Al Horford

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Danny Ainge calls restructuring Al Horford’s contract status one of Celtics’ priorities

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Kyrie Irving‘s upcoming summer has generated plenty of attention.

But he’s not the only Celtics starter who could hit unrestricted free agency.

Al Horford has a $30,123,015 player option for next season. That’s likely a higher salary than Horford could get in free agency, so he could opt in. The 33-year-old could also opt out to re-sign on a long-term deal that includes a lower salary next season but more total compensation. Or he could even opt out to leave Boston.

Celtics president Danny Ainge sounds interested in the second option.

Asked about the possibility that Al Horford could opt out of the final year of his deal (and $30.1 million) and negotiate a potential extension to stay in Boston, Ainge said, “That will be discussed. That’s one of the priorities on our list as well.”

If Irving, Horford and Aron Baynes opt out and Boston renounces all its free agents, the Celtics would project to have about $34 million in cap space. But in this hypothetical, a bulk of that earmarked would be earmarked for Horford. Will there be enough space left to exceed the $9 million-ish Boston could spend through the mid-level exception available to over-the-cap teams?

In other words, this might be a year to pay Horford his high salary. If he’ll come cheaper in future seasons, the savings could be more valuable then.

But if Horford opts in rather than opting out to re-sign a long-term deal, the Celtics risk losing him entirely in 2020 free agency. Even if the intention now is for him to re-sign, so much can change in a year.

Of course, Horford holds the cards. It’s his option.

Boston can entice him, though. The Celtics must evaluate their direction. Will Irving defy convention and re-sign? Will Boston trade for Anthony Davis and prioritize the present? Will the Celtics build more patiently around Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and multiple extra first-round draft picks this year and future years? All that will inform how Boston proceeds with Horford.

Likewise, Horford must decide whether he wants to stay. The veteran could see a team losing its best player and want to move on himself.

But there’s definitely potential for the Celtics and Horford to commit long-term to each other very soon.

Rumor: Pelicans’ top target in Anthony Davis trade is Jayson Tatum

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The big name in Anthony Davis trade talks last February (besides Davis himself) was someone who realistically wouldn’t get dealt.

Jayson Tatum loomed over the process. The Celtics can’t trade for Davis until July, because Kyrie Irving is already their one allowable traded-for designated-rookie-scale player. So, Boston had to convince the Pelicans to keep Davis past the deadline. Their reward this offseason could be Tatum.

But so much has changed since.

Tatum continued an underwhelming second season. New Orleans fired Dell Demps and hired David Griffin to run the front office. Kyrie Irving appears likely to leave the Celtics, which would make it more difficult for them to re-sign Davis in 2020.

Does Boston still want Davis as badly? Do the Pelicans still value Tatum so highly?

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

From what I’ve been able to learn, if Kyrie Irving walks, it is not going to diminish their appetite to go get Anthony Davis.

From what I understand, they’re not going to take their foot off the gas when it comes to pursuing Anthony Davis.

I know that there’s a stronger sense than ever within the organization that Kyrie Irving is going to leave.

Fletcher Mackel of WDSU

Tatum is still a valuable player. He’s young, talented and relatively cheap. But his stock has probably dropped enough since the trade deadline that it opens doors for other teams to beat Boston’s offer for Davis. Even if Tatum remains the Pelicans’ most-desired player, other teams could offer better packages of multiple players and picks.

Especially because the Celtics should show some restraint considering Irving’s likely impending exit.

Davis reportedly wouldn’t rule out staying in Boston without Irving. But that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. Davis’ father enters the situation with a unfavorable view of the Celtics.

Without Irving, Tatum and whatever else they must send New Orleans, how good would the Davis-led Celtics be? There’d be a lot riding on Gordon Hayward rediscovering his star production after injury, Al Horford staving off aging (if he doesn’t opt out and leave) and Jaylen Brown getting back into a groove after an uneven year. It’d be a huge risk.

Of course, having a Davis trade in place could convince Irving to re-sign. That might be a longshot, but the possibility of a star twofer should factor.

Boston reportedly could have traded for Kawhi Leonard, who now has the Raptors on the brink of a championship. Sometimes, the big swing pays off, and seeing it happen for Toronto could prompt the Celtics to take their own this summer.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Marcus Smart headline All-Defensive teams

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NBA teams scored more points per possession this season than ever.

But a few players stood out for slowing the offensive onslaught.

The All-Defensive teams (first-team votes, second-team votes, voting points in parentheses):

First team

Guard: Marcus Smart, BOS (63-19-145)

Guard: Eric Bledsoe, MIL (36-28-100)

Forward: Paul George, OKC (96-3-195)

Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL (94-5-193)

Center: Rudy Gobert, UTA (97-2-196)

Second team

Guard: Jrue Holiday, MIN (31-28-90)

Guard: Klay Thompson, GSW (23-36-82)

Forward: Draymond Green, GSW (2-57-61)

Forward: Kawhi Leonard, TOR (5-29-39)

Center: Joel Embiid, PHI (4-72-80)

Also receiving votes: Danny Green, TOR (19-28-66); Patrick Beverley, LAC (14-20-48); Myles Turner, IND (1-37-39); P.J. Tucker, HOU (1-36-38); Pascal Siakam, TOR (0-24-24); Derrick White, SAS (4-7-15); Russell Westbrook, OKC (2-5-9); Jimmy Butler, PHI (2-5-9); Chris Paul, HOU (1-5-7); Robert Covington, MIN (1-3-5); Paul Millsap, DEN (0-5-5); James Harden, HOU (2-0-4); Al Horford, BOS (0-4-4); Kevin Durant, GSW (0-4-4); Malcolm Brogdon, MIL (1-1-3); Josh Richardson, MIA (0-3-3); Kyle Lowry, TOR (0-3-3)
Stephen Curry, GSW (1-0-2); Thaddeus Young, IND (0-2-2); Anthony Davis, NOP (0-2-2); Ben Simmons, PHI (0-2-2); Donovan Mitchell, UTA (0-2-2); Derrick Favors, UTA (0-2-2); Joe Ingles, UTA (0-2-2); Jaylen Brown, BOS (0-1-1); Kyrie Irving, BOS (0-1-1); Ed Davis, BRK (0-1-1); Gary Harris, DEN (0-1-1); Nikola Jokic, DEN (0-1-1); Andre Drummond, DET (0-1-1); Andre Iguodala, GSW (0-1-1); Jordan Bell, GSW (0-1-1); Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LAC (0-1-1); Mike Conley, MEM (0-1-1); Kyle Anderson, MEM (0-1-1); Bam Adebayo, MIA (0-1-1); Khris Middleton, MIL (0-1-1); Brook Lopez, MIL (0-1-1); Terrance Ferguson, OKC (0-1-1); Damian Lillard, POR (0-1-1); De’Aaron Fox, SAC (0-1-1); Ricky Rubio, UTA (0-1-1); Bradley Beal, WAS (0-1-1)

Observations:

  • This voting could foreshadow a tight Defensive Player of the Year race. The three finalists for that award – Rudy Gobert, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo – each received a high majority of votes, but not unanimity, at their positions. Or Gobert could just cruise to another victory.
  • I have no major complaints about the selections. I would have put Danny Green (who finished fifth among guards) on the first team, bumped down Eric Bledsoe and excluded Klay Thompson. I also would have give second-team forward to P.J. Tucker (who finished fifth among forwards) over Kawhi Leonard. Here are our picks for reference.
  • P.J. Tucker came only one voting point from the second team. If he tied Kawhi Leonard, both players would have made it on an expanded six-player second team.
  • Leonard hasn’t defended with the same verve this season. He remains awesome in stretches, particular in the playoffs. But his effort in the regular season didn’t match his previous level. Defensive reputations die hard.
  • It’s a shame Thaddeus Young received only two second-team votes. My general rule is you can complain about a lack of votes for only players you picked, and I didn’t pick Young. But he came very close to P.J. Tucker for my final forward spot, Young had a stronger case than several forwards ahead of him.
  • James Harden got two first-team votes. Did someone think they were voting for All-NBA? Stephen Curry also got a first-team vote. Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard got second-team votes. Nikola Jokic got a second-team vote. Kevin Durant got a few second-team votes. There’s plenty of All-NBA/All-Defensive overlap with other frontcourt players. There could easily be an incorrectly submitted ballot.
  • But that still leaves a second Harden first-team vote with no other plausible explanation. Someone must really love steals, guaring in the post and absolutely no other aspects of defense.
  • Jordan Bell got a second-team vote at forward. He’s a decent defender, but someone who played fewer minutes than Dirk Nowitzki, Bruno Caboclo and Omari Spellman this season. Bell also primarily played center. Weird.

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.

Kyrie Irving on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s free throws: ‘It’s getting ridiculous at this point’

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The Celtics kept fouling Giannis Antetokounmpo in their Game 2 loss to the Bucks last night.

Kyrie Irving sounded agitated about that.

Irving (warning: profanity in the above video):

I mean, it’s inevitable. Guy comes down almost six times in a row and gets free throws. What are you really going to do? It’s slowing the game down. So, the run that you would hope to make in a quarter like that doesn’t happen. Shot 22 on the game. I mean, it’s getting ridiculous at this point. It’s just slowing the f—ing game down.

Hopefully, we can even out the free throws – not just in the fourth quarter.

The refs have a difficult job. We have a difficult job. Obviously, I can sit up here and can complain. We know the disparity and what it is. But I’m not going to put all the emphasis on the refereeing. I think that there are a lot of controllable thing on our end that we can be better at. Obviously, the officiating is going to be part of it. Hopefully, you wish that things could go you way. But they don’t. We have to be able to respond in a better circumstance. We’ve just got to respond better, and I think that we will do that going into Game 4.

Though Irving swore and had the tone of someone complaining about officiating, he didn’t really say anything egregious. He actually put the onus on the Celtics, not the referees.

As he should have. Antetokounmpo earned his 22 free throws last night. Boston just had no way to slow him other than fouling.

Al Horford remains a good defender of Antetokounmpo, but Horford was especially effective in Game 1 because of the Celtics’ excellent help defense. Antetokounmpo has learned he can’t spin and probe as much against Boston. He’s now aggressively attacking the rim before help can slow him. Though Horford has handled that OK, other defenders – Marcus Morris, Jayson Tatum, Semi Ojeleye – can’t keep up. So, they keep fouling.

If the Celtics stop fouling, they might allow Antetokounmpo to shoot better from the field. There’s no easy answer against a superstar like him.

Also: I find Irving’s complaint about the halting flow strange. The free throws definitely helped the Bucks. But I’m not sure how the game’s long duration benefited one team over the other.