Three things to know: Have the Boston Celtics hit rock bottom?


The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every pivotal moment from the night before in one place.

1) Have the Celtics hit rock bottom after weekend losses to Detroit, Washington?

On paper, the Boston Celtics are contenders. They have elite wing play with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — both playing at an All-Star level — with a shot-creating point guard in Kemba Walker, a defensive specialist who can hit threes in Marcus Smart, a roster of solid role players, and one of the smartest coaches in the game. On paper, Boston matches up better with Brooklyn than any other East team. On paper, the Celtics are a threat to come out of the East.

On the court, the Celtics are a mess.

Following weekend losses to some of the East’s weaker sides in Detroit and Washington, the Celtics are 5-10 in their last 15 games and have fallen to .500 for the season. The Boston defense hasn’t been impressive the last 15 games, but the bigger problem is on offense, where they are 23rd in the league in that stretch (109.1 points per 100 possessions), with none of the ball movement we expect from a Stevens team (28th in assists in those 15 games).

Beyond that, the eye test shows a team that just got out-hustled and out-executed. The Boston offense is a lot of standing around right now, not a lot of movement and making plays for each other.

This feels like rock bottom. This looks like the kind of team that needs a shakeup.

Boston fans might be reaching for the panic button. Some are asking for Stevens’ head (I don’t get that, but it’s a regular thing on Celtics Twitter) and/or a roster change — Danny Ainge needs to do something with that Gordon Hayward trade exception to fill in what this team lacks without Hayward. Especially after an offseason where he didn’t want Myles Turner.

However, in the Boston locker room, there appears to be no panic.

Walker after Sunday’s loss: “We’re just not playing the way we know that we’re capable of playing. That has to be fixed… It can’t get no worse than this. So we’re gonna fix it for sure… Positive? It ain’t many positives. I’m gonna be honest. We just are not good right now. But it’s very controllable…

“To be honest, I could care less what people think. That’s not what this is about. This is about us. This is about us getting better. We will. We’ll figure it out. Every year is different. Every season is different. We have a whole new team. We have young guys. That’s on us, that’s on myself and some of the guys who have been around. We’ve got to change some things, and we will. We will.”

Brown: “I think we can flip things around at any moment. I always have faith in this organization and team and our coaching staff. We sucked [Sunday]. We haven’t played well over the last few games for whatever reason, but I believe we can turn it around at any moment.”

There are legitimate issues, and most revolve around injuries, COVID-19, and lineup stability. There has been no consistency of rotations, and nobody off the bench — outside of rookie Payton Pritchard — has stepped up and demanded minutes.

The Celtics core has barely been together this season. Walker missed the first 11 games of the season getting his knee right (he had maybe his best game of the season Sunday), Tatum missed time with COVID-19, Brown has been in and out of the lineup, and Smart has been out the last seven games with a calf injury.

The Celtics’ four best players — Tatum, Brown, Walker, Smart — have played a total of 28 minutes together this season, which accounts for 57 possessions. Boston simply has not been whole.

We don’t know what a fully functional Celtics team looks like yet.

What we do know is the one on the court right now isn’t working. The good news is in the East, .500 is still good enough for the fifth seed, and the Celtics are just half-a-game back of hosting a first-round playoff series. There is a lot of time to get healthy, get some help, and get things right.

But this weekend needs to be rock bottom for the Celtics.

2) Another day, another Damian Lillard game-winner

In the clutch moments of a game — especially with CJ McCollum still out injured — shouldn’t Damian Lillard get the Houston James Harden treatment? Double him at halfcourt, get the ball out of his hands, dare anyone else to beat you. Lillard is the most clutch player in the NBA right now, he’s earned that respect.

With just more than :30 seconds left in a time game (so they would get another possession at least), Dallas matched up Dorian Finney-Smith — a quality defender — on Lillard in isolation. We know how that is going to end.

That was the ballgame. The Trail Blazers went on to get the 121-118 victory.

Lillard finished with 34 points and 11 assists, which was barely enough to outduel an impressive Luka Doncic, who finished with 44 points and nine assists. He had a shot at a three to win it all, but it just didn’t fall.

3) The Lakers may be without Anthony Davis for a while after Achilles scare

If this were the worst possible outcome, Anthony Davis would not have been doing postgame media, answering reporters’ questions. Yet there he was Sunday night. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the Lakers are likely going to be without Davis for a little while. In his second game back after missing a couple of games due to Achilles tendinosis, Anthony Davis had to leave the Lakers game against Denver Sunday night after re-injuring his Achilles trying to drive around Nikola Jokic in the second quarter.

Davis was done for the night (although he stayed in and hit his free throws) with what the team called a strain. An MRI will come on Monday to detail everything.

Davis said after the game that early medical suggested it is not a tear/rupture, but rather a return of his Achilles tendinosis. Just this time, it will sideline him more than two games.

“I don’t want to mess around with this type of injury,” Davis said.

He shouldn’t, and the Lakers can’t afford to risk it. It doesn’t really matter if the Lakers give up a few games in the standings, as long as Davis and LeBron James are healthy come the playoffs Los Angeles is the team to beat. Achilles injuries are overuse injuries, they come with time, and both Davis and the Lakers need to rest this and get him healthy, no matter how long it takes.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Russell Westbrook had a good Sunday in the Wizards win against Boston — 13 points, 11 assists, and nine rebounds — but his reaction to an air balled free throw was my favorite thing from Sunday.

Five teams most likely to trade for Kyrie Irving before deadline


Kyrie Irving wants a trade out of Brooklyn. Now. Before the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

It’s no sure thing a massive trade like this comes together in less than a week, but it has spiced up what was a relatively flavorless trade deadline to this point (with all due respect to Rui Hachimura).

Irving’s trade request asks some tough questions of the team’s interested in him. The incentive to make a deal is obvious — landing one of the game’s biggest names and an elite shot creator averaging 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 37.4% from 3. On the other hand is the long list of disruptions he has caused the Nets and other teams he’s been on, combined with the fact he is asking out in Brooklyn partly because they would not give him a four-year max contract extension. Does a team trading for Irving look at his track record and want to lock him up for that long? (To be clear, a team that trades for him is limited two a two-year, $78.6 million extension; he might want to re-sign with the team as a free agent, a risk for the team acquiring him.)

What may best sum up the trade market for Irving: Teams calling are more interested in what this means for Kevin Durant than Irving (according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN).

Still, teams will be interested. Here are the top five worth watching.

1) Los Angeles Lakers

When reaching out to league sources in the wake of the Irving bombshell, the Lakers were the first name off everyone’s lips. Which makes sense because the sides discussed the idea last summer but never pulled off the trade. Now, more than halfway through the season, with the Lakers three games below .500 and sitting outside even the play-in tournament, there is a sense of desperation to do something so as not to squander an All-NBA season from LeBron James. Is that enough to get a deal done?

LeBron is trying to add some pressure.

The trade would, at its core, involve Russell Westbrook and the Lakers’ two available first-round picks (2027 and 2029), likely unprotected (although Wojnarowski reports the Lakers “privately expressing limitations on offering significant trade assets for Irving”).

That doesn’t mean Westbrook is headed to Brooklyn, the sides likely will engage a third team in the deal (San Antonio has cap space, and the Lakers have talked to the Jazz) to take on Westbrook in exchange for draft compensation. However, putting together a trade that works for everyone gets difficult, which is why one never happened this summer.

It’s obvious why the Lakers want to do this trade. Irving playing next to Lebron and Anthony Davis makes the Lakers potential contenders in a West where nobody has run away with the conference (even if Denver is trying).

It’s less obvious why this is the best option for the Nets.

In a direct swap, Westbrook — even with the added depth of a quality young role player — is a dramatic drop-off from All-Star starter Irving. Plus, in a straight-up Westbrook for Irving deal the Nets take on more salary, adding $56 million to a luxury tax bill already at $109 million (numbers via Bobby Marks of ESPN). Whether the Nets would be more enticed by a three-team trade depends on the other team and players involved, but if the Nets are going to hold on to Durant they need to find a way to stay a contender, and that won’t be easy to do in any trade with the Lakers.

2) Phoenix Suns

The Suns can make a trade work in a couple of different ways, but they all center around Chris Paul heading to Brooklyn — a big name but a player whose game has fallen off this season at age 37. The trade likely would involve either Jae Crowder or Cameron Johnson — both of whom need to be paid after this season — plus some picks headed to Brooklyn.

The Suns need half-court scoring, and an Irving and Devin Booker backcourt would be a force that could get Phoenix back in the mix at the top of the West. Would soon-to-be new owner Matt Ishbia be willing to pay big and go into the tax for Irving in future years? Would the Nets consider CP3 and some depth at the four enough to pull the trigger?

3) Dallas Mavericks

It’s no secret the Mavericks are desperate to find a second star and shot creator to go next to Luka Dončić, who is wearing himself out carrying this team. It’s also no secret that coach Jason Kidd and former Nike executive turned Mavericks GM Nico Harrison have strong relationships with Irving. Is that enough?

A trade can be constructed by sending former Net Spencer Dinwiddie back to Brooklyn along with just made available Dorian Finney-Smith, plus draft picks (there are reports the Mavericks are also hesitant to go heavy on draft picks in an Irving trade). Marc Stein reports that Dallas might want to unload one of its longer contracts in a trade, such as Tim Hardaway Jr. or Dāvis Bertāns.

Would some combination of those players plus a few picks be enough to interest Brooklyn? Is Dallas interested in signing Irving for the long-term, a four-year deal this offseason? Those questions could hold up the deal.

4) Miami Heat

Miami was on Irving’s leaked “places I would be willing to be traded” list last summer. Considering the Heat have struggled this season (despite the better play of late) and their struggles at point guard, it’s easy to see Miami’s interest.

However, it’s difficult to make a trade work. The Heat would want to send back Kyle Lowry, but there likely is little interest from Brooklyn in taking him on (he has a fully guaranteed $29.7 million on the books for next season). The Nets might want Tyler Herro, but he is in the poison pill year between signing his extension and it kicking in (the trade numbers going out and coming back are different for Herro under the CBA, making a trade very difficult to pull off).

Would the Heat want to sign Irving long-term? Is he a fit with the Heat culture?

You know Pat Riley will make the call, he’s always aggressive and wants to win now. But he’s not putting a player over the franchise, and he won’t give up too much to get a deal done.

5) Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are always aggressive as a front office, they need point guard help (someone who can create in the backcourt), and the owner is more than happy to spend if it means winning. The Clippers are loaded with mid-level salaries — Norman Powell, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, Robert Covington, Reggie Jackson, Nicholas Batum — who can be packaged to make a deal work. They also have good young players to temp the Nets, such as Terance Mann and Brandon Boston Jr.

Is another high-priced mercurial star prone to missing time what the Clippers need right now? They will make calls, but it feels like a long shot.

Brooks given one-game suspension for shot to Mitchell (who was fined)

Memphis Grizzlies v Cleveland Cavaliers
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Dillon Brooks did earn a suspension for hitting Donovan Mitchell in the “groin,” but he got off light.

Brooks was suspended one game and Mitchell got a $20,000 fine for their altercation during the Cavaliers’ win against the Grizzlies on Thursday night, the league announced.

“Brooks initiated the altercation by striking Mitchell in the groin area in an unsportsmanlike manner,” the NBA said in a release announcing the fine. “Mitchell then escalated the situation by throwing the game ball at and pushing Brooks, after which both players continued to physically engage with one another.”

Both Brooks and Mitchell were given Flagrant 2 fouls and ejected.

Brooks will serve his suspension Sunday against the Raptors. The one-game suspension is going to cost Brooks $78,621 in salary.

It’s difficult to watch the video of the altercation and not think that it was an intentional act by Brooks. As such, a one-game suspension seems soft and certainly isn’t sending a message of deterrence to other players. After the game Thursday, Mitchell fired shots at Brooks for the act.

The two teams do not meet again this season.

Reports: Kyrie Irving demands trade before Feb. 9 deadline

New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving‘s agent tried to spark contract extension talks with the Nets recently, but Brooklyn felt no rush to dive into those talks, and the offer they did make — not for a full four years and filled with guarantees for Irving to meet — increased Irving’s frustration with the organization. The Nets, wisely, wanted to see more out of Irving before talking about the future, while Irving has felt everything with Brooklyn has been conditional.

Irving responded with a bombshell, demanding a trade before the Feb. 9 deadline. Shams Charania of The Athletic was first with the news, but Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report have since confirmed it.


So much for a quiet trade deadline.

There are so many angles to this bombshell, but the sense of Irving feeling disrespected by Nets management and ownership is not new. Charania added this detail in his story at The Athletic:

The Nets recently offered Irving an extension with guarantee stipulations, according to league sources, an offer which was declined.

Irving wants a four-year, full max extension, no stipulations, Charania reports. That’s also what he wanted when he pushed for a contract extension with the Nets last summer, but after a couple of seasons of disruptions and him missing a lot of games due to his COVID vaccination status, the Nets were not interested in cementing their relationship long-term (Irving did look around for a new home, but that went nowhere).

The disruptions carried over into this season when Irving was suspended for what became eight games due to a Tweet promoting an antisemitic documentary. Through all this, the Nets fired Steve Nash as coach.

Whatever has happened off the court, when Irving has been on the court he has been his elite playmaking self, averaging 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. Fans voted him in an All-Star starter, and he has carried the Nets while Kevin Durant has been out.

While the Nets don’t want to give away Irving in a trade, if he’s gone this summer as a free agent they need to find a deal to get something in return (and ideally keep their status as a potential, maybe fringe, contender in the East). The Nets are not wrong that all the places Irving would want to go as a free agent will require a sign-and-trade, which gives Brooklyn some leverage. Irving has some leverage here, too: If Team X comes up with a trade the Nets like but Irving lets it be known he won’t re-sign there as a free agent, it limits what teams will offer.

When checking with league sources,  the first name on everyone’s lips are the Lakers, with a package centered around Russell Westbrook and both of the Lakers’ unprotected future picks (a trade that was discussed last summer). The Lakers likely have to sweeten that pot a little with another young player. Adding Irving to the mix with LeBron James and Anthony Davis does make the Lakers a threat to come out of a West with no dominant team, and Los Angeles might be willing to extend or re-sign Irving to a longer deal, they are all in on winning now.

Other teams that come up in conversations are the Heat (a team looking for point guard help and a spark, but does Irving fit the Miami team culture?), the Mavericks need another star next to Luka Dončić, and the Clippers are always active and aggressive at the trade deadline. Shams Charania of The Athletic reports the Suns are interested. Other teams looking to make the leap up to contender status may try to throw their hat in the ring. Considering Irving’s reputation as a challenge for coaches and front office staff, it will be interesting to see how many teams are interested in Irving’s extensions/contract demands.

Whatever direction this goes expect the Irving trade rumors to fly for the next six days.


Damian Lillard reportedly to take part in 3-point contest All-Star weekend

Atlanta Hawks v Portland Trail Blazers
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The All-Star Saturday night 3-point contest has passed the Dunk Contest in watchability because the stars still do it. Look at this year’s Dunk Contest, there are some interesting athletes involved, and maybe it becomes a memorable event. Still, there will be no Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, or Anthony Edwards (the way that Jordan, Kobe, and other greats took part in the contest back in the day).

However, the stars turn out for the 3-point contest. This year, that starts with Damian Lillard, according to Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and TNT.

The coaches selected Lillard as one of the All-Star Game reserves, he was already headed to Salt Lake City. This is Lillard’s third time in the 3-point Shootout.

Over the coming week, expect a lot more big names to jump into the 3-point contest — the best shooters in the game want to do this event (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have each done it multiple times, although whether they will this year is unknown).

All-Star Saturday night: Come for the 3-point Shootout, hang around for the Dunk Contest.