OK, so it’s only 4 games in. And most of the games have come against decent opposition. But still…it hasn’t exactly been pretty so far for the Boston Celtics. Tough start to the season for a team that had some had high expectations heading in. Well, from a lot of people anyway. I have the team pegged around .500 or so, maybe a little over. Conference doesn’t seem all that strong. Celtics have some players. They have a good coach. Blah, blah, blah. I figure if the roster remains the same, they should be a little better than last year. And really no more. Certainly not championship timber. Again, that is if the roster remains the same all the way through.
But therein lies the problem. The roster. The way I see it, the team has 15 players that seem to have something to add to any NBA team, to varying degrees of course. They may have even had 16 players, before waiving Perry Jones shortly before the season started to get to the 15 man roster limit. Yeah, that Jones note is of course irrelevant, but the point is this: The roster HAS to change. There are too many guys that are capable of contributing every night…but none of them are superstars or really even All-Stars. Every one of them has some sort of flaw, even if that “flaw” may be that they are too young and haven’t hit their stride yet…that is, IF they do.
The bottom line is that having this many capable guys affects the rotation on a daily basis. Brad Stevens has a few guys that he can guarantee minutes too…Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, I suppose Avery Bradley. But the rest he says “have to earn it”. Uh oh. Sounds like the coach of the 2006-2007 C’s…Doc Rivers. This is when he had a ton of young guys like Gerald Green, Bassy Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Tony Allen, Big Al Jefferson, etc. And he had trouble finding a consistent rotation then too. Played a guy like Green 30 minutes one night and 5 the next. “Had to earn it”, he said. That team won 24 games. And Doc had a superstar in Paul Pierce, albeit for only about a half a season due to injury.
2006-7 was Doc’s third year and he was trending downward. This is Stevens’ third year. He of course is trending upward, but how much further can he go with this group? I like Brad. I didn’t mind Doc, though I didn’t love him. Thought he was overrated. Didn’t win here until he had 3 Hall of Fame players and a 4th guy that was an All-Star. Then went to a Clippers team that had a bunch of studs and he is winning now too. But didn’t win much otherwise. He smiled and joked around and was friendly with the local writers, so it always seemed like this helped his rep more than it should have. In any event, I feel strongly that the coach is extremely overrated in the NBA…at least in this era. Doc didn’t win big until he had the players. Stevens is probably on that course too. Greg Popovich may be a great coach. But he certainly has had the players over the years. Guys like Erik Spoelstra and Dave Blatt…are they good coaches? Or did they win because they had/have LeBron James? My guess is the latter…and the list is endless.
Ultimately, GM Danny Ainge has to pull the trigger. I know, Captain Obvious here. But with all the players and upcoming draft picks, it’s long overdue. I thought it would have happened by now. Obviously no old buddies like Kevin McHale are around now to do Danny a favor by trading the C’s the 2015 version of Kevin Garnett. But shouldn’t there be a deal or two out there somewhere? These players have all said the right things from the start of camp as they knew the plan and even as they watch their minutes fluctuate already. But does that last if they start losing? Doesn’t usually in that scenario.
At the very least, Stevens needs to settle on his 8 guys or so and move forward with them instead of changing the lineup every other game. This may piss a select few off, but he can’t keep playing 11-13 guys every night. It never works. I admit, I haven’t watched every second of the first 4 games, but I have watched a great deal. Turnovers. Missed layups. Lack of rebounding. Awful shooting percentages (please Brad, do not encourage guys like Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson to shoot threes anymore…they just don’t belong out there beyond the arc). Etc. Guys sitting for long stretches and getting out of the flow of the game would seemingly effect some of the above, no?
What would I do until Danny can move some bodies? I knew you would ask! Happy to oblige. Let’s work backward:
I would lop 4 players off immediately by shipping them up to Maine and having them play 35-40 minutes a game up there, instead of 3 minutes every other game in Boston. Practice regularly. Work on fundamentals. All that. These are James Young, Jordan Mickey, Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter. I have no idea if any of these guys will ultimately be any good. But I see some sort of talent in each of them. See if they can play some games against at least fringe NBA competition (hopefully that is what the Development League has…at least guys better than the average college opponent) and develop into something. Young and Mickey are already there. The other two should be too. Rozier looks just as out of control as I what I remember from him at Louisville. In the one game Hunter has played, it seems as if he just sits on the wing outside the three-point line and just stands there as the other 4 players move the ball around. Then he may get lucky and touch the rock every once in a while too, but not often. This can’t be ideal. These being young guys, they seemingly wouldn’t complain about being up there for a bit.
That leaves 11. Jonas Jerebko and Tyler Zeller are 10-11. I’m not even sure why they re-signed Jonas…or even why he would want to come back with all the bodies in tow here. But he does nothing for me. If you wanted to give him 5 minutes a night for some sort of energy, well, ok. Zeller seems like a pretty decent backup center to me. But I’m not losing sleep if he is not playing. Kelly Olynyk is your 9th man. I personally have no use for Brad Lohaus 2.0. 7-footer that can’t play inside. Not a rebounder. Not a three-point shooter, though Brad lets him fire away too. Not a defensive guy. Not sure what exactly he does well. But he’s better than Jerebko and Zeller. And until there are some moves to make room for any of the 12th-15th guys to maybe show what they can do here, 9th man seems to be about right for Kelly.
The remaining 8 should be getting all the run basically. I would start Sullinger and Johnson at center and power forward (or vice versa) and have them stay within 10 feet (15 feet max) of the basket at all times. Yes, they are both listed at 6’9″ and will be undersized at those positions. But, as fat as Sully still looks, they are likely your best rebounders, so just deal with it. Evan Turner starts at small forward. The guy was arguably your best all around player last year and now you drop him down the depth chart this year and for what? Makes no sense. Bradley at shooting guard and Smart as point guard round out the starters. I’ve never been a Bradley guy, but what other choice do you have? Smart needs to play 35 minutes a game or so at the point as they need to find out if he is a (the?) cornerstone to build on. Or to ideally increase his trade value, if that’s what you want…
Isaiah is probably your best player, but he remains at the 6th man spot. Just seems like the best spot for him. David Lee and Jae Crowder are your 7-8 guys. Lee got buried last year in Golden State last year and I am not exactly sure why. He’s certainly on the back nine, but you could do worse on this team. Johnson and Thomas seem to have worked well together through the first 4 games, so if you wanted to swap Lee and Johnson, I suppose it wouldn’t matter. 6’9″ vet or 6’9″ vet that can both rebound a little…take your pick. The C’s seem to love Crowder…I don’t entirely get it. But he seems to be useful. Think he is more of a bench guy as well. But inexplicably got some decent dough in the offseason, so he will play a ton. Maybe it’s partially to justify the return for Rajon Rondo…who knows?
So that is that, for whatever that is worth. The team should continue to improve on their finish last season and generally should be more interesting to watch than in recent years. There is some promise. But the work is far from done…
It’s Jets week folks…actually, the week is basically over, since the game is tomorrow. If you haven’t heard. And you possibly may not have heard. This past week has been one of the quietest lead-ins to a Pats/Jets game for as far back as I can remember. Of course, most of that probably has to do with that loudmouth Rex Ryan being no longer here. But still…
Not much chatter this week, you can almost hear a pin drop. Sure, a couple of Jets have said a couple of minor things that the local media has tried to escalate the meaning of a bit. But nothing like the past. Kind of depressing I say. I’m used to a lot more hype for the game. Guess we will have the Bills’ games for that though.
Coming right out and saying Patriots 31, Jets 16. Full disclosure, I picked the Jets plus 9.5 in a weekly picks pool I am in. But that is more about superstition than anything else. Seems like when I take the Pats, they never cover…and occasionally do not win. So I basically just pick their opponent every week if there is any doubt whatsoever. Against Jacksonville a few weeks back? Nope, I took the Pats. But divisional games I have to say I mostly pick the opponent, plus the points (isn’t it ALWAYS the opponent getting “plus the points” with the divisional foes?). Makes me feel like I am being somewhat partial anyway.
In any event, why this score? I mean, the Jets are 4-1, shouldn’t I really give them more of a chance? Especially since they have given up only 75 points in 5 games? Well, have you seen what the 4-1 consists of? Wins against the Browns, Colts, Dolphins and Redskins and a loss against the Eagles. That’s quite a murderer’s row, right? Other than the Colts in their house, I pay no mind to the rest of the scores. And that’s also stretching it, since the Colts haven’t been as good as most people thought they would be, especially when they came out of the gate. So please, enough about the Jets bandwagon…settle down with that. They do have some overall talent on both sides of the ball. And maybe Todd Bowles is a good coach in the end. But 5 games against mediocre competition and some are calling the J-E-T-S the main competitor to the Patriots in the AFC? A win for the NY team Sunday would go a long way towards that maybe. But until then…relax.
The main reason I think the score is even this close is because of where the Patriots have some injury concerns. And no, I am not talking about Matthew Slater. An aside, I love what Slater brings to the table. He is all over the field on every special teams unit. As William Belichick will tell you, special teams are indeed a big part of the game. But if Slater goes down, can’t they get some other young dude that runs with abandon down the field on every special teams play? It’s not like he even returns kicks or punts. As great as he is at what he does, he should be replaceable in that capacity. But I digress…
The offensive line is what I am talking about of course, as far as the injury bug goes. Nate Solder is of course gone for the year. His immediate replacement, Marcus Cannon, has also been ruled out. Cannon is up and down for sure, but he is at the very least serviceable. So they are left at the tackle spot with Sebastian Vollmer, a good lineman, but playing on the left side instead of his usual right. And Cameron Fleming, a 4th round pick in 2014, who was waived after only a year with the team earlier in the year (fairly soon for Bill to give up on a 4th rounder, especially a big body on either side of the line.). Any team could have claimed him for cheap money and they didn’t. So he ended up back on the practice squad, then back on the active roster and now in the actual starting lineup. Who is the third guy now? No one on the current roster. Chris Barker and Blaine Clausell (who?) are on the practice squad. TE Michael Williams moving back to tackle for the short-term? Maybe one of those dudes, but it’s obviously not ideal.
Throw in the fact that Shaq Mason is questionable at one guard spot too. Maybe Ryan Wendell is ready to play in place of him finally, recovered from whatever illness he had. But that also leaves Joe Kline and Tre’ Jackson at the other guard position, and although they seemingly have been decent, I’m not excited about them against the Jets’ front four. Ditto for David Andrews. He’s acquitted himself well this year, but is still a rookie and faces a major test on Sunday. Kind of a scary proposition when all things are considered. The Patriots have no doubt game planned around all this. But then there is the secondary to be concerned about, what with Darrelle Revis leading the charge back there too.
So why 31 points? I think the Pats offense is too good to lock down every drive. I think they will use quick passes to combat the OL issues and try to keep the secondary at bay somehow. I think Ryan Fitzpatrick will help by giving up a fumble or an interception or two which will lead one or two scores. Either directly by a defensive score, or indirectly by giving the Pats a short field. I feel pretty confident in this.
16 for the Jets? I believe the Pats will game plan around Brandon Marshall and not let him be the one who beats them. As is said over and over, Belichick seems to be able to normally shut down the oppositions best player. Some may say that is Chris Ivory. I think Ivory has the potential to run wild in this game. But he will get shorter chunks of yards than Marshall would get if they focused on Ivory and not Marshall. Ivory will get yards, but as usual, the Pats’ “bend, but don’t break” defense will shut him down inside the red zone and thus force the Jets to kick field goals. Jeremy Kerley always seems to play big against the Patriots. And he may well do so again, but his will be of the shorter variety as well. But will he play a big role? He hasn’t played much this year. Some dude I’ve never heard of was actually their 3rd receiver but was suspended earlier this week. So maybe Kerley does take his spot. Eric Decker? Good player, but not afraid.
Should be a fairly decent game for the country to see I would say. As long as the Pats get a win and Tom Brady doesn’t get killed, that’s about all we can ask for I guess. But I wouldn’t mind some sort of fireworks coming out of this game to juice up the second meeting later in the year…
*There seems to be some confusion on whether David Price is truly happy with how the Toronto Blue Jays are using him in the playoffs. There are whispers that he is unhappy, though he has been shooting those down as recently as yesterday. On one hand, I get it. Starting pitchers are creatures of habit and like their routines And why mess up a guy that should finish no lower than 2nd in the AL Cy Young voting this year? And who you presumably want to re-sign when he becomes a free agent when the year is done?
But this is the PLAYOFFS! Routine be damned. Egos be shelved. All that crap. Did you hear even a peep when Chris Young and Steven Matz were each lifted with a big lead, 1 out shy of qualifying for a win? Nope. Ok, I’ll grant you Young (36-year-old career journeyman) and Matz (24-year-old rookie) are not David Price. But still. You do what you have to do in the playoffs to win ballgames. End of story. It would probably help Price’s case if he had any kind of historical success in the playoffs.
*That all being said, what Toronto manager John Gibbons has done at times is certainly mystifying. Pitching Price in relief in Game 4 of the Division Series, where he wouldn’t be available for a possible Game 5 (and yes, I understand that there is no Game 5 if they don’t win Game 4, but they did have a big lead at the time Price entered as well). Warming him up in Game 5 of the ALCS (see parenthetical point above). Leaving Mark Buehrle off every postseason roster (why?). Starting a knuckleballer (RA Dickey) in October, not once, but twice, with predictable results. Pitching a position player for the first time in the history of the playoffs. Etc.
I get that the Jays are short on lefties in the bullpen now, what with Brett Cecil getting hurt in the ALDS and Aaron Loup leaving the team for personal reasons earlier in the ALCS. Thus the reason for having Price be ready on occasion I suppose. But Buehrle is a lefty. Where is he? He had a pretty good year as well. And didn’t Loup have to leave the ALDS as well for personal reasons? With all due respect to whatever his situation is, maybe they should’ve left him off the ALCS roster then. It’s not like he is that good anyway. And Dickey? I get that he finished the regular season strong. But I’ve lived through a knuckleballer in the postseason (Tim Wakefield). I don’t recommend it.
People are excited about the novelty of Cliff Pennington being the first position player in the history of baseball to pitch in the postseason. I’m not. I think it’s a joke. If your team is good enough to be in the last four standing, this should unequivocally not happen. Once again, I get that Loup left them a little short. And that the game was a blowout. And you didn’t want to waste “good” arms in Aaron Sanchez or Roberto Osuna. But still. Isn’t that what you carried a guy like Ryan Tepera on the roster for? Tepera is a soon to be 28-year-old nobody that didn’t pitch since the last day of the regular season. Granted, he was getting torched himself, but it’s not like you were worried about the game. And it’s not like he wasn’t fresh. And since he apparently isn’t a prospect, it’s not like you were worried about blowing his arm out. Let him finish. But once again, couldn’t Buehrle or Drew Hutchinson (not on roster either) have given you length in a spot like that? One of these two guys could have been a better roster choice than 150 year old LaTroy Hawkins as well. But I digress…
*Speaking of ALCS pitching staffs, the Royals’ staff ain’t so hot either. Yes, they have a bunch of flamethrowers in the bullpen. But you have to get to them first. And one of them is Franklin Morales, who appeared to have a pretty good year. But I’ve also lived through Morales in the postseason once. I don’t recommend that either. It looks like KC is just using him in mopup duty though, so they must have got the memo.
But I see these guys they are starting games with and shake my head. Was it that bad in 2014, when they were a whisker away from winning the World Series? Looking back, although there weren’t Cy Young guys left and right, the rotation was in a lot better shape. At least they had a clear top of the rotation guy in James Shields in 2014, though he is more a #2 than a #1. That was supposed to be Johnny Cueto for the second half of this year, but he has been subpar, to say the least. His last postseason start of 8 runs in 2 plus innings…yikes. Although Cueto thought the Jays were stealing signs and that he didn’t like the mound…ummmmm, ok.
In 2014, you also had 2 youngsters in Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy that pitched great and showed good promise. And a couple of serviceable mid-rotation type guys in Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas. In fact, these 4 plus Shields made 151 of the 162 starts last year. Pretty reliable group, at the very least.
2015? Shields departed to San Diego as a free agent. Ventura and Duffy took a step back. Guthrie was downright atrocious and is off the postseason roster. Vargas got hurt. 85 starts between the 4 that remain…and seemingly not a lot of great ones among the 85. KC replaced “Big Game” James with Edinson Volquez. Volquez actually acquitted himself quite well in his 33 starts, but…he is still Edinson Volquez. Young made 18 starts kind of off the scrap heap. Cueto took 13 largely uninspiring turns. And believe it or not, Joe Blanton got 4 starts. Joe Blanton? Ouch.
I suppose since they are on the brink of another World Series, maybe the difference in the rotations matters little. They are even down Greg Holland in the bullpen, one of the better closers of this particular “era”, if you will.
But maybe it says something about the state of the American League that 2 teams with subpar pitching can make the final two? Granted, the Jays lineup is stout. And the Royals, though not as electric, seems to work well together and do everything right (but where are you, “proven winner” Jonny Gomes?). But still…and also throw in the fact that the two managers, Gibbons and Ned Yost, aren’t exactly on anyone’s list of legendary skippers.
Gives me some hope that a 2016 Red Sox team can make a run with seemingly most of the putrid 2015 rotation coming back. And another non-legendary skipper leading the team in the name of John Farrell. I can dream, no?