Offseason Dreaming: Gortat In Green

Although the Celtics season of mediocrity isn’t quite over yet, the remaining 7 games can’t come quickly enough in what has been a long 82-game stand. With this in mind, it’s never too early to look towards the period in June and July this year where Danny Ainge is expected to be very active.

Polish center Marcin Gortat displayed his affections for the C’s in yesterday’s game against the Wizards in DC, which grabbed my attention as a fan excitedly looking towards the offseason.

Early in the contest, Rondo displayed his signature behind-the-back fake pass that left Gortat with his feet nailed to the floor. Down the other end, Trevor Booker attempted a pair of free throws while Rondo and Gortat shared a laugh over the previous play. This may not seem like much, but there is definitely a mutual respect between the pair, as the Polish Hammer took to Twitter after the game to illustrate this point:

As the 3rd quarter wound down with Jeff Green getting ready to sink some free throws, the Celtics players huddled round for a quick discussion, only to be joined by a certain #4 in a Wizards uniform. It was another mischievous act in yesterday’s game, which was literally embraced by Rondo by having his arm around Gortat as well.

Admittedly, these are only two small things that really don’t point to much on their own. Last year in the offseason, Brandon Bass and Gortat worked out together. The former Orlando Magic teammates clearly share a good relationship to still be catching up and playing ball together, which could work well in any recruitment pitches the Celtics may put to the center.

Becoming an unrestricted free agent after this season, Gortat is earning $7.27 million this year and could demand a similar figure on the open market. While the Wizards are obviously eager to re-sign him, with Marc Stein reporting his signature ‘as a top priority’ for Washington, he has the choice of signing with any team around the league.

The Celtics desperately need a quality center on their roster moving forward, if the Omer Asik trade rumours were anything to go by in December last year. At 30 years of age, Gortat has plenty of good years left in the NBA.

Putting together mutual respect between Gortat and the Captain of the Celtics, his relationship with former teammate Bass, his status as an unrestricted free agent and the Celtics with a plethora of picks and money to make it happen, here’s hoping that fun he had with the Celtics yesterday is the start of something much bigger.

Share your thoughts with us!

- Michael (@mickyt34)

 

Kelly’s Playing Olright

The expectations on most rookie big men must be set reasonably low as players transition from the tempo of the college game into the faster pace of the NBA. However, this isn’t always the case when those rookie bigs are drafted in the top 15 of their class.

Kelly Olynyk displayed a high basketball IQ from the word go, especially when he was named player of the tournament for the 2013 Summer League in Orlando. However, the pace of real NBA games meant Olynyk had trouble finding his feet over the first few months of the season proper.

The turnaround in Kelly’s game over the past two months or so can be put down to something rather simple: confidence. This added confidence can be attributed to several factors. A familiarity with Coach Stevens’ system and his teammates (especially Phil Pressey), an understanding of the tempo of the game and his opponents, and just being comfortable knowing his own game is good enough at this level.

Tommy Heinsohn noted that Olynyk’s selection to the Rising Stars game at All-Star weekend may have helped him feel like he truly belongs at this level.

He is no longer hesitating with the ball in his hands, instead taking the shots that are available to him straightaway, demonstrating a higher arc on his jump shots too. If the shots aren’t there, he simply illustrates a very smart passing game to find an open teammate. Olynyk runs the floor very well for a big man, and his ability to finish around the rim is very impressive. In February he averaged 8.4 points per game, substantially improving on averages in December and January of 6.1 and 6.3 points per contest.

Since his return from a toe injury, Kelly has posted averages of 16 points at 53% field goal percentage, 6 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 22.5 minutes of court time over those 3 games.

Not only is Olynyk putting up better numbers and looking comfortable in offensive sets, he is also playing with an added aggression which has seen a spike in his rebounding numbers. Over the months of December and January, Olynyk averaged 3.6 and 3.8 boards per contest respectively. In February, those numbers jumped to 6.5 rebounds per game. This is no coincidence, as he actively pursues rebounds and positions himself a lot better than he used to.

It also seems as though Kris Humphries’ tutelage has been working on Olynyk, as he looks to have added some size and muscle since the start of the season.

Danny Ainge has now drafted Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk over the past two offseasons, with both big men showing enormous potential to be something special for the Celtics going forward. As Kelly continues to improve, it’s exciting to think about what the future holds for this young and promising team.

- Michael (@mickyt34)

Navigating The Rest Of Season 2013/14

As the February trade deadline passed and no moves were made by Danny Ainge since mid-January, the 2013/14 version of the Boston Celtics won’t be one of the most memorable teams in the franchise’s decorated history. Since the beginning of the season and the appointment of rookie Coach Brad Stevens, this season was always about development and working towards something great in the near future. With 23 games remaining and injuries mounting, surely it is time to throw caution to the wind and see what the more inexperienced players have in their arsenal.

With the news Gerald Wallace may miss the final seven weeks of the season, an opportunity for substantial playing time is now up for grabs. As Avery Bradley will return soon, most minutes will be distributed to Jerryd Bayless, Kelly Olynyk and Kris Humphries (in addition to the starting five of Rondo, Bradley, Green, Bass and Sullinger). This is assuming all players will be available to play at the same time, something that has been a rare occurrence with the amount of injuries this team has been dealt with.

This leaves a great opportunity for the likes of Chris Johnson, Phil Pressey and 10-day contract recipient Chris Babb to compete for extended minutes at the guard/forward positions.

Phil Pressey has shown flashes of the player he can become, starting in place of Rajon Rondo on second nights of back-to-backs and playing with the composure required of an NBA-calibre point guard. In January, an impressive night against Toronto in his first career start saw him dish out 10 assists with 0 turnovers, followed later in the week by a 20 point and 4 assist outing against Washington, highlights what Pressey is capable of.

His future with the Celtics appears bright after Danny Ainge traded away Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks to give the 5’11” rookie some meaningful playing time. It might be time to give Pressey a more established role behind Rajon Rondo to showcase what he can do on a consistent basis, instead of barely playing to starting from one game to the next.

Chris Johnson really forced his way onto this team, and since being signed to a multi-year deal at the beginning of February, he has continued to play hard on both ends of the floor. Playing to his strengths and knowing his limitations, Johnson would seem the most likely candidate to take the majority of Gerald Wallace’s minutes. It will be interesting to see how Johnson responds to the added responsibility.

Finally, Danny Ainge signed Chris Babb to a 10-day contract to cover the plethora of injuries the Celtics roster currently holds. Babb appeared in five preseason games for the C’s, most notably a 12-point outing in only 8 minutes of action against the Knicks, knocking down 4-5 shots from 3-point land. Babb was unlucky with the amount of guards that jammed the roster at the beginning of the season, but now finds an opportunity to show what he can do at the highest level.

Coach Stevens has been thrown many curveballs in his first season in the NBA, and has been able to navigate his way through all the surprises along the ride very well to this point. Injuries, player frustration, an imbalanced roster, and many losses have all reared their ugly heads at different times. Stevens has always preached never getting too high or too low, and has always instilled confidence into his players whilst keeping a level head at all times. He has been the perfect man for the job.

With Boston headed for the lottery in this draft, now is the time to embrace the injuries the Celtics have been handed and to identify which players will stick as the team moves forward. With a decent selection in the draft, two trade exceptions, and a huge amount of picks at his disposal, Danny Ainge is looking at who will remain in green this offseason, as the Celtics look to climb back into contention at a rapid rate.

- Michael (@mickyt34)

Rondo v2.0 – How good is he this season?

It might sound ridiculous to be upbeat when your team’s currently ranked 12th in the horrific East, holding a 19-39 season record, and definitely nowhere near the playoffs. Here’s a flowchart that sums up my feelings every game:

flowchart_celtics2014

Summary: Just can’t lose this season! As things stand right now, we’re looking at two first round picks this coming draft. There is another potential pick from Philadelphia which is lottery protected. Problem: they’re 15-42 right now, and they definitely did a better job on making their team worse by trading Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner at the deadline, so that pick is more or less out of reach.

Outside of developing young core players like Sullinger and Olynyk, hoarding picks and keeping the salaries manageable, the biggest concern on the team has to be our captain Rajon Rondo. It’s obvious the long term plan is to build around #9, which begs the question – how is his game looking like so far after his return from ACL surgery, and can we expect him to be as good (if not better) compared to earlier seasons?

Free throw shooting

Some past numbers on RR at the stripe:

  • His highest FT accuracy was 64.7% in his rookie season (2006/07) while averaging 2.4 FTs a game (184 attempts total.)
  • The next highest was 64.5% last season (2012/13) at 2.4 FTs a game (93 attempts total.)
  • The most free throw attempts ever taken in a season was in 2009/10, where he took 282 shots and made 62.1%.

This season, he’s been hitting them at 73.7%, making 14 of 19. Out of the 13 games he’s played, he’s only shot free throws in 6 of them, more notably the recent games against the Suns (4/5), Lakers (1/2) and Jazz (6/6).

This sample size is incredibly tiny, and he could very well derail the entire stat by only making half of them in the remaining 23 games. If his free throws in the recent Jazz game are any gauge though, his mechanics do seem to be improved. If you do watch the video linked above, there is a consistent form and routine being seen in the way he follows through with the shot.

Long story short: it could be luck, but I doubt it.

Shot distribution and accuracy

Rondo has always been known as a brilliant passer and finisher at the rim, and much less of a shooting threat, be they three-pointers or mid-range jumpers. Of course, he proved Miami wrong by burying mid-range jumpers when they sagged off him during the 2012 playoffs, but that’s been an anomaly from Rondo and his cheat code playoffs mode, rather than a consistent statistic.

In 2011/12, his right elbow jump shot was a reliable but seldom used option (23 /41), with the bulk of his shots being near the rim (176/340) – floaters, putbacks, twisty layups off the glass, the occasional dream shake and all that. Everything else was a quirky and unreliable go-to option.

Rajon Rondo shot chart 2011/12

Rajon Rondo shot chart 2011/12

In 2012/13, things began to change. Despite not finishing the season (38 games played compared to 53 in 2011/12), Rondo’s mid-range shots around the FT line improved in both volume and accuracy, most especially the right elbow.

Rajon Rondo shot chart 2012/13

Rajon Rondo shot chart 2012/13

This season?

  • In only 13 games, he’s already hit the same amount of three pointers straight up (the zone facing the basket), that he did in 2011/12 and 2012/13 combined. That’s a total of 91 games, mind you. Put it to a combination of three factors: team direction, Rondo’s confidence and his improved shot mechanics.
  • It’s also evident that he hasn’t quite regained his speed and mobility, which accounts for the reduced field goal percentage around the rim. Not being able to sidestep and flash by defenders at top speed would tend to make one miss more layups – just saying.
Rajon Rondo shot chart 2013/14 as at 25 Feb 2014

Rajon Rondo shot chart 2013/14 as at 25 Feb 2014

In terms of distribution: he’s taking 23.28% of his shots at the three point line this season, compared to 10.75% in 2012/13 and 7.34% in 2011/12. Clearly, Rondo’s working hard to dispel the defensive myth about “giving Rondo space to shoot because he’s a bad shooter”, and making teams rethink their Rondo-oriented defensive strategies. Rondo hasn’t regained the fluid movement he had pre-ACL tear, but it’s going to be interesting to see how much space opposing teams will give him in the months ahead.

Assists

This wouldn’t be much of a Rondo article if we ignored Rondo’s most valuable trait on the floor. Having averaged 11.7 and 11.1 assists per game in the past two seasons, he’s currently on 7.8 dimes per game, with 10+ assists coming from 6 of his 7 recent games.

Some other interesting numbers (reference):

  1. The team averaged 19.45 assists per game before Rondo’s return, and is currently dishing close to 22 assists in the past 17 games since his return.
  2. Out of the 395 assists made by the team since his return, Rondo’s made 102 – that’s more than a quarter of them.
  3. Similarly, the team’s assist % has risen from 53.52% to 60.52%, which speaks volumes about the increased number of assisted team baskets.

What the numbers don’t describe though, is the sheer joy of seeing Rondo make the right plays and find a teammate for open baskets, something that has been sorely missed when he went down last season. That “point guard by committee” thing last year? Most definitely a failed experiment.


Despite all the positive signs, it’s still too early to say for certain how well Rondo’s recovered. The true test will come soon enough once March hits, when the Celtics run the gauntlet and go through a punishing schedule with contenders (Warriors, Pacers, Suns, Heat) and tough matchups (Pistons, Nets, Bulls) throughout the month.

Be sure to refer to the flowchart and stay positive, but more importantly, keep your eyes peeled and observe how Rondo and the team fare against tough competition. This season is all about growth, and that’s all the silver lining we need right now. May the return of Mr Triple Double be swift, and certain.

Johnson Earns His Place

The Celtics made the right decision today by signing Chris Johnson for the rest of the season. After proving he belongs in the NBA on two 10-day contracts, financial flexibility threatened to terminate the relationship between Johnson and the Celtics.

CJ has played hard, every night. When he enters the game, his presence is felt straight away from running the floor and being the first man up the court. With respectable defence to boot, you can tell Johnson wasn’t letting go of this chance easily. Having played 8 games for Memphis last season and undertaking training camp with Brooklyn this preseason, Johnson had been waiting for his next opportunity and not let go of it.

Over 8 games in green, Johnson has posted averages of 7.6 points, 1.3 assists, and 2.8 rebounds in 21 minutes of action. In addition, he has shot a very respectable 40% from 3-point range.  While these are impressive numbers for someone just joining a team, they only tell some of the story.

Johnson has impressed his teammates with his hard work, and knack for making the right plays and keeping a level head when on the floor. His confidence to shoot the ball when open has also been a notable facet of his game. The coach is also impressed with the small forward, having this to say

I think it’s a great story, but it’s not like it’s some miracle. It’s the result of hard work, doing the right things, not being scared of the moment, taking advantage of opportunities, those type of things.

Keeping Johnson was a small financial investment, and any concerns the C’s had over money and trade flexibility by signing CJ is definitely outweighed by the play we have seen from him over the past 20 days. The Celtics still hold one open roster spot heading into the trade deadline period, and are roughly $1 million away from the dreaded luxury tax line.

With the coach and captain backing your game, it’s no surprise Johnson is already grateful to Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens, and his teammates for instilling him with confidence. The challenge now for Johnson is to stay hungry, and to keep producing for the first organisation to give him a real shot in this league.

- Michael (@mickyt34)

The Green breakdown – Should Jeff Green be traded?

Here’s a question many Celtics fans have had in the back of their minds for a while – is trading Jeff Green a good idea, or bad?

Jeff Green

The problem some people see with Jeff, is his lack of consistency – why the hell can’t he play like he does in his 25+ point games every night? In my opinion he does, but it is all about rhythm. In Jeff’s best games this season, it hasn’t been all aggressive plays. In most of his good/great games he shoots the ball well from the field, especially from the 3, which gives him the confidence to attack with impunity. He has had 2 great fantastic offensive games where he shot 15 & 13 free throws, with the games being a win and a loss apiece.

In the NBA 2013/14 season, Green has had:

  • Two 30+ point games (31 & 39),
  • Eight 20+ point games (29, 26, 25, 24, 24, 22, 22, 20) and
  • Sixteen 15+ point games (19×5, 18×3, 17, 16×5, 15×2)

That makes up 26 of the 44 games played that Jeff has had 15+ points, and he has only had seven games where has scored under 10 points, meaning he has scored in double digits for 37/44 games, or 84%.

Jeff is our leading scorer at 16.2 points a game, with the next closest being Avery at 14.5. Jeff leads us in free throws attempted & made, which shows he is being rather aggressive this year. Jeff is 145/188 from the line this season & the next closest is Brandon Bass at 115-136. Jeff also averages 5.1 rebounds per game and has 223 total on the season, being the 3rd most behind Bass and Sullinger.

On the court:                 Off the court:
14.4 FTA                                6.6 FTA
13.1 AST                                6.6 AST

Here’s an interesting stat I’ll toss into the equation too: Jeff really loves Wednesdays apparently! He has played ten Wednesday games (tied with most of any day with Friday), and Jeff puts up a cool 21.6 PPG while shooting .461% from the field & .451% from deep on those nights. Jeff’s next best game night is Friday, where he puts up 16.3PPG.

Jeff Green’s best games this season

Boston @ Washington Wizards
39 Points on 14/26 shooting (.538%), 8/16 from 3 (0.500%) & 3/5 from the stripe (.600%). 9 rebounds, 3 steals & a block

Boston vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
31 points on 10/19 shooting (.526%) 9/13 from the stripe (.692%) & 2/4 from 3

Boston vs. Los Angeles Clippers
29 points on 10/23 shooting (.435%) 3/7 from deep (.429%) 6/6 from the stripe & 4 rebounds

Boston @ Golden State Warriors
24 points on 11/17 shooting (.647%) 1/2 from 3 & 11 rebounds.

Green’s worst games

(No video lowlights for obvious reasons.)

Boston @ Minnesota Timberwolves
2 points on 0/6 shooting, 2/2 from the line & 7 rebounds.

Boston vs Houston Rockets
4 points on 2/10 shooting (.200%) & 6 rebounds

Boston @ Houston Rockets
4 points on 2/7 shooting (.286%) & 2 rebounds

The question now: is he worth $8.7 million this season & 9.2 million for the next two seasons?

In my opinion I’d keep him around and see how he does for the remainder of this season when Rondo gets going, as I believe his PPG will go up with the passing #9 is capable of. Personally, I don’t think a season average of 16.2 PPG in his first 44 games, in first season of his career as the go-to scorer is honestly that bad. Some nights he will go off for 25+, most nights he will be around 15+ with the occasional hiccup. In the end, it all boils down to the salary cap and how much his perceived value is to the team.

Do you think Jeff is a keeper, or does it really stink badly for you? Let me know what you think @BrandonMckay6 or @CelticAustralia on Twitter.

The Bus To Banner 18

Danny Ainge is a smart man. He is always a few steps ahead of other GMs around the league. For this reason, all Celtics fans should have total confidence in where he is taking this team.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen moves made to create cap space and gather even more draft picks, leading to the departures of Courtney Lee, Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks. All signs are pointing to the future, as Ainge is shaping the roster to be prepared for the 2014 offseason and beyond.

“We have a long way to go. There’s a lot of good positive things that are happening with our team and a lot of good development with a lot of our young guys. We have some good veteran guys who have set great examples, hard-workers for our young guys. And I feel like we’re figuring out who we want on the bus.” – ESPN

Who will be on the bus that leads this team back up the conference standings and all the way to banner 18?

On The Bus

Rajon Rondo

Put all trade rumours aside, this man is going nowhere. The newly appointed Captain of the Celtics has proven over his rehabilitation that he is fully committed to Boston. He put in countless hours with the trainers, travelled with the team to support his teammates and be the leader, and was also recognised for his community work in the month of December.

Even putting all of this aside, Rondo is an All-Star point guard determined to find his open teammates rather than shoot the ball. This calibre of point guard is becoming more important and harder to find in the NBA, and Danny Ainge would only consider moving Rondo if they received a star of the game in return.

Rondo’s existing contract will be up after the 2014/15 season, but there are already whispers of a contract extension for Mr. Triple Double in the wake of his return to the floor. Expect #9 to be the co-pilot to Coach Stevens through this period.

Jared Sullinger

It’s hard to believe the big man is only in his second season. It’s even harder to believe how well he has been playing when he had an interrupted preseason as he recovered from back surgery. All signs point to continous improvement. Sully has shown great character to put aside an offseason indiscretion that could have easily derailed many athletes, and his commitment to keep improving should see Sullinger remain in green for a long time.

Phil Pressey

The question Celtic fans keep asking is: How did this guy go undrafted? The calming influence Pressey plays with shows maturity beyond his rookie status, and the good news is he will only improve with more experience. Having great court vision allows Pressey to find his open teammates, while his ability to dish out on-target assists is reminiscent of another point guard on this roster.

A contract that could see him with the Celtics for three seasons on low money indicate the confidence Ainge showed in Pressey from the outset, and after trading away Jordan Crawford to give him more minutes, all signs point to Pressey being on the bus for the future as a great foil to Rondo.

Kelly Olynyk

Summer League. This is where rookies can showcase their potential, and Olynyk was better than all of his teammates and opponents in the 2013 Summer League. As is the case with many big men finding their way in the NBA, there have been growing pains as Olynyk’s physicality and rebounding ability have come into question, which is all part of being a rookie.

He has shown flashes of brilliance, and an occasional ability to light up the scoring sheet already in his short career. His calm demeanour underneath the basket and high basketball IQ have been highlights of Olynyk’s game thus far. The only way Kelly will be out of Boston would be in a blockbuster-type trade as a trade chip, which is all speculation at this stage.

Waiting At The Depot

Avery Bradley

Bradley has had a very consistent season on both ends of the court. He has proven his ability to knockdown mid-range jumpers off the dribble, off screens and the catch and shoot, keeping his opponent honest defensively.

This improvement on the offensive side of the ball has been good for the Celtics this year, but Bradley will head into the 2014 offseason as a Restricted Free Agent. It will be interesting to see how much teams are prepared to offer Bradley. The financial side of basketball may become too much for Ainge to keep Bradley on board. Watch this space.

Kris Humphries

Remember when Boston fans had reservations surrounding this man playing for our team? With Rondo? What a difference 6 months makes. Humphries has been a true professional in his entire time with the Celtics. He began the season warming the bench and logging DNP’s, but he kept his mouth shut and worked his way into the rotation, then as the first big off the bench, to become the starting centre on this team.

Leading via hard work is crucial for a veteran, as it sets a great example for his young teammates. His upbeat personality and hustle on the floor actually have Celtic fans and reporters reconsidering Hump’s future with this team. Originally, the general consensus was to trade away Humphries and his expiring contract before February’s trade deadline. Now we are wondering whether Ainge may decide to bring him back next season. Things will become much clearer next month.

Jeff Green

As we saw against Washington, Ironman is capable of big scoring nights. When he plays with aggression, he is one of the best small forwards in the league. The problem for Uncle Jeff lies with his inconsistency. Some nights he can be unstoppable, other nights he is barely sighted.

It is this inconsistency that has brought his name up in trade rumours in the past week, and why he was mentioned when the Rockets were shopping Omer Asik in December. Green would be a great foil on a contending team, but more likely as a role player than a starter. It remains to be seen whether Green will stick with the Celtics in the long run.

Vitor Faverani

El Hombre Indestructible started the season in great fashion, posting big numbers in points and boards before crashing back to earth. Now buried on the bench, Vitor is with the Celtics on a cheaper contract, and should stick with the team unless he is part of a trade package.

Jerryd Bayless

Acquired only two weeks ago in a trade for Courtney Lee, Danny Ainge holds Bayless in high regard. Capable of posting big numbers off the bench, he is a proficient ball-handler and is still relatively young for his experience. A free agent at season’s end, Balyess has spoken of his desire to stick with the Celtics beyond this year.

Gerald Wallace

While there are many people who would be incredibly happy to see Crash leaving Beantown, it is very unlikely due to his awful contract. While he can provide leadership to this young team, Wallace has called out his teammates publicly on numerous occasions and it is something that has worn pretty thin with fans. Unless a rival GM goes temporarily insane, the Celtics will be stuck with this contract until it expires at the end of the 2014/15 season.

Joel Anthony

The two-time NBA champion came to Boston with draft picks to relieve Miami of luxury tax issues last week. A solid veteran presence, Anthony’s game is based on defending and rebounding. He holds a player option of $3.8 million for next season, and from a financial perspective it would make sense for Anthony to pick up this option. Luckily Anthony is a professional who will always support his team regardless of his personal situation.

Brandon Bass

It’s becoming increasingly likely that this hard worker won’t remain with the Celtics beyond this year. With Kris Humphries providing a veteran presence to Sullinger and Olynyk, it’s hard to see where Bass can fit into this team’s future. On a reasonable contract, Bass would be a nice complementary piece to a contending team. While his service to the team over the past three seasons has been solid, and at times undervalued, it would appear his days may be numbered.

End Of The Line

Keith Bogans

An expiring contract and being excused indefinitely due to being upset with a lack of playing time? All signs point to the relationship between Bogans and the Celtics ending very soon.

It will be interesting to watch the next month unfold for Danny Ainge and the Celtics. After the success of Shavlik Randolph’s 10-day contract last season and the surprise play of Chris Johnson this week, it’s no surprise if Ainge continues to plug holes in the roster along the way.

Things will become much clearer after the trade deadline passes. Holding a $10 million exception and an abundance of draft picks to exchange, we will be keeping a keen eye on who will find themselves a seat on the Celtics’ bus to banner #18.

- Michael (@mickyt34)

Is Lee the first Domino to fall?

In a season where it was widely expected that the Celtics would be active in the trade market, the first in-season move has been made. The Celtics have traded Courtney Lee to the Memphis Grizzlies for Jerryd Bayless (and Ryan Gomes from OKC who was immediately waived). What can we tell from this move? Was this a basketball decision or a financial decision? Does this make the Celtics buyers, or sellers? Is this the first domino to drop for this Celtics team?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks

Firstly, this absolutely was a financial move. Courtney Lee has 2 years and approximately $11 million ($5.225 million per season) remaining after this season on his current contract, whilst Jerryd Bayless is in the final year of his contract with $3 million owing to him this season. It is well documented that with this trade, the Celtics will trim off future money with this deal. As it currently stands, the Celtics will have approximately $40 million in cap space heading into next season –a little under $50 million if you count the first round picks and cap holdings– so this leaves us with a lot of room to resign either Bradley/Crawford, or even both if desired, giving some wiggle room to sign lower level free agents. The Celtics prior to the trade were a mere $500K away from the tax line – crossing this line would see the Celtics pay luxury tax, which for the current team is something they will avoid like the plague. Because the Celtics sent more in salary than they received, they were able to step away from the ledge a little – this could prove handy in future trades as it gives the team more flexibility to take a little more salary back if necessary to make numbers work.

From a basketball standpoint, both players are averaging similar numbers, with Bayless averaging 8ppg in 21mpg, and Lee with 7.4ppg in 17mpg. The biggest statistical difference with these players is efficiency – with Lee entering his prime at 28, he’s enjoying his most efficient season as a pro, averaging 44% from beyond the arc, and 16ppg per 36 which are both career highs – whilst Bayless is shooting at a terrible 37.5% field goal with an even worse 28% from 3 point land. While Lee is the better player in this trade, he is earning more and his contract runs longer than Bayless’, so this was a basketball move for Memphis, recognising that they need more shooters to spread the floor and a financial move for Boston, recognising that they need to shed themselves of long term salary to continue the rebuild.

jerryd

Credit to @Lil_Kaino for the artwork.

In a previous article asking whether or not the Celtics would be buyers or sellers, it seems that the Celtics are going to be sellers this season as Lee has been better than Bayless this season on both ends of the floor. This will be the first of many similar moves in the season for the Celtics to gain financial freedom. The Celtics have an abundance of veterans on the team that could find themselves relocated by the February trade deadline, which include:

  • Brandon Bass – He has been having one of his best seasons as a pro and has a reasonable contract (1 year, over $6 million remaining after this season). Bass has been one of the most consistent performers in this Celtic team, unfortunately he is playing a position that the Celtics are stacked in, especially with the need to develop the younger talent in Sullinger and Olynyk who both are PF. As his name has already been in the trade rumours this season, expect Ainge to move Bass during the course of the season.
  • Kris Humphries – As mentioned previously, Hump has been playing some outstanding ball for the Celtics lately. He came over strictly as an expiring contract (over $12 million coming off the books) but has since become an important piece to the team. He runs hard, can knock down jump shots, and he attacks the boards hard. Unless Ainge includes Hump into a deal to get an all-star, or future picks, there’s a possibility that Hump may actually stay – purely because his contract coming off the books next season maybe be more valuable than what Ainge could get back.
  • Jordan Crawford – One of the biggest surprises this season has been the emergence of Jordan Crawford. He has surprised the whole league with his stellar play at point guard in the absence of Rajon Rondo. With Bayless on the team now, they share a similar skill set – because the Celtics cannot trade a freshly acquired player for 3 months, this could possibly make Crawford redundant once Rondo returns. Danny bought low on Crawford last season and if he has a chance to sell high on him, I would expect him to take it (for the record, I would take Steez over Bayless any day of the week).
  • Jeff Green –  Green is not necessarily the trade spotlight, but he is a player that a lot of teams would/have shown interest in acquiring.  With his shoot/slash game, size and ability to defend, and the fact that he is on a reasonable contract, Danny wouldn’t just let him go for a salary dump as he is worth more than that – we would have to get a player back that is clearly an upgrade to Jeff.
  • Gerald Wallace – Danny would obviously love to move Wallace and that horrendous remaining 3 years/$10 million contract that he is on. Reality is, unless we are giving up a first pick, or a star such as Rondo, there is no incentive for any team to take him.
  • Keith Bogans/MarShon Brooks – Bogans would be included in a trade purely to make up numbers, just like he was in the Nets/Celtics trade as there is simply no demand for him. For MarShon however, this trade could benefit him as he has moved up the SG depth with Lee traded. Hopefully he gets some burn with the Celtics so they can proper evaluate him to see if he is a future piece, or trade bait.
  • Rajon Rondo – It wouldn’t be much of a trade article if we don’t talk about Rondo being traded, would it? As stated, the Celtics would absolutely rather build around Rondo rather than trade him. Ainge would have to be blown out of the water by an offer, which would have to include the following: a young star/future picks/expiring contracts – coupled with the other teams’ willingness to take Gerald Wallace’s poisonous contract off our hands.

Look for the Celtics to be active in the trade market, especially when it gets closer to the trade deadline and other teams are under pressure to land veteran help.
Courtney Lee by all accounts looked to be a great teammate and competitor and us Celtic fans appreciated his play and determination. He should fit in great at Memphis as a shooter and defender – we wish him all the best.

Lee is the first domino to fall, who’s next?

Leave your opinions below.

- Dave Mikhael @big_dave31

Humphries Working Hard

Buried in a front court rotation at the beginning of the season, Kris Humphries continued to plug away, work hard in practice, and be an ultimate professional in supporting his teammates from the bench. Not once did he complain about his lack of minutes, despite logging 4 DNP’s due to coach’s decision in the first 8 games of the year.

Behind Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, and rookie bigs Kelly Olynyk and Vitor Faverani, Humphries wasn’t discouraged. He has been in the league long enough to know it would only be a matter of time until an injury or poor play would give him an opportunity to prove his worth on this team. And he sure has taken that opportunity.

His playing style of physical rebounding, an impressive ability to block shots and defend the paint, good finishes around the rim, and a nice mid-range jump shot are great qualities to have in a power forward. Humphries has been a great hustle player as the first man off the bench over the month of December, averaging 19.6 minutes while putting up 8.6 points at an impressive 62%, and 5.1 rebounds per contest.

Against Atlanta tonight, Humphries posted a season-high 18 points and 10 boards to register his first double-double for Boston. Such has been Humphries ability to force his way into the rotation via hard work, he has now become the first player off Coach Stevens’ bench, while poor old Vitor Faverani is now logging DNP’s.

Not only does this help in the short term for the development of the Celtics young bigs, to learn from Hump on how to run the floor and to make the most of the opportunities given to you, it also helps increase his trade value.

An expiring contract from a very capable power forward and a professional is something that should be very appealing to a team looking to make a deep post-season run. It is highly unlikely that Humphries will still be in green by February’s trade deadline. Danny Ainge will have the opportunity to add more picks and create more cap room for the 2014 offseason, something all Celtic fans should be very excited about.

In the meantime, we can continue to admire a player Celtic fans originally didn’t want on their team. A will to put his body on the line and continue to make the right decisions on the floor have been a pleasure to watch.

Share your thoughts on Humphries’ recent strong play with us in the comments!

- Michael (@mickyt34)

Crawford: Player Of The Week

What a year Steez is having. The importance of finding the right situation has proven to be so true in the case of Jordan Crawford.

Celtics GM Danny Ainge acquired Crawford for an injured Leandro Barbosa and a rarely-used Jason Collins at the deadline last season. Combined, those two players contributed a total of four points, eight rebounds, four blocks, two assists and 11 personal fouls in six games for the Wizards. A few weeks ago at Celtics Down Under we explored J-Craw’s journey since his arrival in Boston, which can be read here.

It’s truly hard to believe the turnaround in Crawford’s game, from being regarded as a questionable presence in Boston’s locker room after his altercation with Carmelo Anthony in last season’s playoff exit, to being handed the keys to the C’s offense until the retrun of Rajon Rondo, topping it off with player of the week honours in the Eastern Conference for the week of December 2nd through December 8th.

NBA.com breaks down Crawford’s week:

Crawford led the Celtics to the East’s lone perfect mark on the week at 3-0, behind averages of 23.3 points (fourth in the conference) on .610 shooting from the field (sixth in the conference), 6.7 assists and 3.0 rebounds. Crawford connected on 12-of-23 three-point field goals on the week, including a career-high six makes from distance on Dec. 8, during a 114-73 win over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Dec. 3 vs. Milwaukee: Tallied a season-high 25 points and added five assists and two rebounds in a 108-100 win over the Bucks.

Dec. 6 vs. Denver: Posted 22 points, eight assists and four rebounds during a 106-98 win over the Nuggets.

Dec. 8 @ New York: Connected on six three-point field goals en route to 23 points, and added seven assists and three rebounds in a 114-73 win over the Knicks.

The only team to have a 100% winning record in the East for the week, and Steez played a giant part in it. This team just continues to surprise everybody, playing well enough to now be on top of the Atlantic division by 1.5 games. It’s great to see this team having so much fun, while winning at the same time. Bring on the first clash against Brooklyn!

- Michael (@mickyt34)

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