What is the best path for a Celtics rebuild?

With the trade deadline approaching, we take a look at the hard decisions in the week ahead for Danny Ainge and what path he may take for a rebuilding Celtics squad.

Since the big trade in the off-season, debate swept across Celtic nation around how this great franchise can get back to where it belongs: contending, year in year out.  Some think that the best path to rebuild is to completely bottom out, some say that free agency may be the key, whilst others think that going all in by trading away all their chips is the path to glory.

Each method has their own pros and cons, read on as we look through the options in detail.

Rebuilding through the draft

This lengthy method involves trading off most, if not all veterans (Rondo, Green, Bass, etc) whilst keeping young talent.  This would let the team completely bottom out and contend for consecutive top picks.  Philadelphia have gone this exact route this season, setting the tone by trading their young All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday for a rookie (Nerlens Noel) who is coming off ACL surgery and has yet to play a single minute in the league.

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Pros: If the correct players are drafted, this could potentially set a franchise up for long-term success.  There have been some teams over the years that have hit home runs with their picks.  Oklahoma City, as previously discussed, is the first team to come to mind – besides the obvious choice of drafting a transcendent talent in Kevin Durant, they followed this pick up the next year by selecting both Russell Westbrook (4th pick) and Serge Ibaka (24th pick). They then lucked out again the following year by getting James Harden with the 3rd pick.  Although Harden was traded due to financial reasons, they were still able to convert him into Jeremy Lamb, who is starting to break out for them in a solid bench role, and the rights to draft Steven Adams – who looks to be the starting centre of the future once they can find someone who will take Perk’s terrible contract on.

Portland and Golden State are two other great examples of how drafting well can set a franchise up, with both teams figured to be major players in the Wild West in the foreseeable future with young cores.

Cons: For every franchise that has successfully built through the draft, there are a few others that have not fared as well.  Some teams draft for need, possibly leaving the better player on the board (Sam Bowie/Portland anyone?), sometimes players just don’t pan out as people thought they would, and sometimes teams without any veteran presence can just be too young and lose their way.  Cleveland could check all the boxes here.  The Cavs have had a staggering four top-4 picks in the past 3 years, including two number 1 picks (not to mention the 1st pick to take LeBron back in 2003).  To put that in perspective, the Celtics have had the 1st pick once (1950), and they have only selected with the 2nd pick once (’86 – but that is too sad a story to tell).

Cleveland currently find themselves stuck in no man’s land; they want to compete in order for their young superstar in Kyrie to want to stay (cough *LeBron* cough).  If they prove incapable of shaping the roster up, they could see Kyrie bolt in free agency, taking them once again back to square 1, which is exactly how/why LeBron left the Cavs.

Clear cap space, sign free agents

From the in-season trades that Danny has executed so far, this is something that could definitely be on the cards.  The goal here is to trade/position contracts so that they can all expire within the same year, opening up enough space to sign big-time free agents.  The LA Lakers are doing just that this year – with only Kobe and Nash (likely to retire) on the books for next season.

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Pros: Two words – Miami Heat.  No one was able to do what Miami has done – completely strip their roster down to nothing but their own all-star (Wade) + some minimum wage players, sign an All-Star who is also the best player in the game (I felt dirty saying that, but, fair’s fair).  Pat Riley’s master plan worked to perfection here and Miami are currently the 2-time reigning champions with a good shot at a 3-peat.

Cons: There are only a handful of teams that could get away with trying/executing this plan.  The Lakers will always attract the free agents (except Dwight – HA!) due to the celebrity lifestyle and warm climate. Miami was attractive to LeBron because he wanted to team up with Wade, and, let’s face it, Cleveland isn’t exactly a desired location.  New York was always a destination that players wanted to go to, but, this line of thinking backfired on them in the summer of ’10 as they cleared their books in anticipation of signing LeBron – how did that work out for them?  LeBron bolted for Miami, left New York scrambling to sign somebody, and made the worst contract in the league 4 years later with Amare locked up for 5 years/$100 million without insurance for his already shaky knees, whoops.  Up until this day, New York are in salary cap hell, and they are currently not even in the playoffs picture in the pathetic East.

Go all in!

This is something that us Celtics fans are quite familiar with.  Build up a boatload of assets (including expiring contracts, draft picks, and solid young players) and trade them all in for a star or two. The Celtics are once again, in prime position to do something like this in the upcoming year.

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Pros: Banner #17.  The 2006/07 season is very similar to the current season with great young players, an All-Star entering his prime, and the team armed with multiple draft picks.  The Celtics were able to flip these into two Hall of Famers (on the wrong side of 30) whilst keeping our other main pieces in tact and the results were pure bliss.  Miami’s 2006 championship team achieved the same by trading their chips for Shaq, followed by Antoine Walker.

Cons: It is up to the GM to ensure the players that they are receiving fit the personnel of the team and the coaching style.  There’s no point in getting a big name player just for the sake of it.  Both New York Teams have suffered as the Knicks traded half of their team, including multiple picks just to land Melo, leaving them with an imbalanced roster.  This unfortunately now leaves them in a terrible situation – losing record, salary cap hell, and this years’s pick is owned by Denver in the Melo deal, who incidentally is coming up to free agency after this season.

Brooklyn finds itself in a similar situation; although their team is more balanced, they are an aging, injury-prone team and much like New York, they mortgaged their future for a small window for the title.  Once a team trades away multiple future firsts, and if things don’t work out –much like Brooklyn and New York– it could set up a vicious cycle where these teams keep trying to dig themselves out of a hole by trading more of their assets (young players/draft picks) for immediate help, a dangerous game to play (reference: New York in the past 13 years).

All in all, I believe the Celtics just have too many assets to just rebuild through the draft and wait for these young players to mature.  Even the greats needed help, with Cleveland gutting their team to get LeBron, only for him to leave. Tim Duncan was drafted by a San Antonio squad that already had David Robinson, Sean Elliot and Avery Johnson on their roster.  If Ainge can trade some of the vets that don’t figure to be in the long term plan such as Bass, Green, Hump (and hopefully Wallace), the Celtics will be in great shape to land a star through the draft to put next to Rondo and our budding star Sullinger – leaving the team with enough assets to get further help down the line.

I think the only way Danny goes all in with his chips is if we land a pick outside the top 5, and are unable to get one of the coveted top players in the draft this year.  This is very dependant on who is available, and how that talent will fit in with the remaining personnel, but Danny knows talent. Back in 2006, Ainge had the chance to trade for Allen Iverson who was still in his peak, but ultimately decided against it due to the price tag, and how he would have fit with Pierce, which in hindsight, was the smart move.

I believe Danny will make some moves to clear off some future salary, namely Bass and Green as he is reportedly making a run for the 2015 free agency field.  It’s likely he makes the team worse in the short term without trading any of the future core, tries to collect a top 5 pick, and then either attempts to trade for another star, or tries to sign one with the lure of Rondo + young stars.

How do you think the trade deadline will go down?  Who do you think Ainge will trade, if anyone at all?

- Dave @big_dave31

Brad Stevens – Baptism by Fire

With half of the season in the history books, we look at how Brad Stevens has performed in his first NBA season so far.

Celtics Hire Brad Stevens as Head Coach – Press release from the Boston Celtics, July 3rd, 2013

Living in Australia and following the NBA almost religiously meant that the college game has never really been high on my priority list (except in a season like the current where Boston look to be a lottery player).  So when the Celtics announced that they had signed Brad Stevens, my reaction was – who?  I thought that the next Celtics coach was Brett Brown, one of Pop’s main guys in San Antonio, and an ex-Australian Boomer national coach.  It wasn’t until further information and stories regarding his decorated college career started coming out, coupled with one of the first things he did as head coach that got me giddy about the signing.  I was impressed with coach Stevens at his introductory press conference – showing maturity beyond his years, poise, and an abundance of knowledge.

How would that equate in his transition from the college game to the pros though?  This is what everyone asked, and rightfully so after the failed Rick Pitino experiment that left so many Celtics fans (including myself) extremely bitter.  After a long line of college-to-pro coaching failures, there were certainly doubts about Stevens’ ability to be able to coach at the NBA level, with major differences both in-game rules/timing and player personnel.

Like Rick Pitino, Brad Stevens was one of the best college coaches going around prior to signing with Boston. The difference between the two situations was that Pitino was given the keys to run the franchise to the ground and coach, whilst Stevens can just focus on coaching and let Danny Ainge take care of personnel.  The relationship between the GM and coach is extremely important for any basketball franchise – why get players that would not fit into the coaches style and vice versa?  Championship #17 came with Danny and Doc collaborating perfectly together through a rebuild, now Danny is hoping for the same magic with Stevens as they share the same philosophy on scouting talent: using advanced stats and analytical data to best determine a players worth and how they can be used.

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Coach Stevens’ inaugural NBA season has been anything but smooth as he has had to deal with a multitude of issues, which include:

The Piling Losses
The Celtics are on track to lose more games this season than what Stevens would have lost in 6 years at Butler – ouch.  This is all part of the ‘plan’ given the way that the roster is constructed.  Still, at only the halfway point of the season, the team has already endured 3 losing streaks with 4 or more games and that has to take its toll with both the coaching panel, and the players.  Stevens however, has been extremely patient with his young ball club, and preaches growth from each player game by game rather than living and dying in the W-L column – an approach that the players have embraced.  Despite the lack of top end talent on the roster, the players have played extremely hard for him – just look at a game recap from any of their losses where the common theme is the resiliency and fight that this team has.

Imbalanced Roster
The roster that Coach Stevens inherited was quite simply put, a mess.  He had 4 power forwards that deserved minutes, with the only true centre being a rookie and an unknown import. He also had 5 shooting guards that deserved minutes, with the only one true point guard being an undrafted rookie.  The logjam at the shooting guard position caused some friction with Courtney Lee, Keith Bogans and even MarShon Brooks, who all at different times in the season, voiced their displeasure to the media regarding their lack of playing time.  On top of all this, Rondo – the best player and final link to the Celtics’ last championship – sat out the first half of the season.

By empowering his young players and showing confidence in them, we have seen some of our youngsters take a giant leap forward, showing both improved play and leadership qualities.  His calm demeanour is something that his players certainly value highly.

Stubborn Veterans
One of the main questions asked after the hiring of Stevens was announced was how would he get along with Rondo?  Known for being extremely stubborn, being linked in altercations with both coaches and even former team mates, media pundits wondered out loud whether Rondo would will be moved.  Almost immediately after Stevens joined the Celtics, he reached out to Rondo by visiting his summer camp – by Stevens’ willingness to reach out to Rondo, they have forged a great relationship with Rondo going as far as saying that they are ‘best friends’.

To date, Stevens has proven himself more than capable of the task at hand, surprising the league with a surge early in the season that saw the Celtics atop the Atlantic division.  Even after a large win or loss, the players know that they cannot get stuck on the one game for very long, which is something he has drilled in to each and every person.

“You’re never as good as you think you are, you’re never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never far from both sides” – Brad Stevens, December the 9th, 2013 after beating the Knicks by 41 @ Madison Square Garden.

In a season that has seen so much change, Brad Stevens has proved to be the correct man to rebuild the Celtics – with both Stevens and Ainge at the helm, I have no doubt that the team is in great hands and will return to glory sooner rather than later.  What do you think of Brad Stevens?  Has he lived up to expectations so far, or has he been a disappointment, do you think he is the next great coach?

Here’s a bonus video on my personal favourite Brad Stevens moment of the season.  This is his reaction after Jeff Green hit a miracle 3 pointer with 0.6 of a second left against the defending champs in their own building.

- Dave

Winds of change: Are the C’s buying or selling?

“We are not tanking, that’s ridiculous.  This is the Boston Celtics” – Danny Ainge

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When Pierce and KG were traded to the Nets (for picks and spare parts), it seemed inevitable that the Celtics were going to “tank” in the ‘13/’14 season.  With a lopsided roster and their superstar point guard rehabilitating, it only made sense to perhaps mail it in this season in hopes of landing a high lottery pick in the deep 2014 draft.  The Celtics were supposed to be sellers this season, looking to offload any of their veterans to teams that are playoff bound for picks/salary relief.  With a quarter of the season done, the Celtics has been one of the biggest surprise teams in the league, currently sitting on top of the Titanic Atlantic division.  With the way Brad Stevens has the Celtics currently playing, this poses a question for Danny Ainge during this season: are the Boston Celtics buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?

After the horrid October/November schedule where the Celtics played a crazy 19 games (11 away) in 32 days with a first year NBA coach and without Rondo, they came out still standing at a surprising 7 wins and 12 losses.  After the top 2 teams, the Eastern conference is in a steep nosedive – couple that with the surprising surge the Celtics are on as of late without their best player in Rondo and you have a team that may very well contend for a low playoff spot.

A low playoff seed is where the Celtics don’t want to end up as it means most likely getting bounced out of the first round by either Indiana or Miami, and getting a pick in the mid to late teens.  Danny has never been a person to make a decision going on current form, every move is made solely for the betterment for the future of his team – he shook the foundation of the team to its core back in 2003 when he traded Antoine Walker fresh after the Celtics’ back to back playoff appearances.  He was convinced that the current roster was not championship material, so he went about to acquire assets and rebuild.   This roster is obviously not a championship contender, but, Ainge has a lot more pieces/assets to work with this time around.

There are a lot of teams that are looking for that one piece to give them a boost and the Celtics have a lot of players that fit that mould.  This is where Danny can come in as a seller.  Veterans such as a Brandon Bass, who is playing excellent basketball on a reasonable contract, would be a great pickup for many teams that are looking at either a starting or backup power forward, same could also be said about Courtney Lee at the shooting guard position.  There is also the most attractive asset on this roster – Kris Humphries’ $12m expiring contract – Kris Humphries has stepped right up lately and shown the league that he is not just a walking contract, he can be a valuable contributor too.

Why would Danny look to move these guys?  For vets like Bass and Lee, it could mean the following: freeing up court time to develop younger talent playing the same position, freeing up future cap room if we get a shorter deal in return, possibly land more draft picks to use or barter with or even getting back a younger player with potential upside.  For vets like Kris Humphries and even Keith Bogans to a lesser extent, the lure of an expiring contract could bring back prospects or a draft pick from a team desperate to get out of a crippling contract.  I haven’t bothered mentioning Gerald Wallace as it would be a miracle for us to shed his albatross of a contract without giving up anything major.

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If the Eastern Conference continues to stink, at what point do teams start dismantling their roster in hopes of sinking into a top lottery pick?  If Boston continues on their current upward trend whilst gaining Rondo back from injury, with all the chips they have, the Celtics could very well become buyers.  There are a few teams where the Celtics could take advantage of their situation:

  • A team that is underachieving and has a superstar that is coming up to free agency.    Think New York Knicks with Carmelo Anthony, or the Timberwolves with Kevin Love.  If these teams are convinced that their star is going to leave them high and dry in free agency, they could look to move them proactively to get some compensation back for them – imagine the James Harden trade, where OKC did just that and sent him to Houston.
  • A lowly team in the middle of the pack looking to blow it up and start from scratch.  We have already seen Toronto do this by trading Rudy Gay and making everyone except for Jonas Valančiūnas available, the Bucks or even the Hawks could be another team looking to blow it up and start from scratch.
  • Borderline contenders with assets looking for immediate help.  A team like Houston, for example, who have a big asset such as Omar Asik who they can offload for the correct package could help both us and them.

Danny Ainge has done an excellent job in gaining a number of assets, which gives him the flexibility of going many different ways.  Whether it is buying or selling, I am certain that he will be extremely patient, and will wait for exactly the right package/players that he wants.

Ultimately, I think Danny sticks with the current roster for the most part – and looks to offload some of the veterans not in the future plans for some financial relief or lower draft picks.  Having said that, with Danny Ainge you can never say never – if the right superstar is made available for the right price, expect Danny to be all over it.

What do you think Boston should do this year?  Buy, or sell?

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)

Another Day, Another Rondo Trade Rumour

We all know how this goes now. Team X is interested in Rondo, and they are offering a mediocre package of players X, Y and Z.  The latest comes from the NY Daily News with this nugget:

“Of course, the Knicks primary target is Rondo, Boston’s All Star point guard who is currently recovering from knee surgery. The Knicks have been trying to trade Shumpert, Raymond Felton and Amar’e Stoudemire in a complicated deal for Rondo but the rebuilding Celtics has yet to show much interest. Unless the Celtics are blown away with an offer it’s hard to imagine Celtics GM Danny Ainge trading his best player, Rondo, to the rival Knicks.”

I wonder what they mean by complicated? The fact that it is a horrible deal for the Celtics and they would have zero interest in being involved in this trade? Yeah, that would sure make things complicated from their end.

Danny Ainge responded to these rumours today emphatically denying any interest in parting with our 4-time All-Star point guard, calling him “the centrepiece of our future”, he then expanded – “Guys that are starting All-Star players just don’t come around. The special players, the transcendent players in our league, are very difficult to find and acquire. We believe Rondo is one of those guys. He’s a very special player. We value him a great deal.”
He finally closed with:

“What’s real is, he’s going nowhere, that’s what’s real.”

This is as strong as a statement that you will get from Danny. He is sending a message to the league – Rondo is our STAR, everyone is available at a certain price, but, do not offer garbage and expect us to jump on it. As I have touched on in a past article – unless Danny is getting blown away with an offer he cannot refuse, Rondo is not going anywhere.

Whilst the Celtics are not interested in trading Rondo for New York’s off-cuts, Chris Broussard from ESPN has tweeted the following:

This is an intriguing possibility. New York have regretted signing Amar’e to that behemoth contract ($100 million over 5 years) since the end of his first season as a Knick. Including this season, he has 2 years left ($21m this year and $23m next), he has just come off more surgery on his knees and is now placed on a strict minutes restriction. With Carmelo’s free agency pending, New York are desperate to rid themselves of Stoudemire’s contract and add some players that might make them better short term. A trade of, say – Bass, Lee, Gerald Wallace & maybe Bogans’ expiring could be enough to get it done. For New York, this is a short term move that may set them back in the longer term, as both Wallace and Lee’s contract run for an extra year after Stoudemire’s contract ends.

Whoops New York!

Why would the Celtics do this? Purely financial. In the long term, executing a trade like this will give the Celtics a boat load of cap space heading into the 2015/2016, allowing them to sign multiple max-level players in that off-season. In the short term, this frees up the logjam at both the shooting guard and power forward position, allowing the Celtics to play/develop their young players.

This would ultimately make the Celtics for this current season a weaker team – but with the potential of keeping Rondo, playing our youth, and getting a higher draft pick in a stacked draft, is that such a bad thing?

What are your thoughts on the circulating rumours? What do you think Danny Ainge should do?

What’s next for Avery Bradley?

NBA scouts agree that Avery Bradley is currently one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, but his lack of offensive consistency still remains his Achilles heel.

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Expectations were extremely high on Bradley after breaking through in the lockout-shortened 2011/12 season, where he took a certain future Hall of Famer’s spot in the starting line-up and was an integral part of the Celtics’ turnaround in the 2nd half of the season.  After starting the 2012/13 season and recovering from double-shoulder surgery he had in the off-season, Bradley came back into the line-up hoping to re-capture the form he showed in the previous year. He was playing well until Rondo went down – and just like that, his role had completely changed.

After being so effective as a shooting guard when paired with Rondo, Bradley was asked to become Rondo – by manning the PG spot, he was looked upon to create his own shots, create shots for others, and still keep up the stifling defense.  All of these proved to be too much for Bradley; after struggling with both his, and the team’s offense, his defense also started to slip, culminating in the first round of the playoffs against the New York Knicks where he was torn apart by opposing guards Ray Felton and JR Smith.  In only just a year after receiving league-wide praise, serious doubts started creeping in about what Avery’s potential could be, and how much his services are worth.

As October 31st approached, it became clear that both the Celtics and Avery Bradley were not going to agree on an extension.  For Bradley, it made sense for him to wait until 2014 when he will be a restricted free agent, as not having Rondo healthy has been a major blow to his perceived value.  He has been playing out of position for nearly all of 2013, and by doing this, he has decreased his value significantly.  Once Rondo returns, Bradley will be free to go back to what he was most effective at – playing off the ball, making back door cuts, catch & shoot jump shots and becoming that pit-bull on-the-ball defender once again.

For the Celtics, they are still trying to figure out if he is a building block for the future, or trade chip to use to acquire veteran talent – so in a season where he will need to step up to a larger role, it will be interesting from the team’s perspective as to whether or not he will deliver.

There are three different scenarios that can play out for Avery Bradley over this year, I have listed these in order of probability:

1)      On the back of Rondo’s return, Avery Bradley steps out of the point guard role and steps up his game – prompting the Celtics to lock him up on a longer deal.  I believe this is the most likely to happen as Danny Ainge and the Celtics value Avery very highly.  Not many 22 year old players have an elite skill in the NBA at this age, unlike Bradley does with his perimeter defense.

2)      Fearful that Avery might get offered a substantial contract and walk next off-season, the Celtics could look to trade him to get whatever value they can get for him  (Just like what had happened when Danny traded Perkins in 2011), or include him as part of a package for an established player/star in the league.  This is a possibility, given Danny Ainge’s ability to almost robotically trade anyone on the roster at any time if he thinks it’ll make his team better.

3)      He has another average season, and does not really show much more than what we have already seen. Another team then offers him more money that what Boston are willing to pay.  If this was to happen, the Celtics could find themselves in an awkward position of wanting to keep Bradley, but, not wanting to overspend.  As unlikely as it seems, there is the slight possibility that if this did happen, he could just walk.

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I think that waiting until the off-season is the correct move for both parties. For Avery, after last season his value really could only improve – and for the Celtics, they get to gauge Avery’s proper value once Boston’s *real* point guard returns.  I think ultimately, Avery stays on the team for a contract between $4-$6 million over 4 years.  If Danny Ainge is not convinced that Avery is the long term answer at shooting guard, look for him to explore some trade options to bring back a solid veteran player, or even more draft picks.

What do you think of Avery Bradley?  How much is he worth?  Is he our answer at SG or even PG?  Will he get much better?  Leave your comments below.

Preseason report: What do we know about these Celtics?

There were many questions surrounding the Celtics after a series of moves in the summer that saw them go from a savvy veteran team that were a few pieces away from the top tier, to a full rebuild.  The roster looked unbalanced, with a glut of SG’s and PF’s, but with no true (healthy) PG and center.  There were also questions around our new coach, who is the youngest coach in the league at 36 and has no NBA experience.

Now that preseason is wrapping up, some of those questions can finally be answered. Different thoughts came to mind whilst watching the games unfold – I have grouped different players in those thoughts:

“Damn! He’s got game!”

There were three players that I thought have been playing at a cut above the rest: Jared Sullinger, Gerald Wallace and Jordan Crawford.

Their top play has been somewhat surprising as all of them had their questions marks coming into the season – Jared Sullinger being out of shape and having a rocky off-season with legal issues, Gerald Wallace trying to bounce back after a poor season in Brooklyn and Jordan Crawford who the Celtics were reportedly trying to move to whoever would take him.

Jared Sullinger:  After having back surgery and missing more than six months of basketball, there was talk that Jared may not even be ready to go by the start of the season.  Not only is he playing, he has probably been the best player on the Celtics’ roster for the preseason, averaging a team high in both points (11+) and rebounds (5+) in just about 20 minutes of play per game.
For what he lacks in height and athleticism, he makes up for with instincts and basketball smarts.  The Celtics are simply a better team when Sully is on the floor.  He has a soft touch around the hoop against larger opponents, and is now dragging his opposing big out of the key with his improving mid-range jump shot, which opens the lane up for our guards/forwards to penetrate.  Defensively, Sully has become very good at being in the correct position to take a charge just like Big Baby, which is crucial as he is not tall/athletic enough protect the rim.

He needs to work on his three-point shooting as he has been taking long distance shots and connecting on a below-average 22%.  Sully has also admitted that he is still out of shape as well, meaning that there is definitely room for improvement.  Being still very young, Sully can also be prone to foul trouble as the referees still give him some ‘rookie calls’. If he can address his weight and 3 point shooting as the season unfolds, we could have a star player in the making – he already has the brains, now he just needs his body and skills catch up.

Gerald Wallace:  Wallace was an afterthought of the blockbuster trader over the summer.  The general consensus was that he has a large, immovable contract and that we would not really contribute too much.  Somebody forgot to tell him that – from the first game of preseason, he lived up to his nickname ‘Crash’, throwing his body over the floor, and into the stands.  He will easily be a fan favourite of a fan base that values effort and hustle.

He started preseason off red hot from the field but has since cooled off, averaging just under 10ppg.  Gerald is at his best when he is attacking the hoop – there was no surprise that one of the most effective lineups for the Celtics featured Wallace with Sully and Olynyk, where the two bigs spread the floor for Wallace to get to the rim.

We know what Wallace will give this team when healthy – everything he’s got.  If there is anything he needs to work on, it might be his shot selection.  He is not known as a 3-point shooter, so, teams will leave him open, he needs to attack the hoop rather than settle for that 3.

Jordan Crawford1

Jordan Crawford:  Crawford was the forgotten man on the Celtics’ roster after the trade was completed.  Fans just assumed that Crawford would be traded to make way for MarShon Brooks, as rumors swirled around about the how the Celtics were willing to part with Crawford for nothing.  His performance in these preseason games may just be the most surprising – known as only a scorer, Brad Stevens had the insight to put Crawford at the point guard position.  There has been talk of his ability to create offense for others, but, no one thought he would be able to handle the point guard duties due to his crazy unpredictable style of play.

He has come into this new era as a different player – he’s willing to pass the ball, he makes the correct decisions on the court, and his shot has even improved.  He is shooting a little under 50% from 3 point land, an impressive feat considering many of his shots bailed out the team with buzzer beating bombs.  His assist numbers are around the 3apg mark, but, this only tells a part of the story as he is moving the ball quickly, and was involved in many hockey assists (passes that lead to an assist).

‘Steez’ needs to work on maintaining this level of play. His shots may not always fall, but if he is taking the correct shots while creating for his team mates, he could very well see himself as the starting point guard come the regular season.

“He’s been better than expected”

Vitor+Phil

The two players that stirred these thoughts for me were Phil Pressey and Vitor Faverani, simply because no one really expected them to do too much.
Prior to training camp, we heard little of these guys – both were signed with the team for depth at two extremely shallow positions:  point guard and center.  They now both have a legitimate shot at making the regular season rotation.

Phil Pressey: Being in the mix for backup point guard duties after a strong training camp, he mysteriously did not see any minutes in the first pre-season game. He did however, get his chance in the second game after Jordan Crawford missed the game with a personal matter.  He made his presence known with a near flawless game – 13 points, 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 0 turnovers.  He also led the team on a near-impossible come back, erasing a 23 point deficit in the 4th Quarter that fell just short for the W.

He has proven himself to be an extremely effective ball handler for the Celtics, giving the game what it needs and not forcing anything.  Averaging only 1.3 turnovers per game has showed that he has learned a great deal from the Summer League, where his biggest knock was that he was turning the ball over too much.  If he can keep this up, he will surely be in the rotation come regular season.

Vitor Faverani: When Danny signed a relatively unknown 25 year old Brazilian center who had been playing in Europe (fresh off releasing another Brazilian 7-footer that didn’t work out), expectations were not really high.  After some research on Vitor, fans found out the following: his nickname is “El Hombre Indestructible” and that the scouting reports indicated that he is a skilled offensive player with question marks on the defensive side of the court.  Prior to playing, he spoke a good game, but many were unsure how his skills would translate.  The more he plays, the more questions are answered: he has shown range in his jump shot (hitting a shot clock-beating 3 pointer), he has great hands (catching difficult passes on the break, or on the roll), gets up and down the floor, and loves finishing with power.

His defense though, has been a pleasant surprise as he has been able to neutralise opposing bigs, play nice transition D and even at times, been the most vocal on the floor – no easy feat for someone who is still learning how to speak English.

Look for Vitor to play a more pivotal role on the team as the season progresses and he settles in even more – but, as it stands, this looks to be a great signing by Danny.

“He has been solid.”

New Celts on old Celt

These guys have been solid contributors for the Celtics, and have not really over or under-performed.  There are a couple of “Celtic veterans” that have played how we have expected them to (both with improvements) in Brandon Bass and Avery BradleyKris Humphries, after an off-season of Celtics fans trying to come to terms with seeing him in green, has been a solid contributor, along with rookie Kelly Olynyk – who has learned that the Summer League doesn’t count for much against the ‘real’ NBA talent.

Brandon Bass: The Celtics know what they are getting out of Bass.  He is money in the mid-range, and athletic when attacking the rim.  His defense has drastically improved since he was traded to Boston, and he looks to continue that trend with the new-look Celtics this season.  Coming out of training camp, members of the team spoke about how Bass has been more vocal on defense, trying to lead the youngsters by example.

He has not had a spectacular preseason offensively –  shooting at a low 43.5% from the field, but he has picked up the rebounding work, grabbing 6.3 boards per contest.

Bass has drifted in and out of the lineup so far as coach Stevens tries to find the right combinations to use.  Whether or not he comes off the bench at the start of the regular season remains to be seen – but starter or not, Bass will be featured heavily in the regular rotation throughout the season.  Bass could be a potential trade piece at mid-season for a contender that is looking for a stretch 4 that can guard small/power forwards.

Avery Bradley:  When Rondo went down with a knee injury last year, it was left to Avery Bradley to pick up the pieces at point guard.  At times in the 2012/13 season, he looked like he was struggling, and he ultimately lost confidence in himself – this affected him both on the offense and the defensive end with the likes of Raymond Felton torching him in the playoffs.  When coach Stevens took over the team, he stuck by this sentiment by keeping Bradley as the interim point guard.  Bradley worked on his shot and his dribbling in the off-season to better prepare himself for this role, but, once again, seemed to struggle mightily at times.

Bradley is at his best when he plays off the ball – catch and shoot, back door cuts and slashing – it serves him better in defense as well as he has the energy to harass the opposing guards over the whole court.  Coach Stevens must be seeing this as well, as he has started to give the point guard duties to Jordan Crawford and Phil Pressey.  In preseason game number 4 vs the Knicks, the first game Avery was taken off these duties, he responded with 13 points from 11 shots in only 24 minutes.
Avery’s defense is always going to be the strongest part of his game, but, he has shown a much-improved jump shot, from both 3 point land and the long 2.

Kelly Olynyk:  After a Summer League MVP performance showing his offensive polish (post up, face up, catch & shoot and on the fast break), it was easy to get carried away with Kelly Olynyk’s ability.  As expected, he has slightly come back down to Earth during the preseason as he is now facing NBA talent on a nightly basis.

His shooting percentage has dropped down to 43.8%, but, the quality he’s shown that has everyone talking is his ability to pass the basketball.  Being a point guard in his high school years before growing into a 7-footer has been a blessing for Kelly as he is able to do things a 7-footer typically cannot do – put the ball to the floor, initiate/finish fast breaks and create offense for himself and/or others.

His defense was his main concern coming across from college, but so far in the preseason he has been impressive with his lateral movement and his positioning.  Kelly’s biggest concern is his rebounding numbers that he has put up so far, averaging only 2.8 rebounds a game which, for a 7-footer, is simply not good good enough.

He has cemented a spot in the rotation on his offensive prowess and defensive improvements alone, but he needs to help the team out in the rebounding department if he is to see a starting role/major minutes within the regular rotation.

Kris Humphries:  After the fans’ initial disappointment of Hump being in green, stories started filtering in about his off-season workouts and how he has dedicated himself to getting better after a disappointing 2012/13 campaign with the Nets.
Being only 2 years removed from back to back double-double seasons, the Celtics are hoping he can recapture that form.  He has come out in the preseason with an improved jump shot with extended range all the way out to three point land.  He has been played very sparingly so far with only a touch under 16 minutes per game, so his numbers are not eye-popping, but, Celtics know what they have in Hump – a big with extended range that hustles for rebounds and can run the floor well.

His interior defense has been average at best as he has been forced to play out of position at the center position, leaving him undersized against some of the centres in the league.  He will, however, be part of the main rotation, possibly as a starter – with a large expiring contract however, look for Danny to possibly shop him, especially when it is closer to the trade deadline.  He has the makings of becoming a fan favourite in Boston, especially if he can get close to those rebounding numbers from 2 seasons ago.

“He’s been very disappointing..”

There were two Celtics that were expected to step it up this year after the veterans were traded – they have not been close to the expectations set upon them.  Jeff Green and Courtney Lee both have the athleticism to be great 2-way players, they have shown flashes of being great players for the Celtics, but, they both have failed to set the world on fire during this preseason.

You need to pick it up

You need to pick it up

Jeff Green:  I think he has been the most disappointing player on the Celtics’ roster throughout the preseason.  He finished off last season averaging 20ppg in the playoffs, he was aggressively attacking the hoop, hitting threes, and even guarding Melo.  After Paul Pierce was traded from the team, the general thought was that Pierce was going to pass the scoring baton to Green, and Green would just take off and run with it – this has not quite happened.

Green was at his best when he was attacking the hoop, his explosiveness combined with his size allowed him to get to the hoop at will, finishing with either a thunderous dunk, or an athletic layup.  Throughout the preseason we have not seen this part of Green.  He has been settling for the corner 3 and long 2 point shots, and has basically gone away from what he was most effective at.  I know it’s *only* preseason, but, for the man that was to be the Celtics’ leading scorer, it is worrisome that he cannot get himself going.  His level of interest did not look to be high over the first couple of games, but, it seems he is starting to get frustrated over the lack of numbers he has produced.  A part of the problem may possibly be that the plays designed for Jeff may not be putting him in the best possible position to score.

Hopefully he can turn the corner, if not, he may find himself losing minutes to Gerald Wallace.

Courtney Lee: Courtney Lee has continued his disappointing campaign in Celtic green.  The Celtics signed him for his athleticism, his ability to hit the 3, and his good defense.  After a full season, we are still waiting for that 3 point shot – after an off-season of telling the media that he is working hard to be the player he once was, the early signs are not good.  He is in the low 30% in both 2 and 3 point field goal percentage good for under 7ppg in 25mpg.

His confidence seems to be his greatest undoing, after missing a couple of jumpers, his hesitation in shooting almost means the shot will miss before it even leaves his hands.
Lee’s defense has been still at the standard the we have expected from him, but, I can see Lee fighting for court time with Brooks for that 4th guard spot, depending on what the team needs, offense or defense.

“Didn’t see enough of them”

There has been limited time for Keith Bogans and MarShon Brooks.  Bogans sprained his thumb and will be out indefinitely, while he was on the court, he more or less gave what was expected – veteran presence, and a bit of defense.

Brooks on the other hand was quite a surprise, he has only been logging 10 minutes per game, with the majority of this coming in garbage time opportunities.  There is no doubt he can score the basketball, he has been disappointing however, in moving the basketball – it seems that he has been more or less a black hole in offense, not moving the ball unless he was in absolute trouble and needed to kick it out.  Let’s see if he can learn from his mistakes and crack Coach Stevens’ top 8-10 players for the regular season.

Out of the camp invites, Chris Babb, who is a certified 3 and D player, has shown the most promise.  If he is to make the 15th spot on the roster, he will need to show more in the remaining games.  The other invites have barely played.

If the preseason is any indication on how this year’s Celtics are going to play, we may be in for a bumpy ride.  They are exciting at times, and possess the athleticism to play an uptempo game, but with so many new faces, there will be a steep learning curve once the games that matter get underway.  One thing is for certain however – these kids will play their butts off. Unfortunately, it just may not be enough to produce wins.

Three winning reasons – Celtics-Knicks series: Game 5 thoughts

Jason Terry of the Boston Celtics takes flight.

Was anyone else expect a win? Honestly, I had a feeling we might win this game, and it was so good to see a road win with our backs to the wall. Win or go home? Well, we’re winning and going home – beat that.

The big three reasons

However, the stars were in alignment this game. We had three huge factors to the win:

  1. New York slump: In a game where Carmelo Anthony sputtered on 8 for 24 (22 points) under Bass’s stifling defense, JR Smith’s shot went fishing (or golfing, take your pick) and left him on a 3 for 14 night (14 points), we came out with a 6-point victory.
  2. The hot hands: The C’s shot 50% from downtown, a scorching 11 of 22. Actually, it should have been 11 of 19 if we discounted the three shots T-Will took. I love the guy in transition, especially when he’s driving for the finish. He was forced to toss two up with the shot clock expiring, and gambled on another open shot, none of which were close. So, we shot really, really well from the three-point line this game.
  3. Heavy dose of the Truth/Ticket: KG and Pierce played massive minutes. Rebounding, making plays, you name it, they were on it. Truth had 44, Ticket had 39.The two of them were visibly gassed in the fourth quarter. Kudos to our stars for pulling through and finishing the game.

Reality check

As much as I’d like to see the team shoot 50% in the 3P% column again, something tells me it doesn’t happen every night. We have to make more attempts in the paint. We only had 28 points in the paint, compared to the Knicks scoring 42. Same old tired mantra: jumpshots aren’t going to carry us to consecutive wins, there has to be an established in-out rhythm.

The same goes to Melo and JR’s respective slumps. As much as I love the Bassman defending Melo, things might go in a different direction in Game 6. Expect to see Melo getting his usual 30 points, which would significantly reduce the safety margin. Don’t even get me started on Smith, we’re treading on very thin ice as it is.

KG needs to get his rest somehow, and playing super small with a 7-man rotation might not be the way to go. Is Shavlik still not worthy of trust, even for 1-2 minutes? I’m hoping for the game plan to be adjusted in Game 6, and for home court to provide a strong enough boost for us to force Game 7.

Nothing too deep, just one game at a time. Onwards to Game 6, LET’S GO CELTICS! #AussieCeltics

Celtics-Knicks series: Game 4 recap

Image

The Boston Celtics managed to outlast the New York Knicks in an OT thriller at the TD Garden.

The Celtics led 54-35 at the half and by as much as 20 with less than 8 minutes to go in the 3rd period. However, as the Celtics have done all series, they struggled again in the 2nd half, scoring 14 points in the 3rd and 16 in the 4th.

Pierce had a chance to win the game in regulation but couldn’t get it to drop. When OT came around, JET was finally ready to play. He dropped 9 of his 18 points in the OT period, in which Boston scored 13 (1 less than 3rd period in 7 less minutes).

Paul Pierce finished with 29-8-6, Green 26-6 and KG with 13-17-6. Kevin played like a mad man and helped win this game with a big shot near end of regulation. Celtics held Carmelo Anthony to 10-35 from the field, who still 16-20 from FT.

The Celtics held on and won 97-90 to force a game 5 back in New York.

Schedule as follows.

Round 1 Game 1: 5am 21/4 in New York (85-78 L)
Round 1 Game 2: 10 am 24/4 in New York (71-87 L)
Round 1 Game 3: 10 am 25/4 in Boston (L 76-90)
Round 1 Game 4: 3 am 29/4 in Boston (W (90-97)
Round 1 Game 5: TBD 2/5 in New York
Round 1 Game 6: TBD 4/5 in Boston *
Round 1 Game 7: TBD 6/4 in New York *

Could Another Big Man Be The Answer?

With Game 1 done and dusted, the Celtics must regroup for Game 2 against New York and look to level the series at Madison Square Garden. If the C’s can match the Knicks in Game 2 tomorrow, an enticing three game homestand in Boston at the TD Garden awaits.

One thing we learnt from Game 1 of the series was Doc’s plan to roll with a very short rotation, bringing only Jason Terry, Jordan Crawford and Courtney Lee off the bench. It seems like the use of three guards to back up a starting line-up of Bradley, Pierce, Green, Bass and Garnett could be lacking in size. With bigs such as Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin to compete with on the boards, perhaps Doc Rivers should look towards two players who watched from the sidelines for 48 minutes from game 1, to add size on the court for rebounding if nothing else.

Credit: ESPN

Credit: ESPN

Chris Wilcox has never experienced a playoff game in his 628-game career, which would have many people believing the man would do just about anything the coach asked of him, if given the opportunity to step onto the floor. With season averages of 4.2 PPG, 3 RPG and a very healthy field goal percentage of 72% in 13.6 minutes per contest, Wilcox provides another big body in the contest with the ability to finish around the basket. CW also did a very good job of filling in for Kevin Garnett late in the season, starting 7 games for the season and showing his defensive knowledge in KG’s absence.

The other big man Doc could look to is new fan-favourite Shavlik Randolph, or as Justin of CDU likes to refer to: #ShavKill. Although he was a late-season addition to the Celtics roster, Randolph proved to be a great energy man off the bench in his 16 appearances this season. With averages of 4.2 points, 4.4 rebounds per contest and a field goal percentage of 58% in just 12.4 minutes of action, Shavlik became a favourite for his energy and hustle on the floor, earning Doc’s praise when he told the Washington Post “he leads with his head”, sighting Randolph’s toughness after taking charges, and copping a few blood noses along the way.

Credit: ESPN

Credit: ESPN

Perhaps Wilcox and Randolph could bring some energy and relief to the Celtics front court for the rest of the series, enabling KG, Bass and Jeff Green some much-needed rest in the process. Bring on Game 2!

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