why the Cavaliers may choose to just waive Smith themselves (in a trade they need to bring back $15 million or so in salary, so to pay the tax they need to get a player they really want). Cleveland understandably built a team on expensive, shorter contracts for veteran players around LeBron James — it helped bring them the 2016 title. Now they are still paying a price for that as they want to rebuild around youth, and Dan Gilbert doesn’t want to pay the luxury tax for a team that won 19 games last season.

One way or another, J.R. Smith is going to be a free agent.

Expect him to land with his old friend LeBron James and the Lakers, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo sports.

That makes sense. However they go about filling out the roster, the Lakers are going to have a number of minimum contract players on the bench and they will want veterans who can play with LeBron. J.R. Smith may be in decline (he shot 30.8 percent from three last season), but he fits that bill and can still make a few plays. Kyle Korver is in that same mold, someone Haynes points to as a fit with the Lakers.

Still, the guys taking the minimum are doing it for a reason, which means the Lakers can’t miss on other players they spend real money on this July. GM Rob Pelinka doesn’t have a

Masai Ujiri: DeMar DeRozan and I put aside differences and embraced in February

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Still bitter about being traded (to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard), DeMar DeRozan said in January he had no reason to speak to Raptors president Masai Ujiri.

DeRozan’s stance apparently softened when San Antonio played in Toronto in February.

Ujiri:

When San Antonio came here, I’ve never said this to anybody, but something unbelievable happened. DeMar came into our locker room, and to show you the class human being he is, he came up to me, and he hugged me, and he asked me how my family was doing.

It meant a lot for him to come and give me a hug. At the end of the day, this is life. Time heals things. And one day – I know I’m confident that one day, we’ll both sit down and talk about this.

Time heals nearly all wounds. Winning heals most wounds.

Ujiri has both on his side, and he didn’t even need the Raptors’ championship to get embraced by DeRozan. Ditto with Kyle Lowry, who rebelled in solidarity with his friend DeRozan but ultimately reconnected with Ujiri.

I always thought those days would come, and I share Ujiri’s optimism he and DeRozan will eventually have lengthier conversations. They’ve been through much together. Toronto’s title makes it even more difficult for DeRozan to hold a grudge. At some point, he will get on an even-better page with Ujiri.

As expected, Dallas reportedly set to offer Kristaps Porzingis max contract extension

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At his introductory press conference in Dallas, Kristaps Porzingis was asked if he planned to stay with the team as a free agent (there had been rumors he would take the one year, $4.5 million qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent, a rumor met with eye rolls around the NBA). Mark Cuban jumped in before Porzingis could answer the question:

“I can answer that for you. Yeah, he does.”

Dallas is about to put its money where Cuban’s mouth is and offer Porzingis a five-year max contract, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This was expected the day they traded for him. Dallas is betting big that Porzingis, coming off a torn ACL that cost him a season, can return to the form of an All-NBA level big man who plays 70+ games a season. The hope is in Porzingis and Luka Doncic the Mavs have their core for the future, their next Steve Nash/Dirk Nowitzki pairing.

Expect Dallas to be aggressive chasing free agents this summer as well, they have been linked to Kemba Walker and Kevin Durant, although as long shots. Patrick Beverley and some other mid-level role players could be in Dallas future, and turn them into a dangerous team.