Al Horford

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Celtics suffer consequences of Kyrie Irving’s broken pledge

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NBC Sports’ 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 2019 offseason ended in October 2018.

Then, it began a short time later.

After a backward year in Boston, the dust has settled. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are gone. Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter are there.

The Celtics will be fine. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown return and should keep growing. The major holes are filled.

But the busy summer leaves Boston with a much lower ceiling.

It was never supposed to be like this.

Before last season, Kyrie Irving vowed to re-sign. This wasn’t just an impulsive moment at a pep rally. Irving made a whole commercial about the Celtics retiring his number.

Boston looked like an emerging power – the Warriors’ most-likely successor, maybe as soon as last season. The Celtics were talented, young and deep. Irving’s commitment seemed to answer one of the few questions facing the team.

Instead, Boston unraveled. Irving and other Celtics repeatedly found problems with each other. Everyone seemed miserable. A disappointing second-round loss was almost a relief. At least it was over.

In what was once supposed to be a simple offseason for Boston, Irving bolted for the Nets. Horford followed through the exit, to the 76ers. The Celtics replaced those two with Walker and Kanter via free agency.

Irving is better and younger than Walker. Particularly, Irving has proven his deep-playoff bona fides. Though Walker didn’t get those opportunities with the mediocre Hornets, the smaller guard probably can’t step up against tighter defenses the same way.

Kanter is good at what he does inside. But good teams can expose him defensively.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Boston matched its 49 wins from last season. The Celtics’ chemistry should improve significantly, and they’ll play hard in the regular season. But there’s a long way to getting back on the championship-contention path.

Boston will even face challenges with smaller short-term goals. The Celtics lost a couple solid role players in Marcus Morris (signed with Knicks) and Aron Baynes (traded to Suns). Boston also sent Terry Rozier to the Hornets in a double sign-and-trade for Walker. Though Rozier didn’t help the Celtics much last season, they still essentially got nil for a player with some value.*

*Boston had enough cap space to sign Walker outright. Charlotte needed a sign-and-trade to add Rozier.

The Celtics maintained and replenished frontcourt depth with Daniel Theis ($5 million guaranteed this season, $5 million unguaranteed the following season) and Vincent Poirier (two years, $5,125,000).

Boston did well to leave draft night with No. 14 pick Romeo Langford, No. 22 pick Grant Williams, No. 33 pick Carsen Edwards, No. 51 pick Tremont Waters, a future Bucks first-rounder (from Phoenix) and Baynes unloaded. The Celtics also signed undrafted Tacko Fall, whose 7-foot-6 frame at least draws intrigue.

Maybe one of those rookies blossoms. Maybe Gordon Hayward gets back in a groove as he gains distance from his injury. Maybe a future first-rounder from the Grizzlies lands high in a lottery.

There are ways for Boston to build a title contender.

But that seems far more distant than when the Celtics were envisioning an Irving-Anthony Davis pairing. It seems more distant than even when Boston was hoping to keep Horford.

Many teams would love to settle for Walker and Kanter, but the Celtics were in such great shape. They definitely had to settle. Where I’m from, that’s no Plan A.

Offseason grade: C-

Lakers, Warriors, Rockets lead 2019-20 NBA schedule in major nationally televised games

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How will the Lakers handle huge expectations with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and a giant Los Angeles market? How will the Warriors, without Kevin Durant and with D'Angelo Russell, mesh? How will Russell Westbrook and James Harden coexist on the Rockets?

The NBA is clearly banking on those storylines to draw viewers.

The Lakers (30), Warriors (30) and Rockets (26) have the most major nationally televised games scheduled for next season. I count ABC, ESPN and TNT (not NBA TV).

Here’s how every team stacks up:

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The TV schedule can be flexed. So, these aren’t final.

Observations on the current plan:

  • I thought the Clippers (25) would get more. Maybe the NBA is concerned about aggressive load management with Kawhi Leonard and maybe even Paul George. This reduces opportunities for that fight to come to the forefront.
  • That’s a lot of faith in the Celtics (25). They just lost Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. Kemba Walker will help at point guard, but it’s a bigger drop to Enes Kanter at center.
  • The Pelicans (20) are suddenly a draw with Zion Williamson.
  • It’s surprising the Knicks got just three nationally televised games. That’s close to what they deserve, but I thought the New York market would count for more.
  • The Kings are so fun. They don’t belong with the rest of the one-national-TV-game group.

Report: Roy Hibbert joins Sixers as player development coach

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The Philadelphia 76ers have one of the best young defensive big men in the NBA in Joel Embiid. The team also now has Al Horford, who should be able to teach Embiid some tricks. Horford, conveniently, also won’t be annoying the Sixers star as an opponent.

And so Philadelphia has decided to run back its core with Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris. They let Jimmy Butler head to the Miami Heat, and it appears that the plan from here on out is to center things on Embiid and Simmons.

To that end, the 76ers have decided to hire 2-time all-star and former defensive stalwart Roy Hibbert.

Via Twitter:

Hibbert was one of the most dominant big men of the past decade. Playing for the Indiana Pacers, Hibbert was widely credited with popularizing verticality in the modern era.

He soon fell out of favor, and was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2015. He played for the Charlotte Hornets and the Denver Nuggets before ending his run in the NBA in 2017.

Embiid is already one of the best defensive big men out there, but having Hibbert to bang around with and pick up some words of wisdom can’t hurt. Hibbert is still just 32 years old, and he should be able to communicate well with the 25-year-old Embiid.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on botched trade with Heat: ‘Absolutely nothing malicious’

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The Heat and Mavericks reportedly blamed each other for a trade falling through during the chaotic start of free agency.

Dallas thought it was getting Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones Jr. Miami thought it was sending Goran Dragic.

The non-deal put the Heat in a bind. They had to unload salary to complete a sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler. The 76ers, who got Josh Richardson for Butler, were counting on that payroll reduction to sign Al Horford. A lot of dominoes were in play.

Eventually, Miami traded Hassan Whiteside to the Trail Blazers to complete the Butler deal. The Mavericks saved their cap space for Delon Wright and a run at Danny Green, who wound up with the Lakers.

But what happened with the trade that wasn’t?

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

“As far as we can tell, it was just miscommunication,” Cuban told me in an email exchange.

Cuban did not discuss specific players in his email but said “I was sitting in the room full of people when the call was discussed and we put the trade we thought was happening on our board. We later discussed trade kickers and added a player to make it work. They obviously thought they heard something else.”

Cuban said “there was absolutely nothing malicious that went on.”

This isn’t fair to Cuban, but his willingness to move on without spite makes me think the Mavericks were at fault. If the Heat caused the problem, Dallas would be more likely to cause a stink.

Again, that’s totally unfair. Maybe Cuban is just taking the high road. Those negotiations are in the past. Even the wronged team is better off moving on.

But it’s the conclusion I jumped to and can’t shake.

Lakers-Clippers highlights NBA’s Christmas schedule

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While still playing for the Cavaliers, LeBron James named a couple desires for Christmas:

  • Being with family
  • Playing in Los Angeles

He’ll get both this year.

After visiting the Warriors in LeBron’s first season with them, the Lakers will stay in Los Angeles this year.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Malika Andrews of ESPN:

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

This is a good slate.

Lakers-Clippers is the obvious headliner. Those teams are early championship favorites, have major star power (LeBron, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George) and play in a major market. It’s nice both teams can spend the holiday at home.

The Raptors are ending one of the NBA’s longest Christmas-game droughts. They last played in 2001. Though the Canadian market doesn’t translate cleanly for TV ratings, Toronto earned a Christmas home game with its championship. That’s how it has worked since LeBron spoke up. The Raptors won’t be as good as last season. But their opponent, the Celtics, also lost talent.

Rockets-Warriors is a playoff rematch but with enough new faces to add intrigue to this common matchup. Russell Westbrook especially shakes up Houston. Golden State lost Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson will still be sidelined. But D'Angelo Russell is a fresh face.

Bucks-76ers features the two Eastern Conference favorites. Will Giannis Antetokounmpo effectively get inside against Joel Embiid and Al Horford? If not, will Antetokounmpo have developed a better outside game? This will be a fun test of where both teams stand.

Nuggets-Pelicans lacks the combination of star power and market size in many Christmas games. But Denver should be very good, and New Orleans has Zion Williamson and enough talent to be interesting.

The best teams not to get a Christmas game: Jazz and Trail Blazers. But they’re not good enough to get up in arms about a snub, especially considering they play in Utah and Portland. The point of these games is to make money, after all.

At least there’s no Knicks, who’ve played on nine of the last 10 Christmases. New York finally built a roster so dreary, not even that large market excused it.